It’s not your fault.
You do not deserve to be abused.[/quote]
This sign sits on the desk of my friend, Diana. She is the managing director of a women’s interval home. These facilities are tucked into quiet neighborhoods in most North American cities. The address is a carefully-guarded secret. When women and their children need emergency shelter, they can call a toll free number and are told where to meet a driver who is immediately dispatched. The home provides a temporary place for abused women and their children until they can take steps to become self-sufficient. Immediate needs include: clothes, a job, a place to live. These people often arrive with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Many of them bear the signs of recent physical abuse.
Most of them are upset and frightened.
Abusive relationships are not cocktail party conversation. Like the plight of the homeless, we prefer to believe these things happen to somebody else. We are immune to these tragedies. In actual fact abuse knows no social class. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Nearly one-third of North American women report being physically or sexually abused by a partner or date some time in their lives.
Like a dirty little secret, we don’t mention the yelling and screaming next door. We are reluctant to talk to a supposed victim lest we seem nosy. When we notice bruises on a co-worker, we willingly accept her far-fetched story about yet another episode of walking into a door or falling down the stairs. The victim makes excuses because of fear of reprisal, or embarrassment. She may not want her co-workers, friends, or relatives to think she is weak.
[quote]In some cases she even feels she deserves the abuse.[/quote]
Continued abusive and controlling behavior transforms a victim into a different person. Victims of abuse experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion and low self-esteem. Bit by bit, their physical and mental health are devastated by physical and/or emotional abuse.
Have you ever wondered why women stay in abusive relationships? Recently, I talked with my friend, Diana, about her clients. What she told me surprised me. Diana grouped the reasons why women stay into these categories:
• Fear of physical harm
• Fear of threats
• Fear of making the abuser angrier
• Fear of living alone or being alone
• Fear of losing the children
• Fear of losing the house, the car, the lifestyle
• Fear others will blame, and/or won’t believe her
• Fear of the unknown
• Fear of financial problems without the abuser’s income
• Fear of the court/immigration system
• Still loves the abuser
• Commitment to the relationship
• Sex, affection, and kindness during non-violent times
• A history of being together
• Hope that things will improve
• Hope that he will change as he promises after each episode that he will.
• Low self-esteem— victime feels this is all she deserves
• Physical and/or emotional exhaustion
• Loneliness—fear of being on her own
• Guilt—feeling that, somehow, she caused the abusive reaction
• Blaming herself for the abuse
• Feelings of failure
• Feeling defective
• Feeling unwanted by others
Fear of the Unknown
• Not wanting to be divorced and/or a single parent
• Not wanting to look for someone else
• Not wanting to leave pets
• Not wanting to start over
• Not wanting to change life style
• Not wanting to lose his family
• Not wanting to be excluded from social circle/functions
Manipulation of Abuser
• Uses mind games: “If you don’t…then I will…
• Uses crying
• Uses threats of suicide
• Uses his power, money, and his family’s power
• Uses his Nice Guy image: dependability and affection are strong incentives to stay—even with episodes of abuse!
• Makes promises the abuse will never happen again
• Apologizes, promises to get help
• Pressure from children who want their dad
• Believes it is best for children
• Afraid she will lose custody of the kids
• Need childcare and won’t be able to afford it on her own.
• Nowhere to go
• Unaware help is available
• No support system of family/friends
• Isolated from support—live far away from family and friends.
• Needs insurance
• Needs financial support
• Health/disability issues
It’s easy to be critical but faced with difficult alternatives, many women feel it is a case of “better the devil you know.”
Here are some comments from Diane’s clients that help us understand why they stayed in abusive relationhips:[box_info]
“I was scared he was going to kill me if I left.”
“I thought the situation would change.”
“I thought I could fix it.”
“I had no money or means of getting out.”
“I thought my kids were better off with two parents. How was I going to support them?”[/box_info]
Sadly, the number one reason most clients gave for staying was simply:
“I loved him.”
When we ask, “What’s love got to do with it?” love was the number one reason women gave for not leaving their abusers. As one client commented after her partner tried to strangle her: “I started out a confident, competent woman. But after decades of someone telling me: ‘If you just behave, I wouldn’t have to hit you!’ I started thinking: Maybe I should just learn to behave.”
It is critical for an abuse victim to have a support group of friends, relatives, co-workers or/and neighbors who support her. Knowing the signs of physical abuse can help those close to a victim recognize early warning of abusive relationships. We’re all aware of the unexplained bruises and unexplained absences from work or social functions. However, there are earlier warning signs that this might become an abusive relationship and that the victim should get out immediately!
Signs are early warnings![box_alert]
1. A quick temper
Not everyone with a bad temper will take it out on someone else. However, someone who gets angry over small things is likely to act before thinking. Quick temper with any kind of frequency should be a red flag. If a person seems to be picking constant fights, there’s a good chance he is not a candidate for a long-term relationship. Get out before you become his punching bag!
2. Critical attitude
People in a new relationship usually are in a “honeymoon period”. They pay attention and are frequently complimentary about such things as appearance. Criticism about weight, attire, clothes style and/or behavior is a red flag that they’re not going to love you for who you are. Ridicule and criticizing you in front of others is a control tactic. Its goal is to humiliate you. This affects your self- esteem. Get out of this relationship.
3. Monitoring your Activities
Every relationship requires time out to be with your friends. If you find that your partner is demanding more and of your time and is suspicious of what you are doing when you are not with him it’s time to reassess that relationship. Control of your time and spending are clear signs of abuse.
4. Doormat status
Relationships should be equal. They require give and take from both partners. If you are doing the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and running errands what is he contributing? If your man tends to order you around, require your time and service, and lecture you for not jumping to fulfill his needs then you are a doormat. You need to change this relationship or get out before these early signs become beatings, rapes, or public humiliation.
Unfortunately, early signs are rarely easy to see—particularly for the one who is being abused. Facing problems now can keep the victim safe later.
We all tend to think of abusers as ogres. The fact is: Many of them were the product of abusive homes themselves. Not all abusers fit the cold-blooded cruel beater stereotype. A recent study of abusive relationships categorized them into three types:
Dependable, yet abusive:
44% fit this category. They scored low on measures of control and temper and highest on dependability and positive traits.
Positive and controlling
38% of abusers had moderately high scores for violence but also for dependability and positive traits. They were more controlling than men in the first category and showed markedly higher levels of violent behaviors.
The remaining 18% are those that fit the media stereotype of abusers. They had the highest scores for violence, controlling behavior and the lowest scores for dependability and affectionate behavior.
What can We Do to Help?
Many friends, family and neighbors ignore signs of abuse because they don’t want to embarrass the victim. They fear reprisal from the abuser or they are reluctant to get involved.
Diana suggests that a high percentage of women don’t realize they are in an abusive relationship until they assess it. Many of them were physically and/or emotionally abused as children. They know no different. One of her jobs is to discuss what women can and should expect from a relationship.
She begins her talk by asking each participant these questions:[box_alert]1. When you are with your partner, do you feel anxious or nervous?
2. Are you deliberately cautious of what you do and say?
3. Do you feel pressured to have sex with your mate?
4. Are you reluctant to disagree with your mate’s opinions or ideas?
5. Does your partner criticize or embarrass you in public?
6. Does your mate ask you questions about where you have been and what you have been doing and act suspicious of your responses?
7. Does your mate accuse you of having affairs? Or he jealous of others’ attention?
8. Does your mate suggest that your behavior precipitated physical abuse and the abuse will cease when you learn to “behave”?
9. Do you avoid seeing friends, neighbors and/or family because of how your partner will react?
10. Does your mate make you feel as if you have done something wrong?
11. Does your mate threaten you?
12. Do you try to please your mate to avoid upsetting him?
13. Does your partner stop you from doing things and/or monitor your communication with others?
14. Do you feel that you can never measure up to your partner’s standards?
15. Does your partner make threats like: suicide; leaving; taking the children, withdrawing money?
16. Does your mate always have an excuse for his behavior (you made him angry; you misbehaved; you didn’t keep the kids quiet; alcohol or drugs clouded his thinking; hard day at work….)?
17. Do you cover up signs of abuse to friends, family, co-workers, medical personnel with excuses for bruises, cuts, abrasions, broken bones?
18. Does your partner withhold money and/or critical information?
19. Does your mate constantly criticize and/or humiliate you?
20. Does your partner control household, lie about important information, not involve you in household decision making?[/box_alert]
If you feel that a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a co-worker is in an abusive relationship there are things you can do to help:
Maintain family and/or friend connections. They are vital support. Be there for the victim.
Talk honestly with your friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member about signs of abuse. Sometimes she is too embarrassed to admit it. Be supportive and non-judgmental.
Call the authorities if you believe that your friend, relative, co-worker or neighbor is in serious physical danger. Even if you lose your friend, in the long run, she will be safe!
Provide information about alternatives: a family member or a friend who will take in an abuse victim or a women’s shelter. Diana points out: “Abusive relationships are not some dark little secret we should ignore. Sometimes we are the only lifeline the victim has.”