Thursday, December 13, 2012

Embracing Peace and Wallowing in Joy

I had an aha moment reading Martha Beck’s article “Wild Life” in the December issue of O magazine. I’ve been thinking about writing a blog on watching for the pockets of joy this holiday season. It’s so easy for us to focus on what we don’t have. What we think keeps the holiday, or our lives for that matter, from being “perfect.” 
I do want to encourage you to embrace the holy-moments. The times when you see how truly blesses you are. How far you’ve come, the good decisions you are now making, the times when you were in the right moment at the right time. Let gratitude wash over you. Savor it.
The article in O gave me some additional insights. According to Martha we’ve lived with so much drama in our lives, that when times are peaceful, we create drama. We start to dwell on what’s not right, what could happen, what happened years ago. Man, that hit me right between the eyes. Yes, we are drawn to conflict. TV, books, games all depend on conflict to keep our attention.  We’re hounded by it every day.
As Martha suggests, Suppose, we make the decision today to embrace peaceful moments? We stop our brains in their tracks when we find our thoughts jumping onto the drama carousel. How would your life be different if you embraced a tranquil moment and savored it? I mean really got down and wallowed in the deliciousness of its joy? I think I’d find myself less likely to seek out drama and more anxious to live with peace.
That’s my goal is for this holiday season and beyond. What is yours?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Birthing a New Future

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo talks about the birth of a chick. After eating all the food provided in the shell, it’s grown to fill the space and begins to feel cramped. It cannot stay contained in that tiny shell or it will die. It stretches and pecks, breaking the eggshell - birth.  
As we grow we change physically. Wayne Dyer talks about how our spirit inhabits and outgrows an infant body, adolescent body and finally into an adult body. Though, Even our adult body changes as the cells die off and new ones replace the old.  Growth, a necessary part of life. 
When it comes to our spirits, stretching and growing can be painful. It seems our most significant spiritual births are often accompanied by great discomfort and anxiety about the coming change. We may even fight it, making it more difficult. But, our spirits will continue to grow beyond our current existence. At some point, we have to make a conscious decision to move on or stay trapped in the shell of our circumstance and run the risk of suffocating. 
I experienced this most acutely before leaving my abusive partner. Like many victims of domestic violence, I lived in a stifling relationship. Yet, my spirit began preparing me for a new birth, showing me that I could no longer live that way. It bubbled up as uncontrollable grief, health problems, anxiety, fear and more. I didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to know it. Was terrified of the unknown- how would I exist outside in a world I was unprepared for and taught to not trust. But, the day came when the pain of staying was more brutal than the fear of leaving. Like the chick, fighting for its life, I faced the truth and broke out of the shell. 
Once a victim leaves, the relationship can nether stay nor go back to the way it was. The old life is irreparably broken. If we try to work things out with our partner, the truth smolders within us, an ember of resentment that will devour us. Some victims reach for alcohol, drugs or other addictions to silence it, compounding the pain. Others move on to a new life.
For those of us who move on, there are many new births as we quickly learn to reclaim our life and catch up to where we would have been had we not been stifled. Every new day is a celebration of freedom, learning and growing as we break through the shells that isolated us from our gifts and abilities, our support base and ourselves. We come to  trust ourself and listen to our inner-voice. Then we can anticipate, welcome and celebrate each unfolding birth.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Letting Joy Rule

I have a dog, Watson, who believes his soul purpose in life is to keep our yard clear of chipmunks. When I take him out on his leash, he leads me on a specific route, around the foundation at the back of the house, over to the woodpile behind the garage, up the property line along the lilac bushes to the back woodpile. Chipmunks squeak their warnings from the safety of the stacked logs, egging Watson on. Only after every nook and cranny has been sufficiently sniffed will Watson take care of our purpose for going out. 
Sometimes on these walks, I look ahead and see chippers frolicking about the yard.  Watson doesn’t see them, he’s focused on the woodpile, shoving his face in every hole, barking at the perceived chipmunk’s hunkered down inside. 
Today, while sitting on the deck, I watched Watson, on point, head through the guardrail, scrutinizing a chipper pathway below. He quivered with excitement, sure a chipmunk would show up any moment. Gated on the deck, there was no way he’d be able to chase one if it did show up. Out in the yard two chipmunks scurried from trees to flowerbeds and back. Watson didn’t see them. (I have to admit, I didn’t point them out to him. His bark is deafening.) 
Watching him, I realized that I had also been focusing on a problem that I could do nothing about. How blind have I been to all the wonderful blessings around me? It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t right and forget about all that is right in our lives. Gratitude. I’d like to pay more attention to all the things that I am grateful for. Why give my focus to something I can’t do anything about? Why allow sadness to have more weight in my life than joy? If I can let sadness rule, why can’t I let joy rule? 
John Locke, an English philosopher said “What worries you, masters you.” I prefer to let joy master me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our Words Create

The great minds agree that the words we speak, create. We can send out unkind or healing words -- our call. The words we use to describe ourselves affects our self-esteem. We can also change our journey using words.
It’s interesting how lessons we have to learn start to appear in various areas of our lives. It’s good that they don’t avalanche over us all at once, but come gracefully, one by one. Okay, maybe gracefully is not the best word, sometimes lessons pummel us over the head. My point is, the creating power of our words seems to be my current issue, again. It has been showing up in my reading materials. It’s made me think back about my words. 
My first memory on this issue was an incident from  twenty-some years ago, when I stopped my car on the side of a country road - my then-husband was coming home after working out of state for 2 peace-filled months. During his absence breathing was easier. The kids migrated from their rooms, blooming like roses. We talked, laughed, enjoyed one another.  I was less distracted and able to focus on them. I could take care of tasks and make plans without fear that they would interfere with his wants and needs. The kids and I ate dinner without the glaring unused dishes at the head of the table, a harbinger that he would come home drunk and most likely angry. During the time he was gone, I didn’t need to be “on” all the time, hyper-vigilant to his every wish to ensure peace in our home. 
Now he was coming home. A suffocating black cloud of fear and dread cloaked me. Stopped aside the road that day, I opened my door, stepped out and shouted to God and all of creation, “I refuse to live like this anymore.” 
My husband came home. Numb, I walked through the motions. There was a sense that dominoes were falling around me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Hoped that through some miracle he would be healed of his alcoholism, his anger issues and maybe even come to love me (I though these were the problems, didn’t know it was domestic abuse).  
I left for work one morning and tears began to roll down my face. Why was I crying? Willing them to stop, did no good, they continued. Again I stopped on the side of the road. Tried to pull myself together, sop up the tears. Couldn’t go to work like that. There was no stopping them. All I could do was return home. 
Once there, my husband interrogated me. “What’s wrong with you?” was the gentlest of his comments. I didn’t know how to answer. I spent the day sitting in a chair in the bedroom, fighting the feelings I’d kept so diligently pushed down under the surface of justifications I’d created to survive. Finally, I had to face the facts - there was no way I could save this marriage. I’d done everything I knew how to do. It was time to give it up and admit that if the marriage would survive, it would be by God’s hand, not mine. I released my grip. Let go. Could what will happen next be any worse then what the kids and I were already going through?
Those dominos began to fall into place. My children went to visit my parents in another state. While at a gathering with friends in our old neighborhood, my partner blew up at me. This was the first time any of our friends had see the violent side of him. He told me to go pack our things, we were leaving. I did. Others tried to reason with him, he’d been drinking all day. I was petrified to get in the car and travel the two hours home.  Didn’t know if we’d make it and terrified of what he’d do to me if we did. When I came into the kitchen, he said, “Let’s go.”
Suddenly, I was standing in a dark room. The door was open, there was light out there that didn’t shine into the darkness. A voice said, “If you don’t leave now, that door will close and you will live in this darkness forever.”
It was the first time I ever told my partner, “No.”
He erupted. The men at the party protected me and sent him away. I believed that he’d come back later that night and kill me. He didn’t. 
Words, spoken on the side of a road started a new future for me. Even though I meant those words, God had to wrestle control from me in the quiet of my bedroom, and again in my friend’s kitchen. “What’s it going to be?” We alway have a choice. 
My lesson: After we speak our truth to creation we need to get out of its way. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to Help a Victim of Domestic Abuse

The Center for Disease Control reports approximately 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men experience violence at the hand of their partner. We can make a difference by paying attention to the people around us and reaching out. The question most asked is, “How do I know if someone is being abused? If I suspect they are, what do I say to them?” 
The most obvious signs of abuse are broken bones, black eyes, bruises, stitches, etc. Physical abuse. The signs of emotional and sexual abuse are less obvious. Berating, humiliating, threats, mind games, hurting children or pets, rape and other humiliating sexual acts, are all used to  assure the victim complies with the abuser’s demands. There are no visible signs (except in rape situations),  but emotional and sexual abuse, as well as physical violence, leaves bruises on the victim’s spirit. Bruises that can last a lifetime and affect the victim’s future.
Most important, if you witness physical violence call 911.
Here are some other indications of abuse --
Your friend or coworker:
  • Is often late or cancels an engagement with you last minute.
  • Wears long sleeves and turtlenecks in warm seasons.
  • Wears sunglasses indoors.
  • Is often sick for several days or weeks in a row and can’t come to work or see you.
  • Receives frequent calls from her partner every day.
  • Has a partner that shows up unexpectedly at her job or when she is out with you.
  • Is often heard trying to calm or assure her partner over the phone.
  • Never socializes with other co-workers or attends work parties or functions.
  • Is seeing you less and less often. 
Victims are afraid someone will ask what is happening to them. They are also afraid that no one will. 
You can help by being prepared and reaching out to the victim. Find out about the shelter in your area and have the phone number at hand. Take your friend or co-worker aside and tell her you’re concerned for her. You have seen  or heard things that lead you to believe that she is living in a stressful (don’t use the word - abuse) situation. Tell her you care about her and that you feel she deserves to be treated better. Offer her the phone number to the shelter (write it on some innocuous business card or random pamphlet.) Tell her that she can call and talk to someone who is compassionate and will help her think through her options. It doesn’t mean she has to leave her partner or go to the shelter. Shelter personnel will not force her to do anything she’s not ready to do. And neither should you. It takes on average 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Patience and acceptance is paramount. 
Your friend or co-worker may deny everything and make excuses for what you’ve witnessed. In violent relationships secrecy is an rule and breaking that edict means severe consequences for the victim. If she denies anything is happening, don’t argue. Tell her you care about her and if something comes up and she’d like to talk, you’re available. Just plant the seed.
Even if your friend or co-worker denies what is happening, there are still things that you can do. Keep a record on a calendar of any missed days, odd behavior, bruises or injuries you notice. Note where the bruising is on her body and its approximate size. Should she eventually press charges against her abuser, your documentation can help prove this is domestic violence, a pattern of on-going abuse, resulting in a longer sentence for the offender. Otherwise, the court may feel this was a one-time incident and only give the abuser a slap on the hand. 
If she discloses to you that she’s in an stressful or abusive relationship, consider doing some safety planning with her. You can set up a code word that she can use to tell you she needs help, call the police. She can gather important papers and records (i.e. birth certificates, social security card, bank accounts) and keep them in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box, with a friend or trusted relative.  She can keep an extra set of car keys hidden outside the house and a suitcase of clothing and some cash with a friend or relative.  She can let you know where she is going and when she is expected to return so if she doesn’t return, you can contact the police. The shelter in her area can give her more helpful suggestions.
It’s stressful to help a victim of domestic abuse. If you feel overwhelmed, you can contact the shelter in your area  or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800.799.7233.) They will support and guide you as you support the victim. 
Your friend has to do the work to take back her power, you cannot do that for her. All you need to be is someone who loves her and speaks the truth to her -- She deserves to be loved and cherished by the people in her life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Deja vu Nightmare

On PBS, Wayne Dyer told a story written by Portia Nelson, “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk; Autobiography in Five Short  Chapters.” It’s about walking down the street and repeatedly falling into the same hole until she finally decides to walk down a different street. 
I began to think how this parallels what often happens to victims of abuse. I jotted down how it might go. 
You meet a guy who’s kind, romantic and crazy about you. So caught up by his attention and adoration, you agree to marry him, immediately- wouldn't want to miss this opportunity. Once married, he begins to nit-pick, pointing out what’s wrong with you. When you try to call him on his behavior, he claims you are “too sensitive,” crazy and self-absorbed. Soon he’s telling you that you are stupid and worthless and can’t do anything right. He does a number on your self-esteem and teaches you that you cannot trust yourself.  He begins to batter you because you “push his buttons.” You’re stunned that this has happened and struggle to make sense of it, fix yourself so he will love you like before. His mind games and threats trap you in the relationship. It may take years to get out. 
You meet a guy who’s kind, romantic and crazy about you. You feel harried and anxious to be in a relationship and walk away from the past. You’re new partner wants to take care of you. It feels so good after what you’ve been through, you marry him. You start to grow stronger. He reminds you of your previous poor choices and how he knows what's best for you. He begins to point out what is wrong with you. It isn’t long before you see that he’s another abuser. You start blaming yourself. What’s wrong with me? How could I be so stupid to do this again? Maybe I am a horrible person and deserve this treatment. Perhaps, you end this relationship sooner. Maybe you stay longer ashamed to admit you’ve done it again and no one will ever truly love you. But to save your life (and maybe the lives of your children) you finally leave.
You meet a guy who’s kind, romantic and crazy about you. You feel that time is running out for you and you don’t want to be alone. So damaged by the previous relationships, you don’t believe you can take care of yourself. You’re surprised that anyone loves you. You look him over carefully and decide to take a chance-- live with him not marry him. OMG. Not again!!!  Maybe all men are abusers. There are no nice men out there. If you want someone, you’d have to put up with the abuse. It becomes so painful that in spite of the fear of being alone, you’re out quicker this time, feeling worthless and helpless.
You meet a guy who is kind, romantic and interested in you. But you don’t trust your gut anymore. How do you know if he’s truly a great guy or another violent man hiding behind a facade? You blow up the relationship.
You go into treatment with a therapist who is trained in domestic abuse issues. You learn that the abuse was not about you, but about your partner. It was not your fault. You were a victim sucked in by well rehearsed controlling men. You learn that you are a survivor. You take time to rediscover yourself, learn to trust your gut, repair your self-esteem, build a career and change your self-talk. Most important, you learn that you can take care of yourself.
You meet a guy who is kind and romantic and seems interested in you. You don’t feel rushed. As a matter of fact, you like being single, running your own life. So you date him with no preconceived notion that he will be a life partner. He doesn’t try to rush you into a commitment. He respects your boundaries. He talks and listens. He has a passion in life and encourages you in your passion. You meet his friends. He meets yours. You have shared interests and some that are individual. You take plenty time to do the things you enjoy doing on your own. He respects that and pursues his own interests. You like him as a person. He shows respect to others. You talk about marriage. What is his vision for finances, shared responsibilities, children, etc.? If your visions don’t jive, you walk away or if you choose, keep the relationship at its current level. Then you open your heart wide.
Last word: While this scenario is more likely if the victim was raised in an violent home, any of us can fall into it. We end up living with ghosts from past relationships. Therapy can help us learn how to keep those ghosts from destroying our future relationships. Through therapy, we learn how to stand up for ourselves and work through difficulties with our partner, creating a stronger, healthy bond.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moving Past the Past

One of the biggest struggles after leaving is staying away. We know it takes on average 7 attempts to leave a violent relationship. That’s because of all the emotional hooks and brainwashing we received. 
It’s hard to give up the image of who we believed our partner was. It’ hard to believe that we were sucked in by this -- now know to be a -- monster. We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the relationship. We have too little self-confidence to believe we can “make it” in the world on our own. We don’t know how to speak for ourselves, support ourselves (and kids,) fight our own battles and create a future. For those of us who were taught that they are stupid, worthless and not capable of making any good decisions, it’s easier to go back than face the huge task of healing and creating a new life.
When we leave, our abuser knows what to say and how to manipulate us to return. He plays the "Mr. Wonderful" card while making it as difficult as possible for us to move forward. With a straight face, he tells us we are not capable of surviving on our own. He’s concerned for our wellbeing. He misses the kids. He’s getting help. He promises it will be different this time. He’s romantic and before we know it we’re in bed together. As long as we stay connected to the past, we are drawn back to stagnate. 
Like me, as a child you may have had a toy or blanket you carried everywhere. I had a stuffed dog that went everywhere with me. I couldn’t sleep without it tucked in bed beside me. If it was lost I’d cry until it was found, desperate and hysterical that my beloved toy was gone forever. Do you know where your beloved toy is? Like mine it may have been tossed away many years ago or tucked in a keepsake box. We don’t need it to make it through a day anymore because we’ve matured beyond that relationship.
In the same way, when we free ourselves from an unhealthy relationship, we begin to mature beyond our need for this destructive partner. It’s a lot of steps forward and some backwards. It’s stretching muscles we didn’t know we had.  Step by step we learn that we can take care of ourselves and children. We can fight our own battles. Along the way, we uncover our gifts and talents that we had to put aside to meet the needs and wants of our controlling partner. We find our passion in life, the thing that fills us with joy. It’s not easy. It’s worn-to-the-bone-sick-of-it-all days and so-help-me-if-have-to-learn-one-more-lesson today, I’ll scream days. But as your life starts to move forward, it’s priceless. Those are the days when you look back and say, “Look how far I’ve come. I don’t need anyone to take care of me.”
Then you can invite someone into your life because you want them there, not because you need them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

This is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. I understand the word “date” is slowly disappearing from teens vocabulary. The “dating” that I participated in ages ago has developed into a more joint responsibility for cost and opened up to group activities. I like that. So let’s call it Teen Relationship Violence Awareness Month.  (Which could also include bullying anyone, partner or not.) 
This is what I’d like our teens to know:
You are the only you on this planet. Only you have the combination of gifts and talents for your mission in life. Your abilities won’t be identical to anyone else's. But that’s okay. You are here because you are supposed to be here -- at this time -- right now. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t earn it. It was given to you as an opportunity. You have the right to claim and fill your space on this planet.
As you journey through life, you will discover your gifts and talents, honing them by the good and bad experiences you encounter. Your gifts can be used for good or evil. I hope you chose good, even if you’ve been wounded along the way. It’s always a choice to be kind or unkind- your choice. Sometimes it takes more strength of character to be kind. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t protect and take care of yourself. There is a fine line between caring for others and becoming a people pleaser who gives to others at the expense of themselves. Don’t become a people pleaser. You have the right to decide who is a part of your life and how they should treat you.
You deserve to be, treated with respect by the people in your life. Others deserve the same from you. There are many people out there that will treat you right. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, put up with anyone who isn’t respectful - no matter how much you believe you love them and they profess to love you. Watch their actions for the truth about how they feel toward you. If they are constantly criticizing you, berating you, humiliating you, they don’t love you. You will never “love someone enough” to make them love you. Not everyone will like you. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you, it’s about them. 
Helping someone else, should never hurt you. One big hook a controlling partner uses to hold on to his partner is to convince her that he really wants to and will change but he needs her help. People who want to change, do. They take responsibility and do the work. They put all the effort into changing. If it requires help, they go to a professional trained to guide them, not expect their partner to heal them. 
You cannot change anyone else. You can only change yourself. Often, the best way to help someone is to not buy into their bad behavior, just walk away. There are others who will love and respect you and you can love again- this is not the only person in the world for you. Yes, it hurts to break up. That hurt only lasts a short time. Staying in an abusive relationship hurts 7/24/365. 
Healthy relationships consist of two people who are genuinely concerned for the other but also maintain their own life. That means each gets to discover and pursue their own passion in life. Take their own journey. Define who they are. Develop their own life space. These life spaces can overlap into a shared space (a relationship.) The guy’s journey doesn’t require the girl to give up her journey in order to be loved. Neither should her life space swallow up or negate his. Also, he doesn’t terrorize his partner, paralyzing and inhibiting her from becoming who she was meant to be. Someone who loves you will be your biggest cheerleader, supporting you during your journey of discovery. And you will reciprocate. 
During the teen years, girls and guys think differently. There is nothing wrong with ether way of thinking, it’s just the way we’re wired. Girls are apt to be ready to form a committed relationship before guys are. While she’s thinking we’ll be together forever and ever.  He may also think the same thing. However, her forever and ever is defined as until death do us part. His is often for the next six months. You need to know where your partner is coming from. In healthy relationships partners can talk about issues such as this and respect each other perspective.
Here are some red flags that indicate you are in an unhealthy relationship. Your partner:
  1. Doesn’t take “no” for an answer.
  2.   Moves too fast and is rushing you into exclusivity, sex. 
  3.   Is jealous and limits your circle of friends and who you can talk to.
  4.   Monopolizes your time.
  5.   Shows up unexpectedly when you are out with friends.
  6.   Calls or texts many times throughout the day and night.
  7.   Gets angry if you don’t immediately answer the text or call.
  8.   Has a sense of entitlement - believes one gender is “better” or deserves better treatment than the other.
  9.   Is closed minded about his beliefs and refuses to listen to or consider your opinion.
Finally, if you or a friend need help, please call the National Teen Dating Abuse hotline at: 866.331.9474. 
Here are some websites for teens:
Click on the “Comments” link below and share what you want teens to know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why Victims Stay or Return to Their Abusers

“Why didn’t you just leave?” is the most asked question when I speak. It’s hard for people who maintain their own power and can do as they please to understand someone who believes - no - knows they no longer have that power. It’s been taken away from them.
I lived in a violent relationship for almost 20 years. I stayed for many of the same reasons that women return to their abusers.
First, because I loved him -- who I thought he was. He didn’t show up for the first date and slap me across the face. If he had, I would have called the police, had him arrested, stood up in court, pointed him out and said, “He did it.”
Instead, he showed up as a charismatic, thoughtful, romantic, kind, and loving man who was interested in me - what I thought and how I felt. He professed to want the same things out of life that I did. He was everything I wanted in a partner. How could I not fall in love with him?
I didn’t understand at the time that his interest in knowing all about me was his way to learn my vulnerabilities so he could later use them against me. And his desire to know how I thought, was only so he could twist my thinking to his will.
I fell in love with his false persona -my first impression of him. Later, I couldn’t help but think that if he could be that way once, he could be that way always. 
Also, I stayed because he’d shared his pain with me, how no one but his mother ever stood up for him. How previous partners betrayed him, weren’t there for him, and misunderstood him. I wanted to be the one who stood steadfastly beside him. I wanted to heal him, save him. Then he’d be so grateful, he’d love me forever and treat me like a queen. That didn’t happen.
Physical abuse started early in our marriage. About the 4th time he slapped me around, he hit me so hard he popped my ear drum. At that stage in our relationship, I was still strong enough to tell him if he continued to hit me, I’d have to leave. He said, “I thought you loved me.” I said, “I do love you. But if you continue to hit me, I will have to leave.” His reply was, “Then you don’t love me.” My people-pleasing heart said to me, “Tell him you love him. Tell him you’ll never leave.” But my gut said, “Shut up! Don’t take it back.” I listened to my gut and set a boundary that day. I didn’t know it at the time because he’d swaggered over any line I’d ever drawn
After that, he quit hitting me but ratcheted up the verbal abuse and did borderline physical abuse, grabbing and shoving me, pinning me against the wall, screaming in my face that I was a stupid worthless women who couldn’t do anything right. The Stockholm Syndrome set in. Like kidnapped victims, over time I began to side with my captor and believe what he said about me. He destroyed my self-esteem.
Yet, I stayed because he set himself up as all powerful. I believed he could fool the legal system. He threatened that if I tried to leave he’d get custody of the kids and I’d never see them again. He had shady friends who he told me would lie for him in court and say I was an unfit mother. 
Finally I stayed because he had a .357 magnum. He never threatened me with it, he didn’t have to. I knew it was there, loaded in his top drawer.
Toward the end of our marriage, he slammed me into the wall and pinned me with his arm across my throat, pressing in until I saw spots in front my eyes. He said, “You gonna leave me now.” That’s when I realized that he wasn’t hitting me because he didn’t want me to leave. So, now, if I say I wanted a divorce, what was going to keep him from beating me or getting out the gun and using it? I didn’t know. 
Fear holds us or draw us back into the relationship. Victims have bad and worse choices. She leaves, he kills her (and possibly the children.) She stays, he brutalizes her and kills her.
We are a hopeful bunch. But, maybe it’s because we know he, and only he, holds the power to change the situation. So all we have is hope that he will change.
We go back because:
  • We think we can handle the situation. We can fix things. We can tough it out. 
  • Our partner promises to change- Go into treatment/stop the drugs or other risky behavior. 
  • Our partner swears that he loves us and can’t live without us - he’ll kill himself if we don’t come back. 
  • He puts on that wonderful persona telling us- 
    • We have history, are you going to throw that all away? 
    • The kids need me. I’ll die if you take them away from me.
    • I thought you loved me.
  • We believe that this time our partner means it.
A professor, Amy Bonomi, from Ohio tracked 17 jailed abusers’ phone calls to victims and learned that the batterers were not threatening the women as expected. Instead, after the initial arguments over the phone, the batterers began using sophisticated emotional appeals designed to minimize their actions and gain the sympathy of the victims. The abusers managed to seal the couple’s bond of love, uniting them, then position them against “the others” who don’t understand their love. Making the legal system the enemy. From there, batterers manipulated the victim into dropping the charges or lying in court. (See: Social Science & Medicine online.)
“Practical” reasons victims stay:
  • May not identify herself as a victim of abuse.
  • Embarrassed to have anyone know.
  • Family pressures her to return.
  • Doesn’t know what resources are out there to help, she’s been isolated. 
  • Doesn’t want to ruin his career. If her partner loses his job, she and children lose their support. What good is it to put them in jail?
  • Doesn’t have access to any money. Partner controlled it. She doesn’t know how to handle money. How will she and her children survive in the world?
  • Can’t afford an attorney or may be assigned an attorney that doesn’t understand DV (very frustrating to work with a victim if you don’t understand the victim’s perception of the relationship.)
  • Could be evicted from her apartment if the domestic violence goes public, or there is no place she can afford to live. Apartment owners don’t want people with a history of DV.
  • For the children. Children will lose opportunities, activities, friends, change schools. 
  • Has a child with special needs and if she leaves the medical coverage ends.
  • Cannot afford child care. Her partner may be the one who cares for the children while she works.
  • Afraid to leave pets behind. 
  • May be a addicted to drugs and her partner is her dealer.
  • Fears the unknown.
When a survivor leaves, she is expected to make life changing decisions. As a person who  has never been allowed to make a decision, or if she did she was severely punished and told it was a wrong decision, it’s overwhelming and terrifying. 
Survivors have to deal with:
  • SAFETY, for kids and self.
  • Negotiating the legal system they can’t afford, don’t understand and were taught not to trust -
  • Terrified to testify in court in front of her abuser. If she breaks the Don’t Tell edict, he will kill her.
  • She’s going into court a terrified, hysterical, emotional wreak. He’s going to walk into court, cool, calm, and lie about who she is and what she’s done. He’ll seem very credible. 
  • Being murdered
  • She KNOWS -There is no place that she can hide that her abuser won’t find her. Every time the media reports a domestic violence related murder, calls to women’s shelters go down because an abuser tells his victim, “See, that’s what will happen to you.” Reinforcing his power position.
  • Fear for her children’s safety while visiting with abuser. Children have been murdered to punish the victim.
  • Stalking - relentlessly stalked. 
  • Everywhere the victims goes, the abuser shows up, follows them or leaves an indication that he’s invaded her personal space.
  • Incessant phone calls all day and night. If she has a no contact order against her abuser, the abuser gets his friends or family members to call, or calls her anyway. The victim knows if she turns off her phone or doesn’t answer, he’ll come over and pound on her door or break it down and attack her -- restraining order or no restraining order.
  • Abuser disrupts her work. He shows up or calls the victim at work, causing her to lose her job. Then interferes with her finding another job. He shows up at her interview or calls the company telling lies about her.
  • Continually drags victims to court over petty issues in order to drain victim’s finances, energy, and time off work.
  • Partner threatens to release embarrassing information about the victim. “Out” him/her if they’re same-sex partners. Threaten to report her if she is an undocumented person.
  • Abusers may go away then return after many years to stalk the victim and re-assault or murder her. 
In addition survivors are struggling with:
    • Divorce proceedings and requirements- more time off from work
    • Family court/child custody/visitation- He could get custody. Abusive men are more likely to fight for full custody and are as apt to get it as non-abusive dads.
    • Child protection investigation- she could lose the kids.
    • Kids emotional and physical needs. 
    • Her own grief and pain.
No surprise, victims give up and return. They want to stop the relentless hounding. They feel hopeless and helpless.