One of my ex’s Probation Officers shared a story of a woman who suffered physical abuse on a fairly regular basis. She and her husband were pillars in the community, and other others clamored to be in their circle. She was well educated and quite attractive. Her life was often in jeopardy and he posed the question why she did not leave him. I have heard this question many times from educated, empathetic, well-meaning individuals, even professionals who should know better. Abuse is complicated, filled with both shame and love and not always between the abuser and the abused. Messages of shame come at us from all angles, people, and situations. We are subjected to them daily.
Messages of Shame
- We may have heard friends or family say, “I would never tolerate someone who abuses me. I would leave them right away. If they cheated, I’d tell them, Goodbye and Good riddance”. What we hear as victims of abuse is, “you must be really worthless and weak if you let someone abuse you, and cheat on you or you must be really stupid. “
- You finally speak out, only to have your voice fall on deaf ears or heads that turn away. Worse yet, no one believes you(or believes the abuser is capable of such tactics) or they diminish the abuse. They simplify your trauma. “He’s stalking you, just turn your phone off. They are just text messages or phone calls”. No big deal. What victims hear, “stop being so sensitive, turn off your phone, change your number. Jeez, you are so weak.” In other words, accommodate his aggressive behavior and modify your behavior, you are not worthy. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. Bullshit, words can be the abuse and are the prelude to physical violence and even death.
- Fact: 7.5 million people are stalked each year. This is not just an innocuous text message. Look closely.
- Did you hit him? Often the answer is yes. Well, if you are hitting then you deserve to be hit. Like I said abuse is complicated and abusers bully until they get a reaction. They may be sexually aggressive and hurtful, scream at you two inches from your face as you are backed into a corner. Another tactic is to not allow you to leave or move away from the intensity of the situation. You push them away, out of your personal space and Green Light. You hit first and now you are going to pay. They want a reaction, it justifies their means. The same message of shame, you deserve it.
- Insensitive jokes about beating your wife. Everyone laughs and you may even chuckle, but the message is clear, “I am in charge and see others agree.” Jokes are not jokes and we are not being overly sensitive. Most people do not threaten their mates, but an abuser will excuse this behavior by claiming “everyone talks like that.” newhopeforwomen.org/abusertricks
- Inappropriate sexual advances and the sound of silence from others. Think Hollywood. Sexual deviants are being exposed on a daily basis. Powerful, smart, beautiful women and men are coming forth after years of keeping silent. Hollywood’s quiet tolerance, at the sacrifice of the victim, screamed their message of shame. Keep quiet. Hide the secret shame of abuse as friends and family look the other way. The abuser was rich and powerful and would have destroyed my career. I am nothing without him. More messages of shame.
- Our own silence. This message of shame is palatable. We see it every morning when we look in the mirror or in our children’s eyes. We know deep in our heart that in some sick way we participate in the abuse(not as the abuser), but we fulfill our role. Please understand that in NO WAY AM I ASSERTING ANYONE DESERVES ABUSE OF ANY KIND. Coming to terms with why we tolerate the abuse can be emotionally overwhelming, but accepting and understanding our role in that relationship can be liberating. From my own personal experience, I was filled with shame for putting myself, but mostly my children in abusive situations. For sending messages of shame to them, “just go in your room. He’s drunk. Don’t talk balk. It’s worse in other homes. Sometimes adults behave like that.” #6 deserves it’s own blog, for shame can keep the wheel of abuse turning and self-forgiveness can stop the cycle. I was ashamed of myself for tolerating the abuse, ashamed that I gave up my power, ashamed that I did not have the strength to leave, deeply ashamed for adopting some of his behaviors and ashamed that I was also sending a message of shame to my most precious gifts, my children.
So to answer his question, why does she stay? Shame paralyzes us. Messages of shame that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not worthy enough and the messages of shame go on and on.
What, if any, Messages of Shame did you receive?
For more information on stalking, visit the Stalking Resource Center’s website: http://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center