Is something along the lines of,
“Wow. I can’t believe he was abusive. If my husband (wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/ etc.) did that to me, they know better. I would punch them back and leave them.”
You would be surprised how often I hear this. I think it’s around 65% of the people I talk to who are in a relationship and have never been abused. Usually, I’m too tired to explain why they have no clue or why that they are wrong in that assumption. I nod my head, say something along the lines of “Uh huh…” and keep my mouth shut. But, today, I’ve decided to explain exactly why you should never say that to an abuse victim or anyone who has ever been around abuse.
First off, if you’ve said this to me, I don’t hate you. And I don’t want you to think that I harbor some kind of weird grudge against you.
That’s the last thing I want you to think!
I just want you to be educated. Because one day, you might really hurt someone by saying that. Personally, I know that you simply don’t know, so I don’t take offense. (However, if you read this and still have the gall to say it to my face, I’m a red head. I can’t promise you what my response will be.)
Okay. Still with me? Good.
Let’s say you are in a wonderful, healthy, functioning relationship. Or, even if it has its ups and downs, you are completely in love. You have trust in your relationship. You have built a life together and maybe have some kids. Either way, your future, at this very moment, rests in the hands of this person that you love. You can’t imagine a life without them. They are your everything.
And then, out of nowhere, they hit you. Or call you a “Stupid Bitch.” Or tell you to get the hell out of their house.
What are you really going to do? If someone, who has only been good to you, has your heart and your soul, is suddenly aggressive or hurtful to you? I tell you what you probably won’t do: punch them in the face and leave. You have nowhere else to go that is home for you. Your finances are connected. If you are a housewife, they support you and your children. You are stuck.
More than that, you are devastated.
Nine times out of ten, it is easier to forget that anything happened and to continue living your life. This idea is magnified if the person who hurt you acts truly remorseful and promises you the world if you will stay with them. They promise that it will never happen again. It was an accident. You love them, so you want more than anything to believe them. You have invested so much and you feel like you will have nothing if you leave. You will have to start over again… with kids. Be single. Deal with a divorce. All of the prospects are too daunting to think about if you leave. There is always the possibility that if you fight back, the violence will be worse. So, in the end, you just take it. You take it because, in the morning, you can forget and your life can be the same as it was before.
Not only that, the love you feel in an abusive relationship is some of the strongest that you can feel in the world.
I have been reading a lot about abuse and how the process works. I think that Dr. Donald Dutton really hit the nail on the head when he talks about traumatic bonding in his book The batterer: A Psychological Profile. According to him: “The bonds that bind abuse victims to their tormenters are legendary. They are like giant bungee cords. As the woman dives out of the relationship, the cords stretch to the breaking point. But, the further she gets, the greater the tension to snap back.”
Why? Why is it that people who are in this situation allow this process to happen?
This next quote is why I turned around and grabbed this book, adding 30 minutes to my trip to the coffee shop to write this thing. (Meaning, its CRUCIAL.) When abusers fight to get their victim back, there is a huge effect on the victim, “Codependence evolves from [the lengths that abusers go to get their victims back]. The two partners try to convince each other and themselves that they can battle the world, that their “love” will triumph.”
This totally blew my mind. This is how I always felt in my abusive relationship. Like it was this epic love that stories could be written about. Our song was “Living on a Prayer” for God’s sake. It’s ridiculous. And all of the romantic literature that is prevalent in our society doesn’t help. It only makes things worse. You feel like the abuse is just one more thing that you are fighting against to stay together and that it adds to the epic quality of your love. You can’t see your way out of it and it consumes you. Leaving feels like giving up. Your future, the life you built together, that “epic love” is something that you are giving up on. What heroine in a love story does that? You are supposed to stick by your man through thick and thin, right?
I know, you are shaking your head. No! This is different! He’s abusive!
On the outside, you can see that. On the inside, it’s a very different reality. Everything is distorted. You are trapped in a web of lies, deceit, hurt and abuse so thick that you can’t see your way out. I have talked to women who have been to the brink of death with abusive men and are still there, fighting to make it work. After everything, they still have faith that things will change. And they aren’t. There is nothing a victim can do or say to make their abuser change. (For more on that, check out A leopard can’t change his spots… and neither can your abuser.)
So, when an outside perspective comes in and just says, “I would get out of that! Punch him in the face and leave!” It’s insulting. It shows that the person in question doesn’t know what this kind of situation is like. Also, if the person that you said it to is still in an abusive relationship, they are going to avoid you. Even if they desperately need help, they are going to not tell you because you have hurt them, made them feel stupid, and have added to the problem instead of helping.
If we want to help abuse victims or survivors to escape and heal, we can’t judge them or their situations.
Even when I talk to someone who is under heavy abuse, I make sure to tell them that
1) They don’t deserve it.
2) They are not stupid.
3) If they can’t leave, it’s not their fault.
4) I don’t judge you and if you need help, I’m here.
Those are the things you can say if you want to be helpful. And even if they open up to you and are telling you about the fiftieth new abusive act since they’ve started talking to you, don’t act disappointed that they are still there. Be supportive! Build them up! Tell them that they can leave. Even if it is their fiftieth try, they can still escape the abuse. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to listen to someone you love or care about tell you that they are being hurt or abused. But, you know what’s harder? Being the one who is abused and not being able to leave. And harder than that? Having someone who doesn’t understand make them feel stupid for not being able to leave.
Again, if you’ve ever said this, I still love you. I know you didn’t mean anything by it! Just understand that you don’t understand unless you’ve been there. With a little effort, we can help those who are still in abusive situations. We only have to jump to help as quickly as we are apt to judge or compare.