I have often beat myself up about why I didn’t do more to get myself out of some of the situations I found myself in. And why even after everything I would forgive and not only go back to the people who hurt me but continue often to be there biggest support.
Throughout my recent therapy sessions I have discovered a sense of shame that I stayed. I have questioned myself about why I didn’t fight back, why I accepted what I did. In one of our conversations Chris and I talked about adult victims of physical or emotional abuse. How they often hide it from family and friends, they often stay longer than you would hope. We talked about why that might be the case.
I thought it might help to share my thoughts because you might know someone trapped in a situation and struggle to understand why or you might be trapped in a relationship you don’t feel you can escape and maybe it would help to reflect on the reasons why. Perhaps you will find something that allows you to take a step forward. I have tried to share the reason for not leaving, my experience and a thought or two about how to move forward…
Afraid of Making the Situation Worse
Why we Stay
Abusive environments are often very erratic and volatile in their nature. We can find ourselves looking for patterns and we may rightly identify triggers however it is impossible to predict the exact course of these behaviours and their impacts. When you are in one of these situations however hard it is there is always the fear of making it worse. Sometimes you can guess at the worse things that could happen sometimes it is just a feeling.
I definitely fell into this trap. I would often just accept the abuse from fear of making it worse. I recall one occasion dad hit me full force with a wooden spatula. Normally I would say nothing when he hit me. He was drunk and there was no point trying to reason with him, in fact if I said anything the situation could escalate. On this occasion though it hurt so much I couldn’t help but start crying. I did so silently trying to finish the cooking I had started, but he noted the tears streaming down my face at first he just joked it off laughing saying “Come on Alison I didn’t hit you that hard.” I carried on cooking but the tears didn’t stop. Then he started getting angrier and angrier with me. His tone changing and volume increasing. I actually found myself telling him it was ok. Trying to brush it away to calm the situation down. Choking back my tears. Telling him I was wrong it was ok!
Afraid others won’t believe you
Why we stay
Along with physical, emotion or other abuse there is a growing sense of self loathing or lack of self worth. You start to doubt yourself and you worry others will doubt you too. This coupled with the fact that your abuser might present a very different front to other people makes it scary to speak up.
I know in the situation with mum I was so young I didn’t have a sense of credibility. As a child our fears or worries often get brushed aside. It’s ok it was just a dream, don’t be silly that won’t happen. With dad I was older but to the outside world for a long time he was good man and I was just a teenager. Besides I never thought telling anyone would help. I did once confide in my mums social worker but there was little she could do at the time and I tried to minimise the issues wanting to avoid causing a fuss. Still it helped she knew in the long run as she advocated for me and my sister with the council when I finally left and had no where to go.
Afraid they will hurt themselves
Why we stay
This one is a big one. Sometimes the abuser will openly threaten to hurt themselves, some times they will just layer on guilt suggesting they could not survive without you.
Of course with mum this was a worry. Mum tried so many times to take her own life that there was clear link between the fear of calling out the abuse and the impact on mum. Dad was slightly different, I never knew him make a direct attempt on his own life. However his self destructive behaviours were so dangerous and I definitely had a sense of responsibility toward him.
Afraid someone else will get hurt.
Why we stay
Situations are never as simple as they appear. Even if someone lives alone with their abuser then there are often still others involved in the relationship. Friends or family who become intertwined, invested in its course. People in abusive relationships can spend a lot of time worrying about the impact on others rather than themselves. The low self esteem reinforces this belief. Sometimes it is even harder and they have a child or other family member living with them and they worry for their safety.
For me most the time my other worry was Mel. I remember the night I left dads and walked out into a world with no idea where I was going. I wasn’t worried about the idea I might sleep rough that night. I was worried about Mel and leaving her behind. I had been the buffer between her and dad for so long I had no idea what would happen without me there and at the time I had no way to take her with me.
Fear of the unknown
Why we stay
This is a fear we often all relate to. Fear of the unknown can stop us pursuing our dreams or going after something we want. When you are stuck in an abusive relationship though it can stop us finding freedom.
Dad would reinforce this fear for me. Telling me over and over that I wouldn’t manage on own in the world. That I couldn’t afford to live in my own place. There was not a week that would go by that he wouldn’t remind me how lucky I was and how much harder the world was outside those doors. (He was wrong).
A lack of self worth
Why we stay
We all feel a little disappointed with ourselves at times. We worry about an unkind word we said or don’t believe we have the capabilities for a new job. If you live in an abusive relationship it can get so much more persistent and interwoven with your being, believe it or not you can actually start to think you deserve it.
I think most people see me as a positive and logical person. And in many ways I am. However when it comes to Self worth for most of my life this has been nonexistent. I don’t believe the good things in my life are any part of my doing but all the bad things are my responsibility.
Need to fix something
Why we stay
Sometimes we are holding on to hope. A hope things will get better. A hope we will find the magic combination to make them happy. A desire to not leave a situation in a worse place than we entered it.
This was a huge one for me. I had/have a fixer’s complex. I see a problem and I want to fix it. I can’t leave it alone. If I then had a sense that I had made things worse, which wrongly or rightly I often did I would feel duty bound to fix it.
Why we stay
We often find ourselves financially stuck in a situation. Without the perceived essential means to get out. How can you consider going somewhere if you have no money to get there.
Wrongly or rightly dad took half of my wages every month. Once I had paid for clothes, basics, travel and a night out here or there I was never able to build a nest egg. Yes I could have stopped the nights out and saved that money but let’s face it they were my only escape. A small escape in the week I didn’t want to give up.
What you might be able to do if you are the one stuck in an abusive relationship.
In those most difficult moments I expect I would have done much the same things. When you are confronted with a dangerous situation safety has to come first. When you live with someone who is abusive sometimes even leaving the room can provoke a stronger reaction. Only ever do what you feel safe and comfortable doing.
Speak to someone
I think the key action for me here in the future would probably be find someone to tell. Even just one person I trusted, one person that might be able to help me see the way out and reasons to take it. This could be someone you know or an anonymous or professional support. See below for support options in the UK.
Do some research
I get it is scary to imagine a world other than the one you know. It helps to research things before you go. Use the internet, speak to people, reach out to people who have got out of an abusive relationship already. There is always another option you don’t have to stay where you are.
Money, money, money
If you can it is great to build up a small pot of money. Set aside a little at a time. But and this a big but don’t see a lack of money as a blocker. There are lots of charities out there who can help you get out and friends may be more generous than you know.
Know you self worth
You do deserve happiness and you should not be stuck in this situation. None of us are perfect that does not mean you aren’t worth it. Perhaps keep a little list of the small things you accomplish in a day. Getting up, getting dressed, cleaning the dishes, that kind hello to someone in the street. You can have a better future. It might not be the glamorous happy ever after of Disney movies but it can be happy and safe. You can be happy and safe.
Take one step
The path out of an abusive relationship can feel daunting, scary and long. We can want to know in advance all the steps we will take but we never will. My advice just take one step. The rest will feel easier once you are past that first one.
I debated if I should include this one. I did go to the police once. After I had left my dads and I had to go back for some of my stuff. I was scared that given the fact I was leaving and his behaviour the night, I worried he might be worse than ever. I wasn’t pressing charges I just wanted them to know, to know I was going in to what felt like a dangerous situation. It made me feel better that if I needed to call them they had been fore warned. It helped me that my bosses husband at the time was a cop and she reassured me so much that I was doing the right thing. I know reporting abuse is scary, I know that fear and I can’t even explain why, but at least for me it was. Sometimes just having a conversation can help and having a record of the abuse in official channels can at times be really important. These things are often less scary than we imagine.
I do hope if you are reading this it helps you understand or gives you a little hope that there is life on the other side. Life worth living. Sending much love, where ever you may be. X