As a survivor of not just one, but several abusive relationships, I often heard people asking why didn’t I just leave or why didn’t I report the things that happened? Help was out there! Sure, help is out there, but unless you have been the object of abuse, whether mentally, physically or sexually, you will never understand that these women and men who have been abused often have no way to truly access the help available.
It’s a completely logical thing to say, “Why don’t they just walk away?” Walking away would be great! Of course, it would, but when it comes to living in an abusive relationship, walking away is not at all as easy to do as it is to say. For those facing evil, and that is exactly what an abusive partner is, walking away may seem like the best remedy to a toxic relationship, but it is never as simple as just “walking away” from an abuser.
Let me explain why this is so with just five key points.
This may seem trivial to many people, but a woman or man who finds themselves in an abusive relationship fears being shunned or put down by others. Being abused is embarrassing and when a person knows they will need to face family or friends who may already be judgmental or rude about the person’s partner, without even knowing there is an abusive relationship, it can make it very difficult to admit that things are going so badly.
For example, a woman who has started dating a man that her parents or friends feel may be “beneath” her socially or economically, or a person who is in an LGBTQ relationship when they have yet to tell their family they are gay could find it very difficult to now tell anyone they are being abused. Rather than opening up about what is happening and trying to get some help, victims of abuse will withdraw from family and friends to prevent them from finding out what is happening.
While you may be sitting there saying to yourself, “So they’ll be embarrassed, but isn’t being abused worse than admitting the truth?” In all honesty, of course reaching out for help would be better than being harmed. The problem lies within the fact that an abuser has possibly already put the victim down because of their family and made them feel like their family or friends are not really in their corner at all. This may not be easy to understand but for a person who has already been worn down by the abuser, the mere thought of being judged harshly by someone they love, or value can be difficult to face, especially of those people have already shown they don’t like the abuser.
If you really want to help this person escape an abusive relationship, let them know you value them and that no matter what may be happening behind closed doors, you have their back. Offer your home or a real way out and never try to condemn them for staying in what you perceive as a bad relationship.
- Self-Esteem, or Lack Thereof
It is extremely difficult for a person to walk away from an abusive relationship if they have been made to feel as if they are not a valuable person. Abusers will make a person feel worthless and like they do not deserve a better life. They’ll make the victim feel like they have no reason to even try to do anything to better their lives. Many people will also downplay emotional abuse because they may have been taught that abuse is only physical. Many will even downplay sexual abuse because they have been taught that “a woman must please her man” or that once you are married, you’re supposed to sleep with your spouse even if you don’t feel up to it. If someone is making a person feel bad or making them participate in sexual activity when they do not feel like it, the abuser is only doing this to gain control. It is not love and yes, it is abuse.
- Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Even in a non-abusive relationship, it isn’t always easy to break up. How many of you have been nervous or dreaded having to tell someone you felt the relationship was over, or that you needed space or that you just did not love the person? Now consider trying to walk away from someone who has a great deal of control over you and whom you fear will track you down to harm or kill you. The time a person is leaving an abusive relationship is considered one of the most dangerous times for that person. When an abuser knows their partner is trying to get away from them, they will do anything to control them and force them to stay. Women (and men) who are trying to escape an abuser must be very careful and plan to get away without being harmed. This means they often must not only make sure the abuser does not know they’re planning to leave, but they also must be able to keep their living arrangements private once they are away.
Statistics show that women are up to 70 times more prone to being murdered by an abuser within the few weeks after they leave the relationship than at any time during the relationship? This means that when breaking up and walking away, women must be able to maintain distance and have a plan in place to be safe once they are away.
According to the National Voice of Domestic Violence, it takes a woman seven or more times to leave an abuser for good. They try to leave and then find that there is no support system in place to help them, or they don’t have the proper paperwork or police reports to show they were abused and they’re denied services. There is a saying that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it also takes a village to help an abuse victim move forward in their life. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, do what you can to reach out to them without their abuser having knowledge that you are trying to help. Let them know they can turn to you for shelter, financial support if necessary and a safe place to run to when they leave. Encourage your friend by letting them know how valuable their life is and how wonderful they are. Boost them up! Their abuser is putting them down farther than you may know and once they have been abused, their self-esteem and sense of self-worth is crumbled and gone.
- The Blame Game
Abusers will always blame the victim for the abuse and will do everything they can to make their victim feel guilty. This is called gaslighting and it is a type of manipulative behavior seen in abusers who work to make their victims question their own ability, thoughts and perceptions of reality or even their own sanity. The abuser makes the victim feel like they should do better or treat the abuser better.
Many women who are abused will go out of their way to make sure everything in their home is tidy and neat and a hot meal is on the table for their abuser when they walk through the front door. They’re terrified that if anything is out of place or the food is not perfect they’ll be beaten or screamed at, or worse.
An abuser places blame and unfortunately, so many women and men feel responsible for the problems that are truly no fault of their own that it makes it difficult for them to understand they deserve better. Walking away is not something they see as an option at all and all too often, they feel they need to stay to make things better or to even help their abuser become a better person. Abusers do change, but they change by getting worse over time.
Many victims of abuse feel that due to hardships facing the abusive partner such as a bad time at work or heavy bills has made them angry. They believe that if they stay, they can help turn things around and eventually things will be good as they may have been at the beginning of the relationship. Please never stay with someone because you feel you can help them overcome their anger or adversity to be a better person. It just is not going to happen.
- It’s a Lifetime Commitment
All too often, people are made to feel like they must stay whether life is going great or they are being beaten half to death every other day. Yes, in a loving marriage with a partner who is there for you and you both have mutual goals in life and share happy times each day, a small argument about a bill or a decision is probably worth taking time to work out a disagreement.
An abusive relationship is never worth the time, stress, pain and hurt that it does to destroy a person. Victims of abuse often become dependent upon their abusers for everything they need to live. From food to clothing and everything in between, without their abuser they feel like they will have nothing at all, and therefore, so many fail to leave even when they truly want out.
Whether the couple is in a live-in relationship, just dating or married with children or a child on the way, it is one of the toughest decisions to make when it comes to walking away from an abuser.
Do Your Part to Help
Many things influence a decision to stay in an abusive relationship or find the courage to leave. As an outsider to the relationship, it is easy to tell the person to just leave because their partner is a jerk or dangerous. Keep in mind that it is never okay to place any blame for the circumstances on the person who is being abused. Sure, you may feel that they should just pack a bag and leave so they can have a better life, but it is not always an easy thing to do. Along with physical or sexual abuse comes emotional abuse and damage from the abuse that controls the victim many times, makes it virtually impossible for them to feel they are even worthy of a better life.
This is when friends and family need to step up and reassure the victim of abuse that they can do it. They need to know that although it may be a struggle to get on their own two feet, they can do it! No, it is not going to be easy to start over, and it may be the most difficult challenge they have ever faced, even with the fact they have faced evil through the abuse they have endured!
This is especially true for women who have children. They fear that their children will go without basic needs or they even fear they’ll lose their children because they cannot afford to buy the things they need. Too many women remain in unhealthy abusive relationships out of fear of what leaving will do their children. Staying in a bad relationship will cause more damage to a child than seeing their mother walk away and start a new life to keep them safe and raise them in a home without violence.
Once they do leave, as a friend or family member, do your part in helping make their life better. Abuse victims often leave with little more than the clothing on their back and if they are lucky, a few pieces of clothing or some legal documents. They need help building their lives up with new clothing, household furnishings if they can find a new home, basic needs and even food! Be the help that you would want if you were in the same situation and had nothing at all.
Remember that they not only need material possessions to start feeling like their life matters, but they need emotional support as well. If they call you in the middle of the night because they’re terrified over a noise they heard, or they’re worried the abuser will find them and harm them more, show them you are there for them in any way you can.
Ask friends to help raise the support they need including household goods and furnishings, clothing, food and other items the victim will need to live on her own. Many victims return to their abusers because they just don’t feel like they can make it in the world alone because this is what the abuser has drilled into their head for a very long time. They can do this, but it takes the help of others to do it successfully and to really get started with a new life free of abuse and fear.
GET THE HELP YOU NEED!
If you or someone you know needs help immediately, please call 911 for local law enforcement.
For assistance with information on local domestic violence shelters or other help in your local community, be sure to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-7233
My Fundraiser for Victims of Domestic Violence
This is a fundraiser I am hosting to assist a friend who recently found the courage to walk away from her abuser. She is a beautiful woman with three children, and one who has endured so many tortuous moments in life because of her abuser. If you can donate to her fund to assist with the things she needs, please do so. This is my way of paying it forward to someone who is in a situation I myself was in in 2005 when I left my abuser.