Why Domestic Abuse Victims Stay
Why domestic abuse victims stay in their own words:
"You may ask “Why didn’t you leave then?” I couldn’t leave. You see I had been married before. My husband hit me once and I did the sensible thing – I left. I moved back home to my folks. “All the more reason to leave now” I hear you say. No, can never leave – can’t do that. I’ll stay. I’ll make it work."
"I wouldn't listen to anyone about how I needed to leave him. I was so convinced that everything that was wrong with the relationship was my problem. That as long as I tried a little harder, if I could fix all the things that he said were wrong with me, that Thomas and I would be fine." (Abigail)
"A few people tried to get me to leave but by the time they were doing that I was already deeply traumatised by months of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Then because I didn't leave people said I must like it, that I must be making it up, that by not leaving I was choosing the abuse and I deserved it. I was so low and vulnerable that I believed what they said. I used to scream and scream for help and nobody would come, people would hear but ignore it. This makes me cry now writing it. People heard but they thought I wasn't worth saving because it was my fault for staying." (Emma)
To many onlookers it seems simple: if a woman is being abused, she should just get up and go, or throw her abuser out. Anyone who has been in an abusive relationship knows it is a lot more difficult than that. There are all sorts of emotional, physical, financial, social and spiritual hurdles to overcome. It is quite common for someone being abused to leave and return to the abuser several times.
This page is for those who are trying to understand the difficulties an abused person faces when considering leaving. For anyone who has been or is there, there is no need to explain, but I hope this will help you to realise that many of us have been there, and understand your decision, whether you choose to stay or leave.
Please scroll down for some of the reasons an abused person may choose to stay with her or his abuser, or who, having left, choses to return.
Often a woman will find it difficult to classify herself as abused or battered. While we deny there is a problem and pretend everything is okay, we can continue to believe it is. Many people tell themselves "it is not that bad", or "it is not him, it is the drink, drugs, etc". We all want to believe the best of our partner, and it can often take years of repeated victimisation or frequent visits to hospital before we can accept the reality of our situation.
"He did a year in prison and was released on good behaviour, I went back to him thinking this would change him; it never did, so after seven years in total I finally left him. By this time I had two sons by him I think they gave me some strength to leave for good." (Christine)
Even once we have acknowledged to ourselves, and possibly others, that there is a very serious problem, we still hold out hope that things will change, that we can somehow work this out. It is difficult letting go of the dream of a happy couple or family and accepting that abusers very rarely change. In our efforts to maintain hope, we will cling to memories of "good times" together, or concentrate on the honeymoon phase, hoping it will last.
Being subjected to abuse is a humiliating and demeaning experience and will most often leave us feeling very ashamed. Somehow being the victim of abuse seems to make us into less of a person. We may feel that we are letting our family down, our status quo, or even our abuser. Leaving may also feel as though we are giving up, admitting defeat, admitting the situation is beyond our ability to deal with. Quite a few victims of domestic abuse have been in an abusive relationship previously and may feel ashamed of having 'chosen the wrong person' twice or more even - or we may be convinced that the fault really does lie with us, that since it has happened before, it must be our fault.
On of the aspects seen very frequently in domestic violence victims is traumatic bonding, also found in people who have been held hostage and prisoners of war. When the person who is isolating, abusing and dehumanizing you is also the person who is providing you with the basics you need to live, or some pain relief or affection, a form of traumatic bonding can occur, which leads to an irrational feeling of bonding to the abuser and this feeling of being traumatically bonded is often mistaken for love. The victim loses their own beliefs and identity and instead takes on the beliefs of their captor.
We somehow buy into the myth that the abuse is really our fault, that we somehow provoked it, deserved it, or are otherwise responsible for it. Most abusers shift the blame onto their victim, making us responsible for their emotional and often physical well-being, and it can be very hard realising that they alone are responsible for their actions.
Our abuser may offer financial security. This is often a very important issue for people with young children especially, disabled or older people, maybe it seems worth tolerating some abuse to at least know you can afford to feed and clothe the children, afford medical bills, or at least have a decent standard of living. Many women especially simply do not have the resources to provide for themselves, also, they may not have completed their education or have much work experience due to bringing up children, and do not feel that they will be able to find work given their emotional and mental state and responsibilities toward any dependants.
Where do you go? There may not be Refuge facilities near-by, you may not have a supportive family or friends who can put you up, and you may not be able to afford a place of your own. Especially if your partner has been violent, has threatened to hurt you or the children, it may seem safer to stay put than risk angering him more by trying to leave.
Maybe we do not want to disrupt the children by removing them from their home, their school, their friends. Maybe we feel that while he is still being fine with the children, things are not too bad. We may believe it is important for the children to have both parents living with them, and maybe the children themselves are exerting pressure for us to stay with their father.
If we have pets we may be too worried about leaving them with the abuser or in the home if we move to a refuge, especially if threats have been made to harm or kill the animals or if they have already been hurt or mistreated by the abuser. Sometimes we are even told that if we leave we will never see our pets again, so we stay to protect them.
Fear of Reprisal
Belinda tried to leave but her boyfriend found her and tried burning down her flat, kept stalking and hassling and threatening her: "I tried my best to cope with my new life as his ‘prisoner’ but it wasn’t working. I knew that this way of leaving would not work. He was going to murder me in the end. I had no doubts about that. It was either now or a few years from now. I chose to have a bit longer to live. I went back to him."
Often when we either leave or try to leave, the abuse intensifies. Violence may increase and there is the constant threat of being tracked down, stalked, and attacked or even killed. This fear is very real. According to statistics, more women are killed by their partner AFTER they have separated than while still living together.
When considering leaving, it is important to develop a SAFETY PLAN (you can do this in conjunction with you local Domestic Violence Unit at the Police Station, or a member of an organisation such as Womens Aid).
Our beliefs may teach us that marriage is for life, for better or
worse, that all divorce is sinful, that we should constantly forgive
our abuser and carry on as though nothing had happened. Often advice
from ministers, priests and rabbis can be to return home, be more
submissive, be a better wife, pray more feverently. This has the duel
effect of encouraging our feelings of guilt and shame, while undermining
our basic need for acceptance, encouragement and support. For more
information please read Spiritual
Obstacles to Leaving Abuse.
In This Section:
"This booklet is written for not only those in the relationships, but also those that are on the outside, and can't understand why don’t they just leave?"
In this supportive and straightforward guide, Lundy Bancroft (Why Does He Do That?) and JAC Patrissi offer a way for women to practically take stock of their relationships and move forward with or without their partners. Women involved in chronically frustrating or unfulfilling relationships will learn to: · Tell the difference between a healthy-yet-difficult relationship and one that is really not working · Recognise the signs that their partner has a serious problem · Stop waiting to see what happens and make their own growth the top priority · Prepare for life without their partner even as they keep trying to make the relationship work:
In this breakthrough book, Beverly Engel, one of the world's leading experts on the subject of emotional abuse, shows us what it is and what to do about it. The Emotionally Abusive Relationship will tell you how to identify emotional abuse and how to find the roots of your behavior. Combining personal stories with action steps to heal, Engel provides prescriptive strategies that will allow you and your partner to work together to stop bringing out the worst in each other and stop the abuse. By teaching those who are being emotionally abused how to help themselves and those who are being emotionally abusive how to stop abusing, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship offers the expert guidance and support you need.
To order in the US: The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing
To order in the UK: The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing (General Self-Help)
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