I am reminded by Jim C. Hines that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. His post is about why people don’t leave violent relationships, and it’s a good one.
I’m going to tell you about the details of a relationship controlled by domestic violence.
First, the situation: I was a child in a family where my father controlled my mother—and myself—through domestic violence. Despite that, what I detail here also applies to wife and husband victims of these horrible situations.
And now, the rest.
To people outside of the relationship, leaving seems obvious, but remember that you aren’t in it. You don’t know the kind of power a violent spouse wields over their partner because you’ve never experienced it in an immersive environment.
It’s not hate that the violent spouse has. That’s the problem. It’s a sick kind of love, and people don’t like thinking that love, often thought of as pure, can be that way, but it is in this case. Sometimes that love seems pure, because that’s part of the abuser’s control methodology: after an act or even a period of violence, the abuser showers the victim with gifts, dates, softness. It’s the carrot to the stick. And of course, gifts can also be used to generate guilt trips.
There are other parts of the control recipe: the abuser separates the victim from supportive friends and other family under the guise of gentle jealousy; “if you loved me….” A truly intelligent abuser—don’t fall under the misconception that abusers are dumb, because they often aren’t and that’s one of the worse bits—such a person would leave the friends who want, for whatever reason, the victim to stay.
Surely, you may think, there can’t be “friends” who think that way; but you’d be wrong. Whether they’re religous, or are themselves victims of abuse, or desire the victim to stay in the same place because they are lonely, or any combination, that selfishness can be the worst guilt trip ever to the victim. There’s also society to consider: some disapprove of any marriage breaking for any reason, including violence.
Children can also be used as hostages, whether locationally (“if you leave, I might get MAD at Timmy”) or emotionally (“if you leave, I’ll tell our Mary that you left because you hated us”; an intelligent abuser also adds the refrain, “and you don’t hate us, do you?”).
The worst part—actually there are so many bad parts of this that it’s hard to call anything worse than others—is that the abuser cuts off any resources the victim might use to leave. The only car is in the abuser’s name, so fleeing in means you can be arrested (and will be, if you live somewhere with rotten cops). The bank accounts are in the abuser’s name, and he can stop any debit cards or checks. The abuser has the credit cards in his name. The abuser has removed the victim from any close relationships they might use for support emotionally or otherwise (and let’s face it: very few friends actually want to board or fiancially help other friends. I learned this cruelly. There’s a hard limit to just about any friendship, and that’s one of them).
The abuser both emotionally and practically manipulates the victim’s situation such that they are dependent on them for money (I’m not talking lots of money, I’m just talking about money you need to barely live on), and for love, even if it’s sick. The longer this has gone on, the harder it is to conclude that leaving outweighs staying.
And if you do realize this, suddenly everything becomes even worse emotionally, as if it weren’t already bad enough: the abuser will kill you if you leave. Men are usually strong enough to strangle, unaided, a woman to death; or to punch them relentlessly until they finally die of internal injuries; and worse. Both men and women abusers can also use weapons: guns, knives, power tools, chairs. It’s easy to get cornered if you tell them you’re leaving while in the same location as they are.
Many victims can also be so hurt by previous sessions of abuse that they might not be able to outrun or outfight abusers.
Overcoming all of this is what you need to do in order to even think about leaving.
And then there are all the things you need to do to leave. And all the things you need to do to stay alive when you leave. They are extreme things and attitudes that many people will never experience in their lives, and may view as repugnant even if they want the victim to leave.
This is the flamethrower approach. Burning your bridges so throroughly that you CAN leave and STAY left and not, for instance, commit suicide. Few people will ever accept that. But it’s what you need to do to leave.
And that’s why people don’t leave.
I don’t know if I can write about the leaving methodology this year. If you know me, you know that talking about things like this has a decent chance of blowing off decent bits of the tarp that keeps my PTSD at bay. I’ll know in either a few hours or a few days; I’m not sure which is worse.
After all, I went through “part one” for over 20 years, even persisting long after I was in graduate school, which goes to show that being merely hours away in a known location to your abuser(s) will NOT help.
If you want to link to this post, by all means do so. I want more people to understand. The more people understand, and the more people that do understand… it will help.
Thank you for reading. This is S∂ signing off for now.
2 thoughts on “Why People Don’t Leave Abusive Relationships”
I’m linking to a board where women who were abused under the guise of Biblical Family Life post.
I think, among other things, talking about this shit makes people more likely to understand what’s going on and offer the room/board help that’s needed.
Rosa, thank you.
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