I was watching a documentary the other night about a lady who was in an abusive relationship which ended in her being set on fire by her partner and dying. A horrific story, but it got me thinking… I lived in an abusive relationship, it was just more subtle and very insidious, some physical abuse but mostly mental and controlling. The law now recognises this type of abuse as ‘coercive control’, and it can carry a sentence of up to five years imprisonment. It’s also very much a gender biased form of abuse with most abusers being male. I felt it would be useful to analyse the reasons why I stayed with my abuser for so long, and having done so, I also realise that the reasons are pretty much the same regardless of the type of abuse. So, for those of you who cannot begin to get your head around ‘why we stay’, maybe this will help you to understand how powerless you can feel in these relationships and how staying can feel like the easier option.
This is probably the biggest and most chilling reason why so many women stay in an abusive relationship and the fear is very real on a number of different levels. There may be children involved in which case the fear of not being able to look after them adequately is very hard to overcome. Another, more sinister fear is of your partner coming after you and hurting you, either physically or in any other way, this can be paralysing. There is also the fear that life will actually become worse if you leave because of your partners inability to let go. Many women from abusive relationships end up being stalked by their partner and the consequences can be deadly.
It’s easy for onlookers to forget that we fell in love with these people, that they were wonderful when we first met them and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with them, that is, the person we initially fell in love with. When you’re head over heels in love you don’t see, or ignore, the negative aspects of your partner, you’re actually so blindly in love that it’s almost impossible to believe what you subconsciously suspect. And hindsight is a very wonderful thing that we are deprived of at the actual time we need it! I know, I look back now and realise that the writing was on the wall from very early on in our relationship but I blamed myself for causing his behaviour, vowing to become ‘better’.
Sadly, in a lot of cases, the changes happen slowly and imperceptibly, distancing you from your family, restricting your access to friends for what always seem to be perfectly good reasons and the anger if your partner suspects you may have confided in someone, always preventing you from doing just that. The isolation builds until there is no-one left that you are close enough with to be able to ask for help, being totally alone makes the prospect of leaving even harder to contemplate. Another aspect of this type of abuse is the constant reinforcement of your belief that it actually is all your fault and you’re the one who is lacking. I was brainwashed over many years to believe that I was the one who was mentally ill due to my childhood experiences and my mother dying when I was a teenager, eventually I believed it wholeheartedly. It was only a few years before my abuser’s death that I ‘woke up’ and saw the reality, by that time I had 7 children, all with special needs, and leaving was going to be painfully slow and also a mammoth task, but do it I must.
Maybe the most paralysing of all, the constant hope that the person you fell in love with will suddenly return and the sheer bliss that you experienced in those early days will be here again. Deluded? Yes, of course, but by the time you realise that you’re deluded the rest of the damage has already been done.
My book ‘Unravelled’ was published a few years ago and since then I’ve received a number of messages from women telling that they read the book, realised that they were living in a coercively controlling relationship and found the strength to leave. I feel horribly responsible, but, fortunately, all of these stories had a happy ending with the women involved finding true love with a new partner. Leaving was incredibly hard for all of them but it ended up being the right thing to do.
Anyone who has seen ‘Kingdom of Us’ will know that one of my abuser’s considered plans was murder/suicide. We found a notepad after his death which outlined in detail how he would kill all of the children in front of me, then me and then himself. It was terrifying to realise how close we had potentially come to such an appalling end and really highlights just how mentally ill he actually was.
We were lucky, my abuser didn’t carry out his plan and chose instead to end his own life, a tragedy in itself, but I’m thankful that the children have had the opportunity of living their lives free from fear. I guess there was never going to be a perfect ending within my relationship with him, it was so flawed in so many ways but here we are, still standing and living the best lives we can with hope in our hearts. It fills me with joy to watch my beautiful children living full lives and working towards their dreams, dreams that could so easily have been snatched away, I have so much to be grateful for…
This post was originally published to https://www.vikieshanks.com/.
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