October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and since this is the first day of the month, I am going to discuss a serious issue in our society. I know I once said authors should be wary on making non-writing related statements because it could take away from their authorship, but because my book “The Dark Proposal” focuses on the abusive relationship between a college graduate and a vampire, I feel it is best that I talk about this problem.
I know this is a controversial thing to talk about, because many do not understand why anyone would date or even marry someone who is clearly, and repeatedly, abusive. Some even go far as saying those people deserve being hit or mistreated by their partners because they ignored red flags or they ignore the age old warning: “if he hits you once, he’ll hit you again”. So, here I am going to explore why some people stay in abusive relationships, and what we could all do about it.
I’ve never been in an abusive relationship before, though I could’ve if I hadn’t stopped going out with some guys who were clearly the abusive type. I mentioned once before that I noticed the red flags early on, and while I did hesitate at first, I cut those guys off because I knew I didn’t want to be miserable and mistreated. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I didn’t have the guts to get away, but I’m glad I’ll never really know.
I never had any close friends who were in physically abusive relationships, or at least I did not know. Not all are willing to admit that their partner is attacking them, but chances are we all know someone who is or has been in this situation. Let’s not forget that abusive relationships are all too common. One-third of teenagers have experienced dating abuse, and women between the ages of 16 and 24 have the highest rate of being abused by a partner. One-fourth of all women have been in an abusive relationship.
I did have some friends that were in emotional and verbally abusive relationships, which is as bad as being hit by someone you love and trust. However, I’ve worked with a few women who did date guys who were possessive, super controlling to the point of being near-stalkers, and even gave them bruises on their bodies. Even though I wasn’t close friends with those women, I got an idea of what makes some women stay with their abusive partners.
NOTE: I am fully aware that domestic violence is not just a women’s issue, I am against anyone abusing their spouse or partner. There are some men who are attacked by their wives or girlfriends, but because I never knew any guy in such a relationship, I am going to focus on the women here. I know their male counterparts may stay for the same reasons as they do but because I’ve only known female victims of abusive relationships, I’ll focus on them.
Anyway, my theory over why some women stay with a man who belittles, controls, hits and even threatens their lives, all comes down to insecurity and low self-esteem. There are many reasons why they may choose to be with that man. It could be the belief that they can change the man and make him good, or they believe they deserve the abuse, or they simply can’t accept that the guy they fell in love with now has his hands around her throat. So they stay in the relationship, dodging insults and fists, fearing for their safety while wondering if they should really leave. They probably want to turn to someone for help because they know what is happening is terrible.
This is where I think the problem with how many people view battered women arises. I remember when one co-worker years ago made it clear that she was trying to work things out with the boyfriend who beat her, many of us at work groaned and rolled our eyes. How could she be so stupid? What’s wrong with her? Is she crazy? She’s asking for him to hit her again!
Unfortunately, victims of abusive relationships do not see the world the same way other people do. Again, I link this to low self-esteem, which is more destructive than some people can comprehend. Imagine thinking you deserve to be punch in the eye. Imagine thinking having your boyfriend monitor your texts and emails is a good thing. Yeah, many of us can’t because our self-esteem is strong enough to see that this is abuse. But those who are so fractured inside are unable to realize they deserve so much better.
Here are some examples of women who found themselves trapped in abusive relationships:
Why would I stay in such damaging relationships? I stayed because I didn’t think I was lovable. I believed I didn’t deserve better, that no one would love me again. I truly believed I’d be alone my whole life if I let go of this great guy. My friends eventually despaired of me, of course. How many times could they encourage me to care about myself? The truth is, there is no one who can give you that self love. It doesn’t matter how many people adore you, or how skinny, successful, smart, talented, funny, kind, or compassionate you are. None of it matters if YOU don’t see your wonderful self.
Amanda De Cadenet, on her history of violent relationships
“I stayed because I felt like if I left and he didn’t change and didn’t treat me how I felt I deserved to be treated, I was a failure,” she says.
Supermodel Tyra Banks, who once dated a man who emotionally abused her
If you want something more in depth, here’s Leslie Morgan Steiner at TED on her experiences and why she stayed:
So there you have it. Intelligent, ambitious women dating and even marrying abusive men. Sometimes there are red flags from the start, other times the guy is more subtle and calculating.
What sticks out for me is the fact that no one who dates abusive men likes the abuse, and I think that is what many wrongly believe. Sure, there may be masochists out there who love the degrading treatment, but contrary to what many believe, most victims do not like the abuse. They just don’t have the strength to get away.
Which leads to my next point in this topic: do they deserve it? Do people who date or marry abusive people deserve it? Especially if the abuse keeps happening?
This I think is the problem when it comes to addressing such relationships. A lot of people firmly believe that anyone who stays with an abusive partner deserves to be insulted, hit or threatened. To be honest, I’ve found myself thinking the same thing when my co-workers talked about getting back with the guy who hit them. The exasperation I felt was enormous enough for me to think that way. I also immediately thought the same thing when Rihanna got back together with Chris Brown after he savagely beat her in 2009.
But these days, I let my exasperation subside, stand back and look at the situation more closely. These people have such poor self-esteem to the point of being deluded. It is very sad to see someone think they don’t deserve any better, or are too scared to get away. The worst thing is, sometimes they are so lost in their low self-esteem that it is almost impossible to talk sense into them. You can yell and scream at them, beg them to realize that things will not get better, but they still won’t see it. It is tragic, and usually there is little you can do but maintain your own calmness. But be there for that person when they are truly ready to break free.
I think another reason why some women stay in these relationships is that they are afraid of anyone knowing they are hit or belittled. These women are likely aware that anyone caught in a nightmare like this will probably be judged harshly by others. There are people who would say to them, how could you not know he would do this to you? You don’t seem to be the type to date this kind of guy. I thought you swore you never get involved with such a person!
Yeah, those women probably thought the same thing when they fell in love with those men. It is not uncommon at all. No one thinks, hey, I’ll date this horrible abuser because it will be fun! Don’t believe me? Here’s a good piece on how it is not true at all.
And here’s a good excerpt over why some people are afraid to seek help:
If you’re a victim of abuse, you feel ashamed. You’ve been humiliated by the abuser and your self-esteem and confidence have been undermined. You hide the abuse from people close to you, often to protect the reputation of the abuser and because of your own shame – The Truth About Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships
Now, of course there are other reasons why some people stay involved with their abuser. Finance is a big reason, where the woman can’t financially support herself if she fled. There are children involved. Also, things won’t get any better. The abuser would fight tooth and nail to get his partner back, and that is why courts are filled with restraining orders. Worst of all, there’s a good chance that the man will kill his partner if she does leave him. It happens 75% of the time.
Abusive relationships are a big problem in our society and it is best to be aware on why anyone will get caught in one. I don’t believe labeling such people as losers who deserve the abuse is the best answer. It may seem like the best way to describe the situation, but I can’t help but think that sort of thinking is like siding with the abuser, or blaming the victim. I don’t think anyone who thinks like that really believes that. But it is not the wisest way to solve this problem.
The best way is to help the person who really wants to be helped. Don’t judge or lecture them; they already feel awful anyway. Help them escape, start a new life and be there for them. If that person doesn’t realize they are being abused, again, don’t judge or lecture them; they’ll ignore you anyway. Instead, remain firm that you think the relationship is toxic and refuse to discuss it. It is the best way to maintain your own sanity and keep things civil with your relative, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc. If the person sadly cuts off ties because you refuse to tolerate her relationship with her abuser, well, there is little you can do. You did your best. And if she comes back, admitting you were right, do not go off saying, I told you so. Their self-esteem is already beyond shattered, so why make them feel worse?
This PDF posted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence explains what I just said a lot better.
So there you have it. A look at why some women (and probably some men too) get into abusive relationships, stay in them and what to do about it. There really isn’t much you can do if someone doesn’t realize they deserve better and you can’t force them to change. But if they do want to get away, be supportive, like we all should be.
Here are some links to further educate yourself on abusive relationships, how it happens, why it happens, and what you can do if you know someone who needs help:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence home page – many good links here
Help Guide – understanding why abusive relationships happen
Love is Respect – what a healthy relationship really is