“It’ll never happen again.
You’re the only one I’ve ever acted this way toward.
I’m so sorry, I never want to hurt you.
You are abusive to me too.
You deserved that.
Maybe if you didn’t frustrate me so much.”
He punched me, but it would “never happen again.”
He smashed my head against the car window, but “I drank too much, I didn’t know what I was doing.” He squeezed my body with all his strength until I yelped out in pain, but “I had to teach you a lesson.” He choked me in my sleep, but “C’mon, it was only for a few seconds.”
I didn’t want it, but “You’re my girlfriend, shut up,” and he held me down.
Domestic violence is prevalent, but recognizing it can sometimes be difficult and there are many misconceptions about it. Likely, someone you know is experiencing some form of it right now. Many people may be hesitant to speak out, fearful of being judged or that no one will understand.
And sometimes, you cannot rescue a friend from domestic violence—and they may not want to be saved. At times, they just want someone to hear them, to be understood, and to feel as if someone is sympathetic of their predicament. People stay in abusive relationships for a multitude of complex reasons, so it’s important not to be judgmental.
I know this is hard to do, and I know it is hard to understand.
It’s reasonable for anyone to want to take drastic measures when we find out that someone we care about is being abused. We may feel compelled to confront the abuser so that we can save our loved one from any more pain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and furthermore, doing so can be dangerous. The result of such an interaction is often that the victim is blamed, and they experience retaliation at the hands of their abuser—more severely than usual.
In some cases, trying to save a victim of abuse is like trying to save a drug addict—you can try and try, but your hands are tied until they are ready to accept your help. Seeing the abuse and not being able to stop it may cause you severe mental strain, so make sure to create healthy boundaries around the situation and keep your wellness intact. This’ll be beneficial in the long run for when the victim is ready to be helped.
The point is that it is okay to express concern for someone you believe is being abused—but also make sure that even if they aren’t ready to leave, you are offering support, empathy, and patience. Be their rock, someone who is approachable and won’t judge, and you may be saving someone’s life.
Help to create a safe space for the person to talk, to visit, or to spend the night. A place where the judgement is tossed aside, and you’re just there to listen. If the person expresses a desire to leave their relationship, help them to devise a safety plan, and be a resource for them within that safety plan. Those who are being abused sometimes find it hard to imagine how they can leave the relationship, but reassure them that it can be done successfully, and more importantly, that it can be done safely.
Survivors need to be reminded that there is life after abuse—a good life; a new beginning.
This is my story:
It was merely one month into our relationship when he hit me for the first time. What followed was that I engaged in a dangerous mental process that allowed the cycle of abuse to maintain its momentum.
My eyes would glaze over. I’d disassociate. Shake it off. Forget.
If he did apologize, it was never just, “I’m sorry.” There was always justification, manipulation, and gaslighting. I was kept in a place of vulnerability, and he maintained the power.
Every time it happened, I would move further and further outside of my own body and my own mind. I was detached and depersonalized—just an observer who was watching my life happen and not truly feeling anything. If I allowed myself to feel, it would be too painful to bear, and I didn’t want to (or know how to) face that reality.
So instead, I forgot. It was the only way I knew how to cope.
There’s a complexity within domestic violence that we need to be aware of; it’s what I experienced, and it’s why I stayed.
I became severely mentally ill within this relationship. I was too ill to understand what was happening and to make sense of it—and for two years, I didn’t realize I was being abused.
I was suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, night terrors, and hair loss, and I was diagnosed with a hormonal disorder caused by extreme levels of stress. Even though all of these conditions seemed completely unexplainable, the reason was right there in front of me. I was so messed up and disassociated, I would obsessively check my pulse throughout the day to make sure I was still alive.
Many of these manifestations continue to this day.
During the relationship, I lost parts of myself that had once given me strength, courage, and character. His abuse made me the most mentally ill I’ve ever felt in my life, yet he was the only one who could also make me feel better. He had the power—all of it.
I never thought I was capable of allowing someone to have that sort of control over me. I had always felt safe within my mind, my place of solace, but he stole that from me too, and I felt like my mind could no longer keep me protected. You see, the abuse I experienced did not always leave physical marks. This is why it’s so important not just to look for bruises and scars when we suspect abuse, but to look for mental changes, too.
It has been years since I left him, but he continues to maintain control over my relationships, my friendships, my job, my well-being, my body, and my education—my history of being abused always lingers, and I may never be the same. I now hold back when I laugh, when I speak, and when I love. I don’t think I am as beautiful as I once was, and I will likely never trust anyone fully. There will always be a seriousness I cannot shake, and a sadness I cannot escape. I will likely continue to have moments of severe mental pain that disable me completely, that I will choose to experience in the dark and alone.
But I don’t want to hide this part of myself anymore.
This is the reality, the truth of what an experience like this may do to someone.
I accept this as a part of my healing. After the relationship ended, I’d tried to dodge the healing process through alcoholism, compartmentalization, and escapism, but since then, I’ve been able to achieve a level of clarity. Slowly but surely, I am healing and moving forward.
And honestly, at times, the process of healing feels harder to get through than the abuse itself. But, while it can be emotionally brutal and sometimes physically painful, it is necessary.
This is a time where we can be immensely helpful to a friend recovering from abuse. Help them to reconnect with friends and family they may have been disconnected from due to isolation. Participate in an activity with them that they may have enjoyed in the past, but lost sight of during the abuse. Help them integrate healthily back into their lives and feel safe once again in their own mind.
When I saw him for the last time, I confronted him on his abuse.
I was trembling, not sure if he would hurt me one last time. But instead, he began to whimper and beg: “Please don’t tell anyone, I don’t want people to think I’m a monster.”
And for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone—I have been protecting him. But he is a monster, and I refuse to think anything more of him.
I am done protecting him and instead, I’m ready to protect and heal myself.
If you know someone who has been through domestic violence, please take it seriously and know that these people, even after they have left the abusive situation, continue to be at a higher risk for depression and suicide. Here is a toolkit to help you identify if someone you know is being abused, how you can effectively help and resources to provide them.
To speak to an advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, call 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org where a chat service is available 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.