Victims want to help their partners, be there for them, fix them. Feeling needed, victims stay in the relationship, believing that if they can love their partners enough, their abusers will change. The facts show that it is rare that perpetrators change their behavior. They cling to it because it works for them.
Should the victim threaten to leave, the abuser often pledges to do whatever she asks if she will stay. He may promise to go into treatment but does not. He may enter treatment but soon drop out. He claims that the only way he can change is with the help of his victim, often threatening to harm himself or the whole family if she leaves him.
When the victim has spent time cleaning up her partner’s messes, making excuses and covering for him she feels responsible for his well-being. Also, she has worked hard for this relationship. What would happen if she left and he did change? She would miss out on the fruits of her hard labor. Does she want to start all over with someone else?
Abusers are insidious in there effort to chip away at their victims’ self-esteem. Over time, even victims who were originally confident, come to doubt themselves and their worth.
Victims are very perceptive regarding others’ feelings. They see the pain under their partner’s bravado facade and may hide or discount their own abilities so their partners will feel more powerful. They may give up opportunities so that their partners will not feel bested. Victims often sacrifice their own self, believing that they can earn their partners’ love and approval. They cannot.
Spiritual abuse is common in violent relationships. Victims who take their marriage vows seriously are reluctant to break the covenant they established with God and their partner. Abusers can easily twist the tenants of their faith to assure control of the relationships. They position themselves between God and their victims or take God’s place in their victims’ lives.
Women in violent relationships live with a partner who demands perfection. Falling short of his standards triggers a violent episode. She struggles be the partner he wants, looses weight, spit-polishes the house, cooks only his favorite dishes, manages the children and meets whatever requests he makes. He continually points out her failures. She accepts the blame and vows to be better. Believing that she can never do anything right, her self-esteem plummets.
Controllers go to great lengths to cast blame for their behavior elsewhere. They target not only their partner but also their bosses, coaches or other superiors. In the abuser’s opinion, those people apply too much pressure, are unreasonable and cause undue stress in the controllers’ lives. Controllers may also excuse their bad behavior by claiming they were drunk or high on drugs.
Having fallen prey to the Stockholm Syndrome, a victim has deep empathy for her partner. She already carries full responsibility for keeping his home life easier. However, she has no control over those on the outside who affect him or his drug and alcohol consumption. All she has is hope that if his stress level is reduced his drug and alcohol use will diminish. Then everything will be okay.
Societies around the world have placed women in a step-down position. In our own country women had to fight for the right to vote (1920). In the 1950s women could not open a bank account without their husband’s permission. Women are still trying to earn a salary equal to that of men in equal circumstances and are continually treated as if they are not capable of making the right choices regarding their own bodies and reproduction.
Sexual abuse is common in violent relationships. After being severely battered, victims are often raped as a final humiliation. They do not report it to police because of the lingering false belief that rape does not occur within marriage or any on-going relationship where consensual sex has previously occurred.
The media insists that women’s only value comes from physical beauty. It sells products. Movies glorify men who are strong, powerful and violent. Bad boys are depicted as a good catch. Nice men are portrayed as boring. All this misinformation has been internalized by both victims and controllers.
The belief that men are smarter opens the opportunity for financial abuse. In many cases the abusive partner controls all the finances, reducing the victim to a child’s position of having to ask for money for groceries or other needs. They have no discretionary funds to spend as they choose. They are required to account for every last cent. If they are working, they must turn their paycheck over to their partner. In many cases the victim has no idea what the household income is or where it is held. This is another reason why victims believe they are unable to leave.
Giving Up on Myself
Victims stay for many reasons. After a period of calculated abuse, victims believe that their partners, the ones who are closest to them, have confirmed they are unworthy of love. While victims recognize their partners’ controlling and violent sides, they also see their partners’ good qualities. Many victims become numb to deal with the pain, some by the use of drugs, alcohol or other addictions. Some victims live in two different worlds, the one at work where they are productive and capable and the one at home where they are abused.
Next time, Joanna talks about leaving a violent relationship...
Connect with Joanna: