Today is a day that is near and dear to my heart. It is a day out of the year dedicated to raising awareness for domestic violence. All over the country people wear purple today as a symbol of peace, courage, survival, honor, and dedication to ending violence for those survivors of domestic violence who may be wounded both physically and emotionally. With the incidents in recent years with well-known athletes and celebrities, more and more people are realizing how serious of an issue this is; however, we still have so far to go.
I could write a post that included the statistics of how many women are survivors of domestic violence and I could write about how brutal of an experience it is, but I really want to take this opportunity to focus on one aspect of domestic violence that truly troubles my soul: Victim Blaming. When talking about domestic violence, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard phrases like, “I can’t believe she stayed with him,” “Why didn’t she just leave?” or “How could she let him treat her that way and still stay, especially if she has KIDS?” These comments tear apart my heart. If you have never been in an emotionally, verbally, sexually, or physically abusive relationship (or taken the time to research and understand the cycle of abuse), you truly do not understand how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship. If you do anything today, please just take two minutes to read the rest of this post and educate yourself about domestic violence so that you can be part of the solution.
First and foremost, abusive relationships do not start out as abusive. The abuser places the woman on a pedestal and it is literally the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship. Over time, he slowly starts isolating her from friends and family with subtle comments like, “She doesn’t understand you,” “they don’t treat you with the respect you deserve,” or “please don’t spend the night with your friends; I just want to spend time with you and be with you.” Before she knows it, she has lost most of her social and familial support. He also starts trying to increase her financial dependence on him. These tactics are extremely difficult to notice because they happen slowly and over time.
Second of all, most abusive relationships do not start out as physical. Verbally and emotionally abusive terms and phrases are used, followed by a non-apology (aka: “I’m sorry I said that to you, but if you hadn’t made me so mad, I wouldn’t have said it). Over time, the abuse can escalate to violence. By then, a woman can be so emotionally and financially invested that she literally feels trapped in the relationship.
Third, abuse happens in a cycle. It starts with the honeymoon phase, where everything is great and things seem “normal.” That leads to the tension building phase, where the woman can sense building anger and may feel as though she is walking on eggshells. This then leads to the episode of abuse, which could be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual. The “remorse” phase follows, and as mentioned earlier, this is where the abuser apologizes, swears it will never happen again, and blames the victim for the abuse (i.e. “If you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have done that,” or “If you had just done that right I wouldn’t have had to react that way”). This leads back to the honeymoon phase, and the cycle continues. It is set up in such a way that, unless the woman is aware of the cycle (which, by the way, if you are in the cycle and do not know about it, it is extremely difficult to recognize it), it can seem as though things may be getting better (when they are back in the honeymoon phase). The time between each phase varies as well, so it truly can seem like the abuse will stop. Unfortunately, it never does.
Fourth, leaving an abusive relationship can actually be the most dangerous time for the victim. The abuser will threaten her, threaten to take the children away (if they have children together), and create even more isolation and control. Remember, an abuser slowly isolates a woman and takes away her social and financial independence. By the time a woman realizes the relationship is abusive, she may not have the friends, family, or financial means to leave. She is literally trapped. If she does decide to leave and the abuser finds out, this is where the greatest risk of violence and possible death occurs because the abuser has now realized he has nothing left to lose.
In my counseling career, I have specifically worked with women who are either in abusive relationships or are survivors, and I can honestly tell you that none of them wanted to be treated that way. Most of them blamed themselves for the abuse. Abusers tear down a woman’s confidence and make her believe that they are lucky to be with them because no one else could possibly love them. They are trapped, isolated, and scared. When society blames them for staying, the message the abuser sends to them every day is reinforced: you are the problem and you are not worth it. Please, take time to educate yourself on abusive relationships and start being part of the solution. Instead of asking “why would she stay?”, let’s ask the more important question: “How could he ever abuse her, and how can I help to stop the cycle?”
Until the next journey,