Thursday, January 3, 2008

So Many Questions...

Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

By Jaclyn Bolno

To many, it is a mystery that eludes understanding. Why do women stay in abusive relationships?
Not the kind where two people occasionally quarrel. The kind where men set women up to accept physical blows by first beating them down psychologically and emotionally.
How could she possibly take it and still stay with the guy?
To understand why, you have to take apart the relationship, piece by piece, and examine it. Once you do you discover:
“It’s not so black and white,” said Elaine Meyerson, Executive Director of Shelter Our Sisters in Bergen County, N.J. “It’s not a punch and you walk out the door.”
People wouldn’t go to a bar, have a drink, and passively accept a blow to the face. But, relationship violence has a lot more to it.
“People build up commitments in relationships that have to be balanced against the price of being a victim,” said Dr. Richard J. Gelles, of the University of Pennsylvania an internationally known expert on domestic violence. “Domestic violence is accompanied by affection, and love, and commitment. It’s not so simple to walk away from.”
So, why do women stay in abusive relationships? Here are the main reasons:.

Self-esteem, shmelf-esteem.
Poor self-esteem is definitely across the board.
“It’s like peeling a banana,” Meyerson said. “Somehow they begin to strip your self-esteem little by little and you wake up one day and you have none.”
Robyn, who shared her experience in exchange for having her identity protected, was
always told by her husband what she had to do to be a better person. He beat because he cared.
“He said he did it because he loved me and wanted me to be the best person I could
possibly be,” she said.
Erin Guberman, 22, said her boyfriend used her insecurities and doubts to convince her he was the only one who truly cared.
You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’ll never find anybody else like me. Nobody will ever love you. Your family and friends don’t love you. These abrasive phrases were used by Guberman’s abuser to make her believe that nobody on the other side loved her as much as he did.
“When you feel like you have nothing left to fall back on, you stay,” Guberman said. “Even though it’s scary, and painful, you stay, because he’s still telling you he loves you.”
Lifelong victim, Tawanda, whose privacy is also being respected, knew her abusers were adding to her problem, but her true predicament was negative self-image.
“My extremely low self-worth and my desire to be loved, accepted, and a part of a family at any cost [made me stay],” she said. “Even if it meant my freedom, my safety, my security, and ultimately my life.”
Janine Latus, author of If I am Missing or Dead, finally worked up the courage to divorce a man who equated love with control, jealousy, belittlement, and sex.
As Latus put it: “Insecure women are more likely to put up with it and insecure men are more likely to do it.”
Battered women literally lose faith in themselves.

“I asked for it.”
Once convinced she’s no good, the rest is easy.
“Somehow they get into a relationship and he makes them feel like they’re nothing and
then they feel compelled to do whatever he wants them to do because they fell in love,” Meyerson said.
Most abusers don’t take responsibility for their actions because they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong.
Latus would be asked, “Why did you have to go and push my buttons? You know better.”
But it’s impossible for victims to know better when abusers have an indefinite amount of buttons that could be pushed at any moment.
Guberman’s boyfriend always found some reason to hit, leading her to believe that she was not doing something right simply because she could not figure out what she was doing wrong.
Robyn did whatever was asked of her to prevent her husband’s eruptions. Yet, “In actuality, anything could trigger a beating,” she said.
“Women just keep trying to do more and more and more to make him appreciate them,” Meyerson said. “In that process, he finds something else that he doesn’t like that she did.”
In addition to the man telling her it’s her fault and she asked for it, Latus blamed certain cultures for sanctioning the idea that abuse would not occur if one was a better wife.
“You absolutely believe that it’s your fault,” Latus said. “You look around you and say, ‘Look at all these other couples, they’re so happy, I must be doing something wrong.’”
She added: “As girls, we’re always trained that we’re the ones who did something wrong.”
This generalization comes from the mouth of a former victim.

Believe it or not, they’re in love.
The beginning is often a fantasy. Abuse progressively gets worse, but it’s the reminder of a once engulfing love that keeps victims hanging on.
Tawanda recalled how her first abuser treated her like his queen, showering her with gifts and telling her all the things she wanted to hear.
Guberman was a princess and her abuser was prince charming. They clicked on every single level. She described her fairytale as exactly that: too good to be true.
“He knew that wining and dining me, buying me gifts, and making me feel so special and loved right away would get me right where he wanted me,” Guberman said.
Victims always hope somewhere behind the rage are the men who once did nothing to hurt them and everything to make them feel loved.
“A lot of the women still love the guy, they just want the abuse to stop,” Meyerson said. “They hold on to hope and hope that it’s going to get better.”
Abuse hurts. Love heals.
“I actually was in love.” Guberman said. “It was the most f***ed up love I’ve ever had in my life, but the only way you can stay in an abusive relationship is if you actually do fall in love.”

“Aww, he apologized…again.”
Violence followed by seemingly sincere apologies creates the cycle of an abusive relationship.
Abusive episodes release amounting tension followed by periods of reconciliation and charm.
“The makeup sex is wonderful and so is the drama afterwards,” Latus said. “They give you flowers, they give you jewelry, they give you presents and it feels good.”
This sense of excessive love gives abusers the upper-hand.
“Apologies give false hope to the victim and lead them to stay,” Guberman said.
Victims can only hope this phase will prevail. It never does.

“I’ll help him change!”
Charm does not prevail because abusers do not change. Even so, many women believe they have the power to adjust his behavior.
“I had a part of my body that was telling me that this is wrong and that this is only going to get worse,” Guberman said. “But there was a part of my body that said, ‘I want to fix him. I want to make him better. I want to be the reason why he is going to change.’”
Abusers chip away at their victims’ self-esteem to a point where many believe that if they modified their body or attitude, he wouldn’t be abusive anymore.
“You always feel that if you were more loving, or supportive, or thinner, or have bigger breasts, or whatever, that you could heal him,” Latus said. “He would be happy now because you’ve made him happy.”
But that will never be the case. The cycle of abuse speaks for itself.

“A bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. Right?”
Even if change was not going to come, many women fear facing the world alone.
“We treat people if they’re alone as if they’re not worthy of a partner,” Latus said. “A partner enhances things, but it’s not the only way to be important and valuable.”
Guberman was terrified of breaking up with her boyfriend. He had worked so hard to isolate her from family and friends that she had to hold on to whatever she had -- if she wanted to have anything at all.
As she put it: “Even though he was the one hurting me, I kept going back because he was always there. Always calling. Always wanting to be with me when I thought my family hated me and my friends did not like me anymore.”
Rather than pushing her away, Robyn’s husband managed to make her increasingly dependent.
“He took away my ability to function on my own with his constant degrading remarks,” she said. “I actually needed him to tell me what to do because my decision-making skills were crippled.”
Simply put: being alone is lonely.

“Support myself? And the kids?”
Women have a lot of financial fear about going out into the world alone, especially when children are involved.
Our culture does much to keep women financially dependent on men. Many men threaten women that they’ll get nothing if they leave. So they stay.
According to Meyerson, some women accept getting beaten up every once in a while if it means getting food on the table.
Even when fearful for her and her daughter’s lives, Robyn stayed because she did not
believe she could take care of her daughter on her own.
Latus tells those women who stay together for their children to separate for the sake of
their children; otherwise they will grow up emulating what they believe to be acceptable behavior.
Exhibit A: Robyn’s three-year-old daughter thought it was okay to hit Robyn when she did not get her way, often mimicking her father by saying: “You’re a bad mommy, you’re no good.”

“Who’s going to believe me?”
Many women wonder who is going to believe them and, more importantly, what they are going to believe.
Some cultures view the end to marriage as a woman’s failure to keep her family together.
Latus feared the humiliation of admitting she was a battered woman to the world. Others may wonder what she did to deserve it or insist they would have handled the situation differently.
“People…will look at me with pity and treat me forever after as a battered woman,” she said. “Or they’ll say…that they never would have…made it…possible for this man…who was known and loved, to beat them up.”
And there’s always that fear of others not believing the reality of the situation.
“Our so-called ‘friends’ saw the engaging, personable side of my husband,” Robyn said. “Who would believe me? Look at this respectful person – he would never do such a thing.”

“Reality? Where?”
Reality ceases to exist in the upside down world of domestic violence.
“Part of the reason to stay is because you can’t believe that it’s really happening to you,”
Latus said.
The abuse dominates all that was once known and victims forget how they should be treated.
As Guberman put it: “If you don’t have time to be by yourself, then you don’t have time to even get a grasp on reality and say ‘I shouldn’t be in this. This is bad. This is hurting.’”
The beginning is a fantasy victims long to call reality. But according to Meyerson, it is when you are preoccupied with fantasy that “You get totally absorbed and you realize one day that you’re totally controlled.”

“Women leave an average of seven times before they make their final move,” Meyerson said.
There’s fear the violence is going to get worse if she leaves, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of custody, financial fear.
“Any time there’s fear, that’s emotional abuse,” Latus said.
Only victims are so used to fear, they sometimes don’t realize that not having fear is an option.
Today there is a better understanding that domestic abuse is a problem and the community is more willing to respond. Shelters throughout the country work to get women back on an equal footing and show them they are not alone, the law is behind them, others can relate. Relationship violence is complicated, but efforts to understand it must be made. Let the effort not stop here.

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