Domestic violence is more than bruises – it is a psychological battle between fear, love, confusion and self-awareness.
There are so many aspects to abuse that people simply do not understand until they are in that situation themselves or see the cycle develop with a loved one.
Domestic violence isn’t just about beatings or yelling – it is about being broken down as a person and being convinced you are worth nothing more than someone’s anger.
There is no answer to why people abuse others or as to why victims stay or leave their abusers. The many factors that influence the relationship between abuser and abused include fear, love, money, family and all sorts of other factors.
It is difficult to know where to start this discussion, so I’ll start at the beginning of a cycle of abuse.
When a person is living in a cycle of abuse, it does not begin with bruises. It begins with a relationship – either a friendship, or most commonly a romance. Somehow, one person gives their trust to another.
Next there is an initial incident. Maybe it starts off as an argument and ends in a physical fight. Maybe it starts with a manipulative comment that insults a person’s beliefs or values or self-worth.
After that initial moment that makes a person say ‘Woah, what was that?’ there is manipulation from the abuser. They say sorry and beg for forgiveness. Sometimes, they say nothing at all, in a way to manipulate people into thinking they deserved it (which nobody ever, ever does).
This is how a cycle develops. There is a trust and a relationship that keeps people together. Sometimes men and women are ‘so in love that it hurts’ and they just can’t imagine that their loved one could hurt them again. People will make excuses such as the abuser had a bad day and they didn’t mean the things they said, or he’s always had a temper or she’s always been controlling – it’s just their personality.
So many thoughts occur to a person before they consider the fact that this person they trust is abusive. Throughout a cycle of abuse, a person will start to see signs and patterns and triggers.
Abusers will often try to isolate their victim from friends, family, community supports and from their own self-confidence. People who stay in abusive relationships are not stupid, or weak or deserving. They are afraid and often times have to think of all kinds of aspects and consequences for leaving.
Factors such as finance and shelter can affect a person’s decision to leave – which, by the way, does not ensure the abuse stops. Lots of times, that makes the abuser angrier.
Children can be another major reason for a person staying in an abusive relationship, especially if the children are related biologically to both people in the relationship. Having kids can be scary because there is an entire world of financial obligations that come with a child and most do not want to be a single parent.
If you see someone in a cycle of abuse, the worst thing you can do is say, ‘Well just be brave and leave.’ I’m sure that a victim would love to pack up their life and never look back but it isn’t always so simple.
The best thing to do in a situation where one recognizes a cycle of abuse is to ask how you can help that person. Maybe a lunch meeting once or twice a week can help them gain confidence, or expand their now-minimal contact with people outside of the relationship. Maybe you can help them print resumes to apply for a job that will allow them to become financially stable.
Maybe all they need is to talk out their plan. There are so many aspects to leaving an abusive relationship to consider – important documents from the home, where will they live? Where will they work? How can they afford childcare?
The other side of abuse is that sometimes it comes from family members – siblings, cousins, parents, what have you. Imagine what it would be like to be afraid of your family. Leaving is not an easy option.
What people need to understand is that abuse is not a black and white issue. It is scary as hell, complex and full of difficult decisions. The best way to deal with abuse is to empower the victim and recognize the signs of abuse before it goes too far.
Stop perpetuating the idea that some people deserve their abuse, or are too stupid or weak to do something about it. Instead of saying, ‘Why are you staying?’ say ‘How can I help you?’ and consider the many factors that are involved when fleeing an abusive relationship.
Don’t ask them to explain or justify their life – just do what you can to help them.