Imagine the sun warming your body, the sound of the ocean lulling your mind to the most peaceful tranquil state of existence, a cool drink quenching your yearning thirst, a warm breeze teasing the tiny hairs on your motionless body, the rawness of mother earth meditating through you bringing your mind and body close to a state of co-existence and peace. The merging of all senses, when abruptly your sense of sound is alerted to the voice of a friend saying in her Texas drawl, “….if a man hit me, I’d be out of there right quick”, “…no way would I let someone hit or abuse me.” And suddenly, in a split second, I am ripped from my peace, my body tightens, the emotional wall fortifies, my mind returns to the place of judgment.
Nonchalantly, I slip into the conversation, without revealing my shame, my baggage, my heartbreak and tell her there are many reasons women stay in abusive situations. We stay out of fear, fear that others will know our dirty secret, fear that our children will know(even though they already know), fear we will lose our family, fear of judgment, fear of failing and not being able to provide for our children. We accept less because of shame. We are ashamed. Sometimes we have engaged in the abuse and that deepens our shame.
As my thoughts of shame and judgment find their comfortable shape in my mind, she re-iterates her statements. Her confidence and strength, re-birth feelings of guilt and mingle with judgment. It is frightening that feelings that I thought I discarded return so easily, and now fear was awakening. This need inside me stirred because I wanted her to understand her words of strength were resonating as a judgment. Her words cast aspersions that I was weak and pathetic. I wanted her to understand, but I didn’t want her to know. Even as I write this I don’t really want anyone to know the depth or the secrets of my personal journey. Afterall, a vulnerability in my world is the direct conduit to pain, deep emotional pain.
Quietly, without drawing too much attention that the conversation is personal to me, I state that we all make decisions with the information and with the feelings we have at that moment in time. Abuse is complicated. We all take different things from each relationship, and it is our humanitarian duty to provide a safe place without judgment for others who are trapped for whatever reason in abusive situations.
And as I abruptly as my peace was shaken, I quickly closed my eyes and feigned tranquility. Fighting the inner battle of my emotions, while desperately keeping my physical demeanor in check. As I pushed, the feelings of shame, judgment, guilt, and pain out of my psyche, I looked like all of the other carefree beachgoers. However, now I felt the intense heat of the sun, the cold drink now warm and unquenching, the waves thundered, each more bold and powerful and the once comforting warm breeze, now invaded my body without permission. A battle waged in my mind, but a new sentiment emerged. The new emotional comrade affirming that I found unity, even if briefly, and it is a privilege to help others find their peace. With this new emotional ally, my senses relaxed once more.
Common reasons people stay in abusive situations according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. http://www.thehotline.org
- Fear: A person may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship.
- Believing Abuse is Normal: A person may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
- Embarrassment or Shame: It’s often difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.
- Low Self-Esteem: When an abusive partner constantly puts someone down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for the victim to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
- Love: So often, the victim feels love for their abusive partner. They may have children with them and want to maintain their family. Abusive people can often be charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the victim may hope that their partner will go back to being that person. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
- Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles supported by someone’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
- Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If a person is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others.
- Lack of Money/Resources: Financial abuse is common, and a victim may be financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, access to resources or even a place to go, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.
- Disability: When someone is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence their decision to stay in an abusive relationship.