Thousands of people are stuck in controlling and abusive relationships. Some are able to get help, leave and change their lives. Others are tragically murdered by their partners as we sadly read last week about Yeardley Love's brutal and unnecessary death at the hands of a former boyfriend at the University of Virginia. In my blog today, I'm going to touch on two really important points related to the issue of relationship violence:
1. Victims of domestic violence and dating violence can vary and many do not look like a victim when we see them.
2. It is possible for a woman or man who has been involved with an abusive partner to become emotionally healthy and eventually find a loving relationship if that is what they desire. (I'll discuss this a little later).
Types of Abuse Victims:
Closet Victims: Strong at work/school and in public these individuals often become a doormat with their abusive partner. No one would suspect they were being abused because they hide their emotional and physical scars under their outward confidence. It is possible to be assertive in one area of life and mush in your intimate relationship. Unfortunately, secrecy and silence breed shame and humiliation, which can make it even more difficult to leave.
Compulsive Caretakers: These individuals are people whose self esteem is initially enhanced by choosing broken but somehow charming partners who are full of potential. Initially they adore you and gradually become unpredictable, jealous, possessive, needy and abusive. You are the only one who understands him/her and so you must hang in there and help, hoping to leave the relationship when your partner can handle it. You become isolated, defensive and secretive about the insanity of your relationship.
Partners in Crime?: You are similar to a compulsive caretaker but you feel responsible for the abuse because you believe you are not a healthy person yourself. Maybe you drink, argue, lose your temper or criticize. "Who am I to blame him/her? It's my fault too." Maybe you feel you deserve to be abused. Now you must stay to keep your secret, believing you don't deserve anything better and that maybe it will be better tomorrow.
Martyrs: These individuals feel that because they have made a commitment they must follow it through despite the abuse. It might have been because of a religious belief or fear of rejection and disapproval from family, community or group of friends. Martyrs may become victims in many areas of life, passively along for the ride; always doing the "Right" thing which they believe must include suffering and sacrifice. When faced with the choice of hurting someone or hurting yourself, martyrs choose to suffer rather than inflict pain on another.
Regardless of type the fact is that YOU ARE NOT responsible nor are you to blame for someone else's abusive behavior. Even if you are ashamed of your own behavior it is still wrong. Time will not make it better.
Changing A Victim Pattern
1. Simply getting out is not the answer. Everyone who cares about you will say "Just Leave!" and believe the problem ends there. For most, no contact is the best approach. If you must have contact (children, job etc.) clearly define the boundaries and stick to them.
2. Once you are out, a painful process of grieving and withdrawal will follow the few short days of relief. You need serious help and support to stay away.
3. Months down the road you will begin to feel better and think you have recovered but the pattern may be lurking beneath the surface and reappear with the same person or someone new. Now that you feel better you may be more at risk than ever.
4. Use therapy to get clear about how (in some detail) you found yourself in this relationship - maybe you knew he/she had abused a previous partner, drinks too much, does drugs or is mentally ill. It is likely that you were not the first victim. You might have been told early on about his/her abusive father or depressed mother, or abandonment. What made you ignore the signs? Was it your own childhood, loneliness, familiarity, sexual chemistry, rebounding from another loss, or being blinded by the intensity and passion of being wanted? Understanding yourself will help you to stay out and avoid another bad relationship. It does not mean it was your fault.
5. Get honest about your relationship history. What was your pattern in your past relationships? Did you choose or get chosen? Did you want to be wanted so badly that a person with intensity, jealousy and drama made you feel more loved? Were you afraid to be alone and willing to put up with anything to avoid it? Were you embarrassed by your mistake and afraid to disappoint your family or admit you did it again? Were you feeling empowered by the brokenness of another person? Being needed can be a rush for a short time. We all need to attach but being the only one who understands an abusive partner is a very unhealthy form of attachment.
6. What is your worst fear when you imagine actually being loved by an equal, safe, and committed partner? Take a long time to ponder this question. It is the most important question of all. Frankly, it could take years to answer but the process will change your life and your choices forever.
7. Beginning with close friendships (Only people with whom you would never have a romantic interest) learn to love and be loved. Develop healthy boundaries in all areas of your life. Learn to say no and to ask for what you need. Learn to live with joy and without drama, except the kind of drama life can throw at you but you did not cause. While you are working on this do not succumb to friends' encouragement to get back out there until you know yourself well.
8. If you want an intimate relationship and Yes, you do have a choice, begin to develop a list of wants ( i.e. preferences - tall, dancer etc.) and needs (e.g. stable, non-smoker with a job). Ask for help from a healthy friend who knows you. Wants are nice but you can live without them. Needs are absolute deal breakers based on your knowledge of yourself. There should be only a few very important items on the needs list. If you meet someone who doesn't have the thing you need - right now, today, as is, then keep walking. For instance: If you know that you personally need stability and always will, don't spend any time with someone who is unstable even it they are insisting that it is only temporary and they will be stable soon. Make "As Is" your new policy. If a person smokes or has a temper when you meet them, assume they always will.
9. Live your life. Keep your search for a partner in the background, not as the center or foundation of your life. Take care of your money, your health and your relationships with family and friends. Seek balance, steer clear of unnecessary negative drama and be sure to include regular doses of joy and laughter.
10. Thus, healthy love is more likely to find you and you will know when you see it.