Why do women stay? Why do they stay in abusive relationships? That’s the question everyone asks when referring to domestic violence. Why doesn’t she just get up and leave? I can understand it, it’s a fair question. If you’ve never been a victim yourself.
Therein lies the start of victim-blaming. It’s her fault she goes back to him after violence. She’s to blame if she stays and he beats her again. Hell, I believed that myself for a while too. Why did I go back to a man who had strangled me and I thought would kill me? I knew other women would have run a mile. What was wrong with me? Now, having learnt the hard way, I can tell you the answer to that question.
First, let me say I am aware that men are victims of domestic violence too. In fact, I met one such guy recently. He told me how humiliating it was. An over 6 foot man, with a petite wife, how he never told anyone. I get it. But the reality is, on average 1-2 women are murdered every week. By their partners or ex-partners. So, apologies to those men, this time I am going to be gender-specific. That 64-million-dollar question always asked is aimed at women after all. And here’s the answer to it:
As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t fall in love with a violent man. I fell in love with a guy who later turned violent towards me. There is a big difference. I didn’t know when we first met, when I felt drawn towards such a charismatic man. When I felt the strong pull, that intoxicating high of being in his presence. I didn’t know or see those subliminal forces kick in. The ones that meant I never stood a chance.
Abusive men can spot their prey a mile away. They can detect the void of shame that makes us feel not good enough. They pick up on our lack of self-esteem. That we’re the kind of person most likely to put others before ourselves. That was me. Ripe for manipulation and exploitation.
They hone in on us, target us, then set the ground rules for how the relationship will play out. Their rules. The ones we’ll quickly learn to abide by. What we can and cannot do and what will happen if we don’t behave the way they want us to.
They do this with that emotional bait and switch we get at the start. They’ve hooked us in by that drug-like high, leave us wanting more of their charm. Then we start to see momentary flashes of anger. But as soon as they erupt, it’s over. The old charisma reappears. They may apologise for it. But it’s because of something we’ve done or not done. A reaction triggered by something we’ve said.
They’re testing us. At the same time establishing the relationship’s parameter. That we take responsibility for their behaviour. We shoulder the blame when things go wrong between us. For someone lacking a sense of self worth and who puts others first, that’s an easy thing to accept.
Right from the get go, if they’re upset it is your fault. So, you question your own behaviour rather than their unacceptable actions. Now, they know you are ready and start to groom you.
The dysfunctional pattern is set. Now it’s reinforced. As the highs get higher an less frequent. The abusive behaviour worse and more often. So, you think: if I change my behaviour, live up to his rules, then I can avoid his anger and make the abuse go away. If I do X or Y, then I can fix him, make him happy. Then the relationship and my life will improve. But this is a false construct.
Couple that with an unhealthy addiction to them now kicking in. That sets you on a desperate and futile chase for the illusive hit of their love once more. The charming man, whom you are starting to see less of. It’s no wonder you feel powerless.
You’ve been targeted, set up and now groomed. Then the noose is tightened.
You do everything you can to appease them. You change your behaviour even more. If you question theirs, you’re gaslighted: told ‘you’re too sensitive’. Or ‘you’re crazy, you imagined it’.
They may mirror their behaviour onto you. Lying, whilst accusing you of fibbing. Having affairs, whilst accusing you of being unfaithful. It’s all designed to destabilise you, confuse you. To make you doubt the reality of what’s happening. To continue to take the blame for them and the relationship failing.
The grooming is subliminal. But you may have some sense that even when he is nice there’s still cause to be afraid. Your fear has now grown, even if you can’t explain it. You also wonder how the hell you got to be this way? This is around the time he is intensifying his control over you. His need to be in charge driving his need to dominate you.
Abusive men have an inflated sense of ego and entitlement. They have a complete lack of empathy. Deep down they are insecure. The only way they can feel good about themselves is to feed vampire-like off someone they can control.
They suck you dry until they move on to their next victim. (Whom they will have already lined up and started grooming in advance). Or until you find the courage to leave them. But if you do dare to walk away, before they are ready to move on, they’ll go into a narcissistic rage. Their sense of ego and entitlement is bruised. This is the most dangerous time for a woman, when they fear losing control. 75% of murders or injuries to women happen during this time.
They may also start smear campaigns. To the outside world they can still appear as the charming man you first met. As masters of manipulation, they can groom others too, to believe you’re the crazy one, not them.
It’s easy to blame the victim if you’ve never been one. But a woman is powerless once targeted, set up and groomed. He dictates, he decides the rules of the relationship. And she knows the punishment for breaking them. The victim has no control. Even if she lives up to every one of his wishes, he’ll still be abusive the next day.
By then, whatever self-esteem she had will have long evaporated. He’s isolated her from family and friends (another one of their modus operandi). So, there’s few around to validate her. To tell her it’s not her fault, she’s not crazy. Or that he’s not good enough for her.
If there is, the cycle of abuse, with its repeated highs and lows has worn her down. So she may not listen to good advice anyway. The drug-like highs getting fewer and further between. The lows getting lower and more frequent, leave her as helpless as an addict too. Her head may agree with you. It may be screaming at her to leave. But she can’t. She still loves him. As crazy as that sounds.
Like a drug, he is the only thing that can take the pain of abuse away. If he says sorry, he loves her and promises to change. Then, she can get that hit she needs, the high that makes her feel good again.
I know this. I’ve been there, done that. It’s a little different now, thank goodness. Domestic violence has now finally gained a profile and getting some of the attention it deserves. Back when I was a victim, it was swept under the carpet. Seen as a private matter. ‘The woman shouldn’t provoke her man’. So I’m pleased about that to some extent.
But whilst we continue to blame the victims for not leaving. Or damning them with lines in media articles such as ‘he was unhappy after she left him’ as though it justifies her murder. Then, we are dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. And whilst we do that, even if a woman does find the courage to leave, as I did, there’ll always be another one to take her place. Another victim for him to prey on. Sadly, the supply is endless.
Whilst I applaud the fact the Australian government, for example, is putting money into advertising campaigns, I think they’ve got the angle wrong. Telling boys and men to man up, that they need to ‘respect women’. Sorry, but this is never going to work.
Abusive men are narcissists. By its definition that means they have an inflated sense of self and entitlement. They lack empathy and a conscience regarding the impact of their actions on others. They never take responsibility for their behaviour and always blame others for it. Respect women? How can you? When you have no idea what you’re doing is abusive towards women in the first place. When you’re in a relationship with them and see them as your property. When you feel entitled to behave as you do.
According to the Irish News, Don Hennessey is a relationship counsellor who has researched domestic violence and equates their tactics to that of paedophiles. I agree. He says in his 25 years of research, he has never encountered one man who wished to change his ways. This doesn’t surprise me.
(I’m sure there’ll be those who argue there are some men who have been rehabilitated. But I’d be interested to know the success rates of perpetrator programmes. How many amend their ways and stop abusing women? Even if it works for some, I doubt the number’s high).
There is a much better way. If we take that question: why do women stay? And the answer: because they are targeted, set up and groomed. Then for me the solution is clear.
Okay, we can tell young boys to ‘respect women’. And hope that they do. But how about this?
Why not teach our daughters, from the start, how to avoid boys and men like this in the first place? How to recognise the warning signs of narcissists and potentially abusive guys. How to spot the red flags of those who are no good for us. The danger signs they show us early on. The ones I saw right at the start, but I didn’t have the understanding of, or self-esteem to act upon.
Why not teach our daughters the tactics abusive men use to suck us in and manipulate us? Those that render us powerless and lacking the confidence to leave. And tell them our gut instincts are there for a reason. They are our internal warning system telling us of danger. They need to heed them.
Why not build their self-esteem? Their sense of self-worth. So that they know how to set healthy boundaries and are able to say no? They won’t take the blame for unacceptable behaviour. They are not responsible for someone else’s actions. I stress, this is not to victim blame.
I know it’s controversial and some may say how dare I say we focus on girls and women as the way to prevent abusers taking advantage of them. Perhaps implying it’s like saying we change what we wear so as not to be raped. But, I don’t see this as the same. I wish someone had taught me this when I was young. I wish I’d known then what I know now. If I had a daughter I would empower her in this way.
It took me years to learn how I was groomed to accept violence (even though it wasn’t my fault). Why once controlled by him I was powerless to walk away. It took me many years of heartache to change my mindset from victim to survivor. But once I understood what was happening to me and the rules of his game, it was a life changer. All it took was for me to stop playing. Then I was able to take my power back and eventually walk away.
It’s the hardest step to take, but it’s simple. Stop accepting the blame for their behaviour. Stop trying to change yours hoping to change them. That’s the false construct they hoodwinked you with when you first met. Had I kept on accepting it, I’m sure I’d now be dead.
Forget wasting energy pouring money into campaigns trying to do the same – change abusive men. Empower young girls and women instead. Teach them what a narcissist is. How abusive men target, set you up and groom you like a paedophile does. Don’t blame those women for falling victim to them. But let’s teach young girls to avoid falling prey to them in the first place?
Knowledge is power. It’s also like Kryptonite for abusive men. They targeted me often when I was young and insecure. Now they no longer see the word ‘vulnerable’ on my forehead. I don’t even need to run a mile from them now. They know I know. They know I can see them for who they really are. They steer well clear of me instead.
Posted on 27 July 2017
Originally published at www.beingunbeatable.com