Verbal Abuse in Relationships Blog
Victims of domestic abuse hear so often, “You’re so much better than this! Why are you staying?”For me, I knew I was “better than” my experience. I knew I didn’t “deserve” to be treated that way. Yet, when someone pointed that out to me, all I wanted to do was dig in my heels and fight to stay.
Yes, I am better than how I was treated, but my abuser was also a better man than how he behaved. I saw us as equally hurting. I figured he must be in extraordinary pain to be able to hurt me in those ways – to say those things to me, to pretend to mean what he said, to use his hands to back up his words.
We Were Equally Trapped
He and I were both in pain. I deserved better treatment, but he and I were the same. He deserved a chance to find happiness. He deserved love, kindness, respect, … true love. He deserved mylove despite giving me disrespect and hate because we were the same.
When someone told me I was better than him, I recoiled like a striking snake. The logic didn’t make sense. How could I be better than my equal? If they thought I was better than him, then they were saying I wasn’t good enough. They, the ones who encouraged me to leave my abuser, became my enemy.
I Remembered the Good Things
As I began recounting the great things about my abuser to my new enemy, the better memories took precedence in my mind. I reinforced to myself why I stayed in my desire to convince my enemy of the same thing. My logic was not the same as my enemy’s. What I did made perfect sense to me. Giving up on him meant giving up on me.
I Was A Good Person
I was loyal, loving, willing to be strong through the tough spots. I could see past the bad to the goodness in my abuser. I would not only survive, but pull him up out of his internal sea of hate with me. I owed him that because I promised him that I would never leave him. I promised to love, honor, and cherish; not use, turn-tail, and ridicule.
My sense of loyalty and the belief that he and I were equals kept me trapped in our abusive relationship. I chose to stay because I felt that to leave indicated a betrayal of who I am. My abuser already betrayed me in many ways on a continual basis. I didn’t want to betray myself, so I remained loyal to him.
Ensnared by who I am as much as what he did to me, I stayed with my abuser for almost two decades.
It seems as if, in my married days, I spoke a different language from my family and friends. When they told me I deserved better and offered a way out, I didn’t hear what they wanted me to hear. I heard “I don’t recognize you anymore. You’re a mess. You need help. You’re doing it wrong. There’s something wrong with YOU.”
I guarantee that’s not what they meant. Yet I picture myself saying those same well-meaning words to domestic abuse victims today! I want them to see what I see in them. But I’m not speaking their language. I am their enemy.
How To Help A Domestic Abuse Victim
So what do we say to someone on the receiving end of an abusive relationship?
I think I may have responded to something like this:
I am so sorry to hear that you’re feeling (depressed, scared, hurt, etc.). I can’t imagine how bad it must feel for someone you love to say/do those things to you. I know you care for them deeply, so when this happens it must hurt more than I can imagine. I wish I could take away your pain, but I know I can’t.
You know, dear one, many people who get angry at the ones they love want to preserve their relationship (just as you do). Yet, when you describe your relationship to me, I feel that s/he lashes out unfairly. I don’t know what I can do unless you tell me what I can do to help. What can I do to help?
I know it doesn’t seem like “enough”. I know you want to run to the house and give whats-their-name a piece of your mind and slam the door in their face after grabbing all your loved ones things. But that is not going to work.
In speaking to your loved one in the matter described, you subtly remind them that there are three people involved in the current conversation: you, them, and the abuser. You remind them that they are separate from their abuser (and you). You remind them that they have their own choice to make, and you can’t make it for them although you greatly sympathize with their pain.
This type of conversation will be different from the others your abuse victim encounters after an episode. You see, with their other friends, your loved one gets the chance to reverse course. When their other friends attack the abuser, your loved one has the opportunity to defend the abuser and convince themselves to stay.
The best thing you can do is to not give her (or him) the opportunity or need to defend the abuser. Let them be separate from the abuser, let them stay in their own mind for awhile. Ask what you can do to help, then wait for the answer.