Abusers never show their true colors on a first date. He doesn’t send you home with a damaged soul aching for relief. He comes in charming and kind, seeming the perfect guy. This man will be devoted and make you feel like you’re the only girl in the world. He will convince you he is everything you need.
Red flags may not start showing until months or even years into the relationship. These men hit you like a train full force and leave you breathless. These relationships are intense– he is convincing, seductive, and addicting. You realize you need out, but how can you fathom life without him?
He doesn’t hit you; he hasn’t choked or kicked you, but the sting of his words hurt more than a slap. He makes critical remarks and tears you down at every turn. When you get the courage to tell him it bothers you, his cunning response includes a dismissive shrug– I was joking!
His jokes don’t feel funny.
“You’re crazy…. don’t take things so seriously.”
So you get over it, and you keep on…. but it happens again and again and again. On repeat, like a song you hate that plays on the radio over and over again. Like a faucet that won’t stop dripping, even when the water has stopped. This intentional erosion of you is a process, not just a single incident.
He criticizes your friends, your clothes, your intelligence, your family, your laugh, and soon….. everything about you.
The oppression bubbles inside you… every sly remark feels like a ton of bricks, beating you down with each passing moment, week, and day— over and over again. His threat of physical violence is always there, teetering on eruption. Nothing you do is immune from his critical wrath.
You tell yourself he doesn’t really mean it.
It’s not his fault…. I should have taken him into consideration before I got this haircut.
He’s right; I’m too sensitive.
It’ll be okay, I’ll get over it.
I must be crazy. After all, I catch him in lies he doesn’t even tell… right??
Maybe I really am crazy. He says I’m stupid…. I’m probably crazy too.
I’m doing something wrong.
I do everything wrong.
I don’t keep the house clean enough.
I didn’t buy the right cereal, again!
Dinner was a failure; I’m such a bad cook! Everything I do sucks. I have to try harder tomorrow, so he’s not so mad.
Why am I so fat?
I can’t sleep from all this screaming.
I’m always apologizing, but his anger never goes away.
I’m not the one making a scene, but I feel like the mirror that is breaking. Why?
Why can’t I just walk out the door and keep going? Why are my feet too stiff to move, and my voice too soft to speak back to him? Why am I stuck here, living in this hell?
If I left, where would I go? What could I do? How could I afford to live on my own? Who am I without him? I have nothing. I am nothing. I need him.
He has broken me. He has worn me down. I am no longer the smart, pretty, strong woman I was when I met him. If I found the words, who would believe me? I am weak and I am afraid. I chose this life. Why did I do this to myself? I feel so helpless and so worthless. Is there any way out of this secret maze of hell?
Relationships like these are hard to understand and nearly impossible to escape. For those who have never experienced an abusive relationship, it can be dumbfounding to imagine how any woman would stay with a partner who treats her badly. It is confusing and painful to witness someone you know being hurt by and continuing to live in abuse.
Domestic abuse is complex, dangerous, and hard to comprehend. Stop asking why she stays or why she cannot force herself to leave, even if she says she wants to leave. Although posed with good intentions, asking why is rarely helpful. What a woman needs to know is that she has support and that she is not alone.
A narcissist erodes a woman’s soul with intention, wrath, and skill. He does not allow a woman room to care for, know, or even recognize herself. A woman living in abuse cannot leave until she finds her own voice. The first key to freedom is she must be believed.
Abusers sleep like babies, while a victim spends sleepless nights tearfully cobbling together her self-esteem, worrying about her children and their financial future, weighing her options, researching support… and hoping for a miracle that never comes. She may be surrounded by people, but she lives in isolation, hiding from the world the truth going on behind closed doors.
In some cases, what appears to be a woman choosing to stay with an abuser is actually a victim who is slowly and carefully planning to leave. From the outside, it may appear to be a series of false starts. A woman’s fear of her abuser is often stronger than her belief that the system will save her.
This woman cannot walk away with nothing and with no place to go. She is isolated, she is embarrassed, and she feels alone. She needs options, she needs love, and she needs support. She will be dealing with the effects of abuse long after she is away from this house of horrors, but freedom is achievable.
If you know someone who is suffering from emotional, physical, and/or psychological abuse, discreetly let her know she is not alone. Domestic abuse is unlike any other crime; it does not happen in a vacuum. Patiently empathize and affirm a victim throughout her journey, or risk causing further harm with your response. Stop shaming women who are damaged.
Don’t be afraid to leave. There will be PTSD, along with other things like depression and anxiety, but you will be ok. Life will go on. Freedom is attainable. With vigilance, education, and support, you can achieve it. We all deserve happiness.
Walk away and let the faucet drip itself out.
Save yourself… no one is worthless!
You are not alone.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder