“She stays with an abuser,” said of the voice on the other end of the line. As if her worth, or her ability to care about others and love people was associated with her situation.
It is easy to place judgement and to believe that the person in an abusive situation is somehow incapable, or stupid for staying where they are at. How many times have you heard or maybe even said, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
It is almost impossible for others to understand why a person would stay. It would be foolish for me to say that I fully understand why people stay in abusive relationships, yet, having lived in one myself I can tell you why I stayed. Maybe more importantly how I ended up there in the first place.
It was Familiar
More often than not we end up in abusive situations because they are familiar to us. In most cases this is the most painful to recognize and to accept. It means we have to look at our family of origin and realize that maybe things weren’t as good as we once thought they were. I can see similarities between how my mother treated me at times and how my Ex-husband treated me. They are not the same, that is one reason why I think they are hard to spot. In my story, my mother believed that her was was the right way. At a young age I learned to doubt my ability to make choices…it was best to just do what mom said. I was rewarded by being a good girl, it was easier and I faced less consequences if I just followed her lead. I wasn’t confident in my ability to make good choices. This led right into me following ex-husband’s lead. I doubted myself and his choices had conviction…. so I just went with what he said. I remember times early in my marriage when my mother wanted me to do one thing and my husband wanted me to do another. I would just sit down on the floor and cry because I was going to disappoint someone. Someone would be mad at me. It was not until my late 30’s in a counseling office that I learned that it was okay for me to choose what I wanted to do and not follow anyone’s lead.
I couldn’t see the abuse
The second reason I stayed was because I could not see the abuse. It took me almost two years after my husband left for me to begin seeing that the way he treated me was emotionally abusive. When we were married the idea of being abused never crossed my mind. Abuse to me meant bruises and black eyes. The put downs, the negative comments, I just thought I deserved those because I wasn’t good enough, which leads into the next reason why I stayed.
I didn’t deserve any better
Early in my marriage I put my husband on a pedestal. I thought I was so lucky to have him. He was very muscular and well built, I thought I was so lucky to be chosen by him. So lucky to be married to him, I had no room to complain. He came home almost every night for dinner. YAY!I He never said that he loved me, but he must….right? We were still married. He hadn’t left me and I was just plain. He didn’t yell at me. I could think of so many reasons why I was lucky to have him, and very few for why he was lucky to have me. We would get in an argument and he would always turn it back on me by saying things like, “Now do you see why I have to get away from you? You are so negative.” “You just always want to fight.” He was good at projection and letting me believe that I was the problem. If I didn’t comply he would punish me. His solution was to disconnect, and not talk to me for sometimes weeks at a time. When I could take the silence no longer, I would apologize….I would do anything to get him to re engage. He learned quickly what worked, and silence was heartbreaking and isolating for me. This cycle of being punished for not doing what he wanted leads into the next reason why I stayed, gaslighting.
Gaslighting, to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. I have talked to many women and it seems like abusers love this technique. I can’t tell you the number of times he would say something horrible to me, then an hour later he would claim that he never said it at all. That I had made it up. I remember one time in particular when he stood over me as I was kneeling to tie my son’s shoe. He was swearing and telling me that I had to leave the kids with him. I was scared to death, but I said, “no way, not with how you are right now.” I stood up and grabbed the boys and left. When I got back an hour and a half later he acted like nothing had happened. When I approached him about it, he said, “What are you talking about, I didn’t say that.” This particular time I was on more solid gound and did not fall for his lies, but earlier in the marriage he made me doubt my sanity. There were many times that I thought I was going crazy. I would see pictures of things in his phone, one looking like breasts, another looking like him on a street corner with a prostitute and each time he would delete the picture and tell me that I had imagined it. From perfume on his shirt after he went to a bar to inviting me to things and at the last minute uninviting me, he was great at making me feel like maybe I was crazy.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where it might be tempting to ask why, it may be beneficial to look at unhealthy behavior within your own home and ask why. We can not walk in someone else’s shoes,, it is not productive nor does it benefit anyone for us to pretend to know why.
Hindsight is 20/20
It took me almost 2 years after my divorce for me to see that the situation I lived in was abusive. Never when I was in the middle of it could I see what was happening. When I speak with people about abuse, when there are assumptions made that something is wrong with the abusee, that they couldn’t possibly be fit (Claims are made for just about every situation) I am the first one to point out my situation.
So why didn’t I leave? It was familiar to me, I could not see the abuse, I didn’t feel I deserved any better, and he was good at gaslighting. Thank heavens I didn’t have to. When I started to set boundaries he was the one that left. Sometimes I wonder if I would have ever gotten strong enough to be the one that left. I know I am that strong now, but for any woman who has had the courage and the strength to leave an abusive situation, GOOD FOR YOU! For you are one of the bravest and most courageous warriors I know.
If you are a woman and you think you may be in an abusive situation there is no shame if you are still there. It is so much easier for the people talking, they are not the ones that have to become strong enough and stable enough to leave. Keep working on yourself, keep learning and becoming stronger, your day of liberation may be right around the corner. Keep fighting, you are worth it.