All kinds of relationships can be abusive but for the purposes of this article I’m assuming that we’re talking about a woman being abused by a man.
Of all the people who may be searching for relationship advice those in abusive, dangerous or controlling situations are most at need of a empathetic ear. Here Dilys takes you through what can be a very scary and daunting prospect, but taking the right steps can lead you to true happiness and away from your relationship problems.
The very idea of leaving an abusive relationship can feel really scary.
Anyone who’s suffered years of abuse at the hands of a bullying partner inevitably ends up feeling low and down, small, unimportant and, often, incapable. That, after all, was the point of your partner’s treatment of you. It was his intention to belittle you, to make you lose all confidence and self-esteem, to leave you feeling small and helpless so that he could be in total control.
So the idea of branching out on your own will feel strange, new and probably uncomfortable - for if you’ve had all confidence knocked out of you, you may indeed wonder just how on earth you’re going to manage this on your own.
It’ll also feel like a huge risk – and that may be really difficult for you to handle for you’ve probably spent most of your time recently treading on egg shells, tip-toeing around your abusive partner simply to maintain the status quo and avoid arousing his anger. So going out on a limb and taking a risk will inevitably feel like a great leap into the unknown for you, against your normal instincts and hugely daunting.
Often in such relationships, a woman who’s used to being abused has some experience in her own family background which make her feel that she doesn’t deserve much from life. So when she finds a partner who mistreats her, this fits in with her view of herself. The situation feels familiar and therefore somehow OK. But what is actually happening is that you’re giving away all control over your life, your feelings, your happiness and your future to someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Your partner, on the other hand, is most probably the type who gets off on making others feel bad. In a kind of power trip, he needs to make others feel small, and stupid in order to feel superior. I expect he often makes you feel wrong too – so that you get used to shouldering the blame for most things. And he’s probably very skilled at making you feel that you don’t count and don’t matter. If we’re told often enough that we’re silly or stupid, it becomes all too easy to believe it must be true. Or if we’re told to ‘shut up’ all time it becomes natural to think our views don’t matter and so our feelings don’t count.
And if we’re constantly being hit and beaten up, it’s easy to imagine that we must have done something to deserve it, that somehow we are at fault and to blame for arousing anger in our partner. That’s what they’ll often tell you anyway – that if you get beaten it’s because of something you’ve done to wind them up.
They like to hold all the cards, so they become expert at twisting every situation around to suit them.
So you need to remember - and keep telling yourself - that domestic violence is a crime.
People often ask why women stick around in such relationships for so long. But there can be many reasons. You may have children with this man and be worried about their long-term welfare if you leave; you may have nowhere to go; you may be worried about money; you may not like to admit publicly to what’s being going on behind closed doors; you may indeed love the man, for often such men can have an exciting, appealing side so that when things are good they feel very, very good.
Another key reason for staying is that we often believe people when they say they’ll change and, sadly, we all too often believe we can change other people. But sadly, without outside help people rarely change. Many a violent man has sworn often to change in order to ensure his partner doesn’t leave. He may become practiced in using charm for a brief period to seduce you into thinking that ‘yes’ he has changed. But when he next flips, you’re likely to feel his wrath all over again. And the trouble with so many people like this is that he can flip at a moment’s notice – so that you’re literally never sure where you stand with him.
So unless your partner actually undertakes some form of intensive therapy, or anger management, don’t believe his assurances that things will change.
Anyone who’s suffering regularly from physical and mental abuse should try and evaluate why they’ve been prepared to put up with such treatment for so long. Often they need other people to point out that this is not normal, that a good relationship does not involve one person having power and control over the other, and that nothing excuses physical abuse or mental bullying. But sometimes it’s hard to see just how abnormal and wrong your own relationship is. Abusive men often try to keep their partners away from others for exactly that reason. So you may not be used to mixing with other people who can throw light on the in equalities and inbalance in your own relationship.
If the time has come when you’ve finally decided to leave, you’re going to have to work out how to resist his persuasive techniques. Being forewarned means you can be forearmed. Keep in mind constantly all the very good reasons to go and hang on to them really hard whilst he tries his persuasion on you. Remind yourself of the endless drunken nights and beatings and don’t let him convince you they never happened...or that they were all your fault.
It’s really important to prepare for the moment of leaving. If you’ve decided to confront your partner, then pick your time carefully when you know you’ll have time to talk things through properly, but also have a leaving plan in mind. If possible involve a friend or relation in this so that you have an incentive to stick with the arrangements and somewhere to go immediately.
On the other hand, you may suddenly have to leave in a hurry. So pack a bag for you and your children ahead of time and keep it somewhere discreet but easily accessible. And make a plan for what may need to happen in an emergency. You may need help with transport - so work out who can help you and if possible work out a code so that you can text or phone someone in a hurry and they’ll know exactly what to do and where to meet you. You need to think about where you’re going to stay initially, so this too needs to be thought through. The more organised you are, the more confidence you’ll have when the time comes to escape.
If you’re living far away from relations and have no friend to help, try to contact Refuge (the Domestic Violence Charity) well in advance to find out where they might be able to house you and how to get there.
It must have been a nightmare living through life with an abusive partner so remind yourself that you’ve had plenty of practice of being very brave and this should stand you in good stead in making the big decision to leave….and in coping from now on. He may have been doing his best to make you feel small and incapable but all the while your inner strength must have been growing in order to endure all that ill-treatment. So remind yourself of this every day. And remind yourself that you deserve more from life; you’ve done nothing wrong and you deserve a fresh chance.
The mental damage inflicted on you by your partner probably went very deep – just like the physical abuse. And the wounds of both will take time to heal.
Perhaps it will help if you could try to treat your mental wounds just as you would physical ones. You wouldn’t ignore a physical injury in the hope that it would go away; you’d pay attention to the wound, clean it up, take care it wasn’t infected, apply some soothing cream, change the dressing, check on it from time to time until it was time to remove any plaster and expose it to the air. And then once exposed, you’d still have to keep an eye on it so that you didn’t cause it any further injury by knocking it about or bumping into things.
And that’s a good metaphor for you really ….you’ve been damaged and you need now to have careful attention paid to you until you feel well enough to go out into the big wide world feeling whole and healed again. So give yourself time to get over your losses and the damage your partner caused you. Treat your wounds with tender, loving care; be gentle with yourself and understanding; nurture yourself as much as you can until you begin to feel whole and healed again.
Once you’ve left, treat yourself as much as you can to the things you enjoy most in life. It’s sometimes easy to forget after years of abuse that there are simple things in life to be enjoyed and that they are your right! So try and identify yours and gift them to yourself as often as you can. I’m not talking about expensive presents but things like candle-lit baths or listening to music or long country walks – anything that lifts your spirits and brings a warm feeling.
Try to find things you’re good at and enjoy. You’ve probably not had the opportunity to follow any hobbies or past-times but now’s your chance. Focus on things you know you can do, and do well: this will give you something to look forward to and bring some fun into your life. If you can learn to recognise your good qualities and accept praise, you’ll find your self-esteem and self-confidence gradually increases.
One problem can be that your feelings of low self-worth are awfully easy to rekindle, so be wary of getting back in contact with your partner. Or of finding another partner who spots you as an easy target to mistreat and bully. If you’re sucked back into such a relationship again, you may find it’s all too easy for the old cycle to repeat itself.
Counselling will help you recognize any tendencies in yourself that may draw you back to another abusive relationship so try and find someone who can help with this.
What you really need in your life is the kind of partner who can be consistently supportive, give your confidence a boost, remind you how much you’re valued when you’re feeling low, and reinforce on a daily basis how much you matter, and how important you are. They do exist!
Above all, seek help. Don’t be afraid to enlist friends, neighbours, anyone who can help you make the break. It’s a big and brave thing you’re about to do and you deserve all the help and support you can muster.
Never forget that it’s your absolute right to lead a happy, fulfilling life without bullying or abuse.
For individual relationship advice, whatever your situation, you can contact Dilys via her Greatvine profile.
You can view the full list of Greatvine experts who can help you overcome a variety of relationship problems, whether want to you stay and resolve those issues or need help to move on.