Since I stopped being a victim of domestic violence and became a survivor, I don't know how many times I've been asked, "Why didn't you just leave?" I wish I had a simple answer in 25 words or less. There are complex social, economic and emotional reasons that many women stay with their abusers or return after trying to break it off. Some women will make as many as seven attempts to escape before they finally manage to be free of their abuser. In my case I finally escaped for good on my fourth attempt. So what kept me trapped? Why didn't I just leave? The abuse didn't start right away. As a matter of fact, my abuser was charming, loving and attentive -- in the beginning.
Most abusers gradually increase the controlling, threatening and abusive behavior as the relationship progresses. Every act by the abuser is designed to increase his power and control. You may not even recognize his behavior as abusive at first. What you consider jealousy because he loves you so much is a contrived behavior designed to keep you from enjoying the company of anyone other than him. He will be jealous of your friends, your family, even your children and pets. He will prevent you from seeing the people closest to you. This is designed to isolate you and destroy your support network. Your abuser will often control who you talk to, where you go and what you do. Once your network of friends and family is destroyed, who can you go to for help or advice or a place to stay for a few weeks if you do decide to flee your situation? You feel alone, but you have millions of people ready to help you.
An abuser will often control the family money. If you have a job, he will take your earnings. Eventually he may demand you stop working or do things that cause you to lose your job. You abuser will not like it if you have your own money. Taking money away from you and refusing to give you money for household expenses, even for food, is a powerful control mechanism. Where are you going to go with no money? How will you pay for food? If you have children, the lack of money or access to money is an effective trap. If you have money of your own, you have the means to leave him and he will not tolerate even the slightest hint of self-sufficiency and independence. His goal is to make you completely financially dependent on him. Women with children are at a great risk of being trapped in an abusive relationship. Many women will endure terrible physical and emotional abuse to avoid ending up in poverty or homeless with small children.
Domestic violence is a cycle. The entire family dynamic is determined by this cycle -- a never ending circle of abuse, reconciliation, anticipation of abuse, and then abuse again. He commits violence and then feigns remorse for his actions. He may buy flowers, beg for forgiveness, take you to dinner or even buy you a new outfit. This is often referred to as the honeymoon phase. During this time, you may begin to believe that he just might keep his promise not to hit you again. After all, he seems really sorry, right? Wrong. It's part of the control of abusers. You will soon recognize that the tension is building again. You start to anticipate the abuse. It may begin with him being in a foul mood after a stressful day at work. A slamming door or a hateful glare at you and you know it's only a matter of time before he unleashes on you again. And then he does -- again. The cycle will not break itself. He will not break the cycle because he needs to abuse you to feel in control and to feel adequate as a man. Only you can break the cycle of abuse.
Men who abuse women often describe their former partners in exceedingly derogatory ways. He will say she is stupid, ugly, a bad mother, a terrible lover, a poor housekeeper, lazy and worthless. He may call her hateful names and he will most probably deny any abuse, calling her a liar. If she was so terrible why didn't HE leave the relationship? The truth is he can't leave the relationship. Men who abuse feel terribly inadequate and are emotionally dependent on the women they abuse. These men fear rejection and abandonment. The abusive man NEEDS a victim. Many are serial offenders who abuse every woman they manage to trap into a relationship with him.
If you are being abused, make a safety plan. The most dangerous time in your relationship will be when you attempt to leave and the days and weeks after you do leave. Keep yourself and your children safe.
If your children are old enough to understand, teach them how to keep themselves safe when your abuser becomes violent. Find a safe hiding place in your home or teach them to go to a neighbor's home for safety when the violence begins.
Keep evidence of your abuse. Take photographs of your injuries. Keep these well hidden. Store digital files on CD-R disks and hide them in a safe place.
Keep a secret journal of his violence. Include dates, times, threats and describe his physical violence. Keep this well hidden or have a friend keep it for you.
Clear the Internet browser cache after you use it. You may be in serious danger if he discovers you have been visiting domestic violence help sites or sending email to friends and family.
Find out where to get help in your town and tell someone what he is doing to you.
Go to the hospital or get a friend to take you to the hospital after he abuses you. Tell the doctor and hospital staff what happened to you and ask that they document your visit.
Try to save some money for the day when you can escape. Keep cash in a well hidden place, have a friend or family member hold your money or open a secret bank account.
Contact your local domestic violence organization or The National Domestic Violence Hotline for more information and support. They were there when I needed them. They can help you too.