October 23, 2014

Domestic Violence: Why We Stay & How to Get Help.

woman abuse

*Editor’s note: elephant journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors. As an independent media outlet, we cannot verify the validity of any claims made on this website. 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

I find this ironic following the media explosion surrounding the domestic violence against Janay Palmer (Ray Rice’s wife), just last month.

Following the media explosion, Facebook exploded likewise. Suddenly, everyone had an opinion on Janay or domestic violence, or worse yet, they were suddenly experts and life coaches. Talking about how weak or money hungry she must be to have now married him.

Even now, when the issue is discussed, it’s “Ray Rice’s wife.” Janay has no name, yet when the blame lands, it often lands on her shoulders. Here is one of the main issues our society perpetrates surrounding domestic violence, victim shaming.

Victim shaming makes it hard for someone to speak out.

Even if a woman in domestic violence wants or needs help, why would someone emotionally shattered and terrified of her abuser ask help of a society that will twist it back on her? Just as the abuser likely does.

Next, how do we expect to educate the next generation on this issue if survivors hear those same lines of shaming and are therefore themselves ashamed to speak out?

So, in honor of my last blog—in honor of speaking out, pushing standards, and breaking norms as I suggested we all do—I will follow my own advice and I will speak out on my own experiences to shed a small ray of light for anyone that may be willing to listen.

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

There, I said it, for all the public. Something I thought I would never do.

My friends and family closest to me know, some without ever having been directly told, but announcing it to the world has always been a terrifying prospect. Part of my lack of desire to do so comes from the very victim shaming referenced above. I’ve opened up to people to hear responses of, “what did you do to make him hit you?” “Well, you should have left.” “I would never stand for such a thing.”

Such callous responses took away my voice for a long time, causing me to turn inward and sabotage many potential relationships. I chose to be alone, rather than open up myself to anymore pain.

I have survived years of emotional warfare, verbal storms, choking, hitting, and many other unspeakable terrors. I am not a “victim” of domestic violence, I am a survivor. I got away, but could not have done so without the amazing support system that is my family.

I can say, with sincere certainty that had it not been for the financial and emotional support of my family, I may have never left and I would likely be dead. But, then what of those women who do not have the resources I am so blessed to have had?

So, here is my little ray of educational light. Before we judge women involved in domestic violence, present or past, let me explain some of the dynamics that cause women to stay. Why I stayed, why many others stay, and hopefully, by doing so, it will cultivate compassion in others.

The next time the topic arises we can lift survivors and victims in hope and love, rather than further their pain through misunderstandings.

1. Abuse does not start on date one.

If my ex had reached up and slapped me the first night, week, or month we met I would have walked away and never looked back. That’s not how it works. Abusers are skilled in the art of manipulation. In the beginning, abusers are often some of the most charming people you will ever meet. They are often surrounded by people who really like them, and the victim will like them too, by design. The abuse only starts after the abuser is comfortable and the relationship is in full swing. For me, it was nine months in.

2. Isolating someone makes it harder to leave.

One red flag of an abusive relationship is the abuser becomes quickly attached and wants to spend every minute together. By doing so, they slowly push out other relationships in the victims life. Suddenly, the abuser has a problem with every friend. The victim’s family is often portrayed as over-bearing, and they are pushed away systematically as well. Soon, there is no one present in the victim’s corner, except the person tearing them apart.

3. Emotional abuse is a subtle torture.

Physical abuse is almost always paired with emotional abuse. While physical abuse often turns the head of outrage quicker because of the visible marks it leaves; emotional abuse is often the underlying factor that is much more painful. When a person is told constantly, by the one person that is left and supposed to love them, how worthless they are, ugly, or deserving of abuse, people start to believe it.

Emotional abuse, for me, was the worst. Bruises go away, scars fade, and blood dries, but words echo in a broken heart for years. The belief that no one else will love a survivor is deeply embedded.

4. Sometimes leaving is far more dangerous.

There came a point in my relationship where the abuse was so steady that I learned to read my ex like the back of my hand. I could gauge his mood from the second he stepped in a room, and would adjust mine accordingly, in order to try to avoid provoking him.

I knew where he was, what he was doing, when and what he wanted to eat and I scattered around trying to create the perfect environment for him. The few times I left were terrifying because I did not have any sense of control.

I awoke, one night, to him standing in the middle of my bedroom. Another night he was banging on my window drunk.

I didn’t know where he was or what his mood was, but I knew he was out there and I knew he was angry. Women involved in domestic violence are often killed after they try to leave.

5. No one could help me but myself.

Abuse is so painful, subtle, and consuming that no one could make me leave. No one could talk sense in to me. I had to see it out to the end.

But, when it was time for me to leave, all those people I had pushed away reappeared.

They had been waiting patiently in the background for me to reach out. I will never be able to thank my friends and family enough for their understanding. For allowing me to wage my own destructive path and then to help me pick up the pieces and put them back together. Many victims are not so blessed.

These are a few factors involved in the systematic destruction that is domestic violence. It does not scratch the surface of the psychology behind abuse, but it is a brief overview of some of the issues that I was most faced with.

If there is one hope I have for future generations, it will be that they have a better understanding and a higher level of compassion when it comes to domestic violence. That they will be educated on the warning signs at an early age (I never was), and that they will support each other to bring awareness to the issue.

If any of you are involved in domestic violence, get help—it doesn’t get better and they don’t change.

If you have a friend involved, don’t push—they have enough pressure in their lives. Be there when it all unravels and help whenever they ask, no matter how tedious it becomes.

To remain silent in the face of injustice is equivalent to supporting it. Domestic Violence Awareness month, what kind of survivor would I be if I remained silent?



Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Duald at Flickr Creative Commons


Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Leah Housler