I’m going to talk about something that I feel strongly about. Domestic violence. Throughout the course of my life, I have known many women who got involved in abusive relationships. I myself been in emotionally abusive relationships. So what exactly is domestic violence? Domestic violence is physically or emotionally abusive behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other.  A few examples of abuse include (but are most certainly not limited to) name calling, insults, isolating a partner from family and friends, actual or threatened physical harm (such as hitting, pushing, shoving, etc.), sexual assault, withholding money, stalking, and intimidation.

An abuser can be either male or female, but the majority of abusers are male.

No one deserves to be abused. Period. And the only person who is responsible for the abuse is the abuser- not the person who is being abused. Abuse is a learned behavior, and the abuser makes the conscious decision to abuse. It is a choice, and it does not happen by accident. It doesn’t happen because someone is stressed out, drinking, doing drugs, or even because they have a mental illness. It happens when someone makes the choice, the conscious decision to cause physical or emotional harm.

Abuse is an intentional act that one person uses to control the other, and they abuse so they will get what they want.

About 1 out of every 3 women has been physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. And it doesn’t stop there…. 40% – 60% of men who abuse women also abuse children. Then those children grow up and choose to reenact the behaviors because that is what they are familiar with; that is what they know. They will either become abusers themselves, or end up getting involved in abusive relationships.

And they cycle continues.

It’s also a cycle for the individual who is being abused. Battered women (or men, because even women can be abusers) get an overwhelming feeling of relief when the incident ends, and that feeling becomes addictive. So they stay because an enormously overwhelming feeling of peace and relief always comes after that incident ends. Not to mention, the abused person is so shell-shocked that she truly believes each incident is the last.

But it’s not that easy for a woman to just leave an abusive partner, and her staying does not mean that she wants to be abused. We must understand that many women choose not to get out. This does not, however, mean that she wants to be abused. It means that she sees no other option and does not recognize that leaving is actually a choice.

To understand why abused women choose to stay in violent relationships, we have to take a look at how she feels on the inside about herself. So, why do so many women stay in abusive relationships?

Because they do not feel they are worth being protected.

People who are emotionally healthy recognize abuse and will not tolerate it. A healthy woman will more than likely not attract abusive men, because the healthy woman is not a victim… she knows who she is, and she knows she is valuable. Abusive men pray on women who are weak, vulnerable, and who see themselves as worthless.

I remember a man named Gavin de Becker, author of the bestselling book “The Gift of Fear” and twice appointed to the President’s Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Justice, was on the Oprah show once, and he talked about domestic violence. I’ll never forget one of the things he said: “The first time a woman is hit, she is a victim. The second time, she is a volunteer.” At first, I was completely flabbergasted that he would say such a thing… until he explained what that means.

He said that when people argue that staying is not a choice, then he kindly asks if it is a choice when a woman finally does leave, or is there some syndrome to explain leaving as if it, too, is involuntary? Because if a woman’s staying in an abusive relationship is viewed as a choice, then she can finally see leaving as a choice as well. And, he says, if we dismiss the woman staying in the relationship as beyond choice, then what about the man? The abuser would just point to his childhood, his insecurities, his shaky identity, his his addiction to control, and say that his behavior, too, is determined by a syndrome and thus beyond his choice.

He further explains that every human behavior can be explained by what precedes it, what happened during their childhood, but that does not excuse it. We must hold abusive people accountable for their choices.
For every battered woman who chooses to leave, society must provide her with place to go. Every city needs more battered women shelters. Every city needs a hotline to connect callers to the nearest shelter and to teach women how to get out safely. The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she is leaving the abuser. Cities need to provide resources to help these women make duplicates of their car keys and important papers, how to keep them hidden from their husbands, when is the right time to leave, and how not to be tracked when they can finally escape.

There are women in every community whose lives and the lives of their children are in danger, and they need to know how they can get out and where they can go. They need an escape plan, and it’s up to us as a society to come up with one. If you are in an abusive relationship and children are involved, please get out for your children’s sakes. They don’t have a voice, so you have to be that voice for them. They can’t protect themselves, so you have to protect them. And even if they’re not actually being abused as well, but they are witnessing it, remember that you are writing on the slate of who they will be as adults. Every single thing that happens to your children has a direct effect on who they will grow up to be. I promise you, children would rather BE from a broken home than live in one. Do you want your son to grow up to abuse his own wife? Or your daughter to marry someone who hits even though he “loves her”? Of course not. Nobody would want that. But it will happen because children learn by modeling, by watching how their parents interact with each other. Which is why you must stand up for your children, get help, and get away so the cycle can stop. Then work on yourself, because you will only end up in another abusive relationship unless you can dig within yourself to understand why you feel you are worthless and of no value.  From there, you can heal.

And domestic violence isn’t just limited to intimate partners. Believe it or not, it can also occur between friends. In fact, I know someone who, from everything she has told me, has an abusive male friend who uses mostly fear and intimidation to control her, but he has recently gotten physical. The last time she saw this “friend”, he aggressively assaulted her by yanking her ponytail in a fit of rage because she wouldn’t change the music in the car. That is abuse. (My friend also did some research on him and discovered that his wife has filed for divorce. After only a year and a half of marriage, one can only assume why.) So whether the person abusing you is a friend, a spouse, or family member, know that it is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

If you are in abusive relationship, remember that:
1. You are not alone
2. It is not your fault
3. Help is out there

For more information on domestic violence, or if you just want to do something to help, visit:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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