#WhyIStayed #WhyILeft #WhatToSay

I have been seeing lately, pretty much all over the place, various calls to action, personal accounts, cries of outrage in response to the latest ridiculous public event revolving around domestic abuse and a public figure. I had posted something from Upworthy, trying to make a point about what a lot of people don't realize about trying to leave abusive relationships: when people try to leave them, it can be extremely dangerous, and that's when the majority of domestic violence related murders occur.

After continuing to see much ignorance regarding domestic violence and harmful relationships, I posted something regarding my personal experience being in an abusive relationship- detailing as I understood it how it happened, how my reality became skewed, why I stayed in it so long, how I became alienated, how it became worse toward the end and even after we broke up.

A friend then asked:

What do you suggest for someone who believes their friend is in an abusive relationship?

I wanted to take my time thinking about this. There are so many things that we want to say should be done. In an ideal situation- as someone who loves the person who is being harmed, we might want to run in, white-knight fashion, tear them from the situation, even possibly kicking and screaming.

As someone who has been on both sides of the door, I can't say this is always going to be the best strategy.

I also want to say that I'm not any kind of authority and I would encourage anyone who is reading this here to please add to these ideas as they feel they can contribute in the comments.

1. Ask questions.
Ask how your friend/sibling/relative is feeling in general. Ask how work or school is. Ask how their partner's work or school is. Leave room for the idea that we DON'T always know what is going on in a relationship, but ask questions if you are concerned. Do so in a non-judgmental way.

2. Express concern for your loved one, not judgement of the partner.
If you are concerned about your friend or loved ones safety, welfare, health, happiness- focus on that. Try to steer away from focusing on criticism of the partner specifically. This sounds really difficult and it may sound like an odd thing to do.  The reasoning, in my mind, would be because at one point- and likely STILL- your loved one still cares for and loves the person who is being abusive. We can't explain why we love people. And we can feel ashamed and be very hard on ourselves for having feelings that we can't control and can't explain. It can be confusing to love people who hurt us- and we can even feel like we deserve to be hurt if we still have confusing feelings of attachment for someone like that [or even think we have those feelings].
Keeping the focus on concern for your friend can help to keep those feelings of shame and embarrassment and that they may deserve this treatment away from the conversation to some degree.

Possibly not as effective: "[He] hurts you." "[He] treats you badly." "[He] is keeping you from family and friends." "[He] is making you feel things that are untrue about yourself."

Maybe more effective: "You are being hurt." "You are being treated badly." "You are being kept from family and friends" "You are being made to feel things that are untrue about yourself."

3.Follow up with examples of what would be a positive relationship
It can be difficult to understand at a certain point what is actually a good and healthy relationship. For me, eventually I had to go through a logical process over and over and over about what is a healthy relationship- what is going on in my relationship, comparing the two, coming to the realization that no, people don't get slapped in healthy relationships. THIS SHOULD BE OBVIOUS... at some point it ceases to be obvious, because reality becomes that warped.  

[At some point in these conversations it may become very frustrating. Resist the urge to express frustration with yelling, short expressions of frustration or sarcasm, snide remarks. hug your loved one instead at these moments.]

Examples might be:
"You are being hurt. I saw you the other day and you said you fell down the stairs. Before this relationship you did not fall down the stairs so much. In healthy relationships, people do not fall down the stairs every couple of weeks. In healthy relationships, people love each other and hug each other. They don't physically hurt each other."

It can really depend on what your loved one tells you and endorses as to what is going on in their relationship- if they will only admit to falling down the stairs, I would say you can't push much further than that because they may feel betrayed, 

These are difficult conversations to have. They may become pissed off at first.
There may come a point where you DO feel you should tear them out of the situation.
I want to share the following first:

After I actually, officially, finally cut off my relationship, I went to a friends lakehouse for a few days. This was not any kind of strategy because I thought he would actually come after me- even after eveything had escalated toward the end of the relationship, even after trying to break up and doing this "kind of broken up thing" and things had gotten worse, it hadn't occurred to me that things might just continue to escalate.

But I happened to be out of town. And then the calls started. I was a few hours away, and very relieved and basically in another world, with my friends whom I hadn't seen in a long time. So I sort of laughed it off for some reason. They had started sort of benign. By the end of the weekend they were weird and desperate. I was still kind of laughing... kind of. But mostly because I didn't want to make a big deal about it, and no one knew what the relationship had been like.

By the time I got home they had escalated to threatening. That evening they were sexually, violently threatening and I was by myself in my apartment- and he knew where that was. So I called the police. They came over, and took a report. They suggested I get a restraining order. They also went to his house. Once they left my apartment I took off for the night and left town for a couple days. I moved out shortly after, but the timeline is a bit of a blur after that.

I really think that spending the time with my friends that weekend was a great contrast to the total absurdity of his threatening and harmful behavior. I did get a restraining order successfully and was occasionally worried about it. At this point I feel safe.

I shared that because it is very important that people leaving abusive relationships have a safe exit plan.

I want to share some recommendations for people who are thinking of leaving abusive and violent relationships:

Establishing preset signals with neighbors, friends, or family is an important feature of a safety plan. Signals might include an understanding with a neighbor that if they see flashing porch lights, hear loud noises, or a certain code word or phrase, they will know to contact the police for you. It may seem impossible to set up a support system that will respond to your appeal for help. You may be embarrassed to admit to the abuse and to ask for help. But we encourage you to explore your options.
Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence

-Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled. Keep the driver’s door unlocked and others locked — for a quick escape.
-Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry that could be used to strangle you.
-Create several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline


Some final notes:

...many abusive partners may seem absolutely perfect in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows.
-The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender.
-The National Domestic Violence Hotline
1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
1 in 4 gay men experience domestic violence.
17-45% of lesbian women report having been the victim of a least one act of physical violence perpetrated by a lesbian partner.
-Everyday Feminism
If the victim does leave the abusive relationship, never pass on information about his or her whereabouts to anyone.
US Department of Health and Human Services

[and what I have been trying to express...]
telling them what they’re experiencing and what they should do about it can further isolate the victim who may or may not be ready to confront their abuse. It is so important to let the victim determine the next steps, to make their own decisions and take back the power and control over their own lives. When we make decisions for others, when we try to help them do what they are not ready to do for themselves, we are taking their power and control away from them.


ASIAN TASK FORCE Against Domestic Violence [Massachusetts and New England]

VAWnet, The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women [United States]

Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center [Americans overseas]

WOMEN'S AID [United Kingdom]

Please note: Comments may be left anonymously on this posting.

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