Abuse is a process that unfolds very slowly, with calculated tactics by a master manipulator. Abusers don’t walk up to you and punch you on the first date. I feel the need to clarify the obvious, because so many of you seem to be confused. So many of you, don’t know why victims stay.
You think we are ignorant.
You think we have low self-eseteem.
You think we are poor.
You think we are a certain ethnicity.
You think we are uneducated.
You think our dads abused us, therefore, we sought a man who would reinforce the negative self-image we must’ve adapted from fathers who tainted our perception.
You think we are poor judges of character.
You think we are naive.
You think we came from broken homes.
You think we don’t know how to read people and are gullible.
…. and guess what?
On all accounts.
Abuse victims aren’t necessarily any of those things.
I was raised in a loving, Christian home. My parents are still married to each other after 30 years. My father was never abusive and has never so much as even raised his voice at me. He is a hard worker and a business owner who taught me with integrity and good work ethic, I can do anything I set my mind to. College degrees are something my family encourages and values. Financial freedom is a desirable goal that has been modeled. Treating people with respect, while confidently holding your head high and knowing your worth, were ideas that my parents instilled in their children.
Yet, I found myself in a relationship with an extremely abusive man.
I missed some red flags, no doubt.
But nothing that even if I had caught, would’ve spared me. I could’ve never known such evil exists in the world had I not experienced it firsthand.
If you’ve asked the ignorant but all too common question of “why did she stay?” you likely have never encountered such evil either or you would know how it works. I’m glad you haven’t had that experience. I wouldn’t wish it on you, even though it would help you understand.
You see abuse plays out very subtly and very gradually. So much so, it’s hard for the victim to even recognize. It took me months after the relationship ended to even realize it was abusive.
Abusive relationships slowly erode the self-esteem of even the most confident person, until one day they wake up and wonder who they’ve become.
Abusers don’t care about your social status, physical appearance or ethnicity either. In fact, wealthy, successful, attractive people are all the more desirable because they make abusers feel even more powerful.
Anyone can be targeted.
But this post isn’t about how people end up in abusive relationships or who does as much as it’s about why we stay.
Do you want to know why we stay?
We stay because we are individuals committed to self-improvement. We’re the type of people who value introspection. When abusers inevitably start telling us we are the problem, we reflect. We take their opinions into consideration and start wondering how we can improve.
We stay because we value loyalty. We are the people who are your closest friends. The ones who would do anything to help you in a pinch. The ones you can rely on in the toughest of situations. We are the people who fight fiercely for our friends and family.
We stay, because we are empathetic. We are very aware of the emotions and pain of others. Abusers are who they are usually due to trauma in their own lives. We hear about what they’ve been through and how they’ve suffered. We know, had they not had such bad life experiences, they likely wouldn’t treat us in such horrible ways. We feel compassion and empathy for who they are and what they’ve been through.
We stay because we are determined. We don’t let our own fragile egos get in the way. If we are told we are wrong, we are the people who can swallow our pride and own it. If we are challenged to be better, we are the people that will work on ourselves to grow. If someone hurts us, we are the people who are forgiving and have abundant grace. We are the people who won’t hold your transgressions over your head, because we know everyone is flawed and we too have made mistakes.
We stay, because we believe the best in people. Abusers abuse, yes. But do you know what they often do after that? They cry. They apologize. They beg for forgiveness. They admit to having problems. They admit to treating you poorly and say it’s not how they want to treat you. They promise to get help… to go to therapy. They apologize to the kids. Then they have several good days… maybe even weeks or months where it seems like they are making genuine efforts to be better. We see progress and believe that the abuser is getting healthier.
We are the people who sometimes don’t know when to give up. He was sobbing after all, telling me how sorry he is. “How could I leave him? We all have issues. But at least he is aware of his and he is going to work on them. Who would I be to leave him at his lowest? I should be here to support him now more than ever. If I were going through something really hard, would I want him to leave me?” All questions that run through our heads.
We are the people who are forgiving… to a fault. “But how can forgiveness ever be a fault? It can’t, right? I mean, some woman somewhere in the world has forgiven her spouses infidelity and porn addiction. Some woman in the world, has forgiven the time he packed his bags and moved out for 2 years. Some woman in the world, has forgiven when he was young and foolish and valued his video games more than his family. People with successful relationships have pushed through some extremely hard, painful things. Getting yelled at and cussed out on occasion aren’t any better or worse than any of those other things… are they? I can forgive this… strong relationships are built through the fire.” All things we rationalize.
There are so many reasons why victims stay.
None of them have to do with the ignorant perception the general public tend to hold on the matter.
We aren’t weak, pitiful people with low self-esteem.
As you can see, it’s usually the opposite. We stay because we are loyal, forgiving, empathic and gracious human beings who deeply desire peace and wellness for everyone – even those who have hurt us the most.
And that… that’s strength.
It’s the strongest people, who fight tirelessly for their loved ones, that end up stuck in these toxic relationships way past the expiration date.
Next time, think twice before indulging yourself in the ignorance of “why she stayed.”
Now you know.