I proceed with gentleness because of the sensitivity of this topic—domestic violence. Lives are torn to pieces, dreams smothered, and hopes forgotten. Abuse, in all forms, is one of the nastiest elements of human behavior. However, escaping an abusive relationship can be done. It is possible to reignite your life with purpose and hope. You can live again.
The emotionally destructive relationship is an epidemic. We are surrounded by violence. These painful relationships quietly pull the unwilling and unknowing participants in, using gentle webs of deceit. Often the dangerousness of the partner is unknown until the victims are deeply enmeshed in the relationship. And once a connection is established, escaping the abusive relationship is much more difficult.
The stigma associated with abusive relationships compounds difficulties. Even after the victim recognizes the abuse, they discover that seeking help is difficult. First recognizing the problem, then escaping the danger often is a process that takes years, robbing precious time. The abuse harms psychological health, narrowing deep examinations, strangling growth and inviting deceptive coping mechanisms.
Abusive relationships create the fertile ground for dysfunctional thinking. It is difficult to accept that we are the ones being abused. We confidently believe we can cure the abuser rather than take the difficult and frightening paths necessary to leave the relationship and escape the abuse.
A victim of a vicious attack, with staples still holding together the gashing wound from a ferocious strike, lashed out at investigative questions, “you are blowing this way out of control.” The mind steps forward, lessens the crime, and excuses a partner’s injustice. It’s what our mind does.
“Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone; it does not discriminate. Abuse happens within heterosexual relationships and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels.”~Help.org
The cycle of violence (love, anger, violence, sorrow) is an informative pictograph but is incomplete. The cycle focuses on only a fraction of the felt experience, skipping the deep feelings intimately part of each station of the cycle. A victim endures a myriad of powerful emotions, behaviors, unhealthy needs, insecurities, and faulty thinking that play primary roles in this life-destroying-cycle; both partners contribute and pay a significant price.
Denial is common. Clinging to an abuser is normal. Our brains try yo make sense of the nonsensical pattern of someone we love harming us. Bessel van der Kolk, founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, wrote “terror increases the need for attachment, even if the source of comfort is also the source of terror.” He continues, “of course, clinging to one’s abuser is not exclusive to childhood” (2014, Kindle location 2,489).
Many of our survival styles may help at first but in the long run are maladaptive preventing healing and escape from continued abuse.
The courage to break free requires many resources—both internal and external.
Staying in a Abusive Relationship is Complex
There are many reasons people stay in abusive relationships. Perhaps, denial just helps the psych and is not the motivating factor for staying.
Among some of the reasons for staying, research has identified these as common causes preventing escape from an abusive relationship:
- The fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent or possibly lethal if the victim leaves or attempts to leave
- Unsupportive friends and family, encouraging the victim to forgive and that the abuser will get better
- Financial worries and fear of single parenting
- Remembering some of the good feelings and positives of the relationship (rarely are abusive relationships all bad).
- Lack of knowledge of or access to resources to help
- Fear of losing custody of any children
- No where to go
- Religious or cultural beliefs and practices may not support divorce
- Belief that two parent households are better for children, despite abuse
List adapted from NCADV article “Why Do Victims Stay?“
Escaping Relationship Abuse is Possible
The good news is that escape is possible. Millions escape the violence and move forward with a better life. They obtain freedom by humbly accepting the reality and courageously reaching for help.
“I saw absolutely no way out and was convinced that he would carry-out these threats if I ever left, so I stayed.”~Mekisha Jane Walker
The abuser’s promises, small improvements, and apologizes are often shallow, just another turn in the on-going drama. Hope derived from short-term changes are shattered many times over, leaving the victim feeling ashamed and stupid. Through the goodness of their hearts they nurture the kindness of hope, believing their partner will change.
None are perfect; we all struggle. But no one deserves abuse. There is no excuse. Accept the rottenness of this behavior for what it is—unwarranted, unhealthy, and destructive. Escape relationship abuse by seeking guidance, finding support, and then, you may rediscover peace.
Van der Kolk, Bessel (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books; 1st edition.