I remember seeing a poster a few months ago, with the words: “Every morning, thousands of women kiss and make up,” and it sent shivers down my spine. It was a domestic violence awareness poster, and I knew exactly what it was referring to. Every day, thousands of women wake up with black eyes and their partners sob, aghast at their own cruelty. They tenderly put ice packs on their partner’s bruised faces and swear that it’ll never happen again, sweeping them into their arms and stroking their hair, making them feel loved again. Relief washes over the victim , and all the violence and the hatred of the night before is forgotten. Until next time.
I used to hear about these women who stayed with abusive partners and think, why don’t they just leave? Are they stupid or something? I never realized just what an intricate web violent partners spin to prevent their victims from escaping. Indeed, many victims even defend their “captors” because they have been brainwashed into believing they actually deserve the abuse, saying things like, “Well, I did burn the vegetables…,” or “I was five minutes late getting home…”, which their abusers have managed to convince them justifies a beating or a hysterical torrent of verbal abuse. When someone intervenes to protect a victim, they can find themselves being attacked by the very victim they wished to protect. And for me, violence and abuse doesn’t just mean hitting somebody. Psychological abuse can be just as damaging as physical, if not more, as it is harder to distinguish from just normal arguments between two people who live together. When challenged by his partner or someone else, a psychological abuser will always have the excuse that he “never laid a finger on them”; indeed, more skilled abusers won’t be so hasty to start the physical violence: they gain as much pleasure from mentally battering their victims, and know very well that they are much less likely to get caught and prosecuted. They dismiss their victim’s feeble protests, belittling them, blaming them, wearing them down and making them feel as though they should be the ones apologizing.
An abuser always has a rational reason for his behavior and if their victim protests that they are being extremely cruel and unreasonable, they are likely to spit back at them: “What? Have I done something to you? Have I hit you? Am I violent? You should consider yourself lucky that I don’t hit you.” And the victim hangs her head and feels desperately sorry for complaining. At least he doesn’t hit her, she tells herself. She should be grateful.
But how can someone so easily become a victim of such routine abuse unless they are a masochist, I hear you ask? The truth is, violent partners are often charm personified when they first set their sights on a victim, who are not, as you could believe, depressive and weak people who lay themselves open to attack, but more commonly generous, bubbly, spontaneous people who lack a little self assurance, and are attracted to the “broken angel” disguise an abuser wears…but a violent partner is a essentially an emotional vampire who feeds on his victims, who is so empty inside that he needs to tear down and destroy something good and positive to make himself (momentarily) feel good. Victims often have more social merit than their abusers, who are secretly maddened with jealousy at their victim’s talents/ beauty/ popularity and so search to take that from them, making them feel worthless and so, in their twisted logic, appearing to socially elevate themselves. What would be the point in taking an already damaged partner who has nothing left to destroy? Little by little, these “vampires” reduce their unsuspecting prey from bright bubbly carefree people to husks; draining their energy and positivity, and once they have stripped them of all spontaneity and life, they cast the ruin aside and move on to the next victim.
Step one, they give their victim the fairy tale romance they have ever dreamed of, making grand gestures for all to see, declaring their love for their target and making them feel like a cherished and special goddess. He will probably be armed with a tragic (and mostly completely fabricated) past which melts his victim’s heart and makes her want to make sacrifices for him, and she hopes she can fix him. This is the first trap.
And once he is sure she is hooked and enchanted by his endless showers of affection, the digs begin; little hurtful comments which are dismissed by the perpetrator as being “for your own good, I just want you to be the best you can be;” maybe telling her that some of her friends have been talking about her behind her back and that she should’t see them any more; maybe that she shouldn’t wear a certain dress as it makes her look fat. Maybe commenting and joking to his friends in front of her that her hair is a nasty colour. Degrading comments, but that he justifies by saying that he is an honest person who wants his partner to take pride in herself and look her best, seeing as she is so beautiful. Then he pulls her into his embrace and things go back to being wonderful.
And then one day, Prince Charming has a hysterical outburst which seems completely out of character. His partner can’t understand why she is being screamed at, maybe she tries to calm him down and he lashes out, maybe it’s just words this time, but they still hurt and terrify her before the abuser appears to snap out of it and might cry, and sob, and say he’s sorry, that it’ll never happen again. And for a while everything goes back to normal once more, even if the seed of doubt has been sown in the victim’s mind, and she is extra careful to never provoke another outburst like that again. She slowly relaxes and tells herself it was a one-off. Except that it always happens again, this time for a different reason, and more intense; the abuser screams at her that it’s her it’s her fault, and why can’t she just listen to him and do what he says, and how can she do this to him? And if she sticks up for herself, he will pull his alcoholic father/ abusive mother/cruel ex-wife out of his sleeve, and his victim will instantly be filled with remorse: How can I accuse someone who has suffered so much of being cruel to me just because he doesn’t like my cooking? It doesn’t matter, not compared to what he’s been through. I won’t make a fuss, I’ll just make more effort.
Chances are, he put these words into her head. His outbursts are terrifying, and she thinks, It’s obviously me provoking them, so I must pay closer attention so as not to upset him…so, like the goodhearted person that she is, she cooks him something delicious and hopes that he will be smiling when he comes home that evening. She has already fallen into the fatal trap of rewarding him for being abusive; and, skilled predator that he is, he recognizes this behavior as a green light to carry on; he will ultimately destroy his victim as she becomes increasingly afraid to speak, move or even breathe in case it provokes another furious outburst; each one draining her energy and making her less able to defend herself, and she lives in constant terror of putting a foot out of place, never knowing what might next make him angry. Because anything can set him off. She is walking through a minefield and her cautiousness just makes him more irritable. She doesn’t realize that the only thing that’s really making him angry is his own self hatred.
While in the midst of trying to deal with my own monster, hoping I could somehow get back the kind and funny man I’d met at the beginning, I read and interesting article in a psychology journal, where scientists trained a cat to press a button, upon which it would receive food. When the cat was fully trained in this exercise, the reception of food was occasionally switched to the cat receiving a jet of freezing cold water. The cat didn’t know whether, when he pressed the button, he would get a plate of food or blasted with freezing water, and subsequently became a nervous, emotional wreck. This study was compared to an abusive relationship: you never know whether you will come home to Prince Charming or the Monster, and you live in constant fear that Prince Charming will change into a terrifying stranger without any warning.
Even if a victim wants to leave, which incidentally they often don’t as they desperately want to retrieve the perfect relationship they had in the beginning, they will feel trapped and alone, as the first thing an abuser does is to alienate their prey from his or her family and friends, before convincing them that they are worthless and that no-one else will want them. So worn down is she that she will think that no-one will believe her, or that they won’t take her seriously. He will constantly threaten to leave her for someone better/ more beautiful/ more attentive unless she does what he says and changes according to his expectations, and constantly reminds her that he is desirable to other women (often women she knows), and yet becomes furiously jealous when his prey so much as speaks to another person or goes somewhere without him. She is his possession, and he shows her just enough glimpses of the sweet kind partner she thought she had to make her hope she can get him back.
And sadly, victims of this type of psychological abuse aren’t taken nearly as seriously as victims with bruises as evidence: I reported the abuse and the police officer’s reaction was, “Well duh, he didn’t hit you…so if he was a prick, why didn’t you just leave?” I believe that the public need to be aware that thousands of women live in terror without so much as a scratch to show for their abuse, and to the outside world, their abusers appear to be the perfect partner. In front of others, he will stroke her face and call her Baby, but she knows from the look in his eyes that within seconds of them being alone she will be cowering in a corner for a reason she can’t understand. Maybe this time he’ll hit her, or maybe he’ll just threaten her like last time. He will be outwardly chatty and friendly, often appearing like someone who would do anything for anyone, whereas she will withdrawn at his side. He will probably charm all those around him, who are too engaged to notice his partners’ sad eyes and drawn face. If she told anyone, they wouldn’t believe her anyway, she thinks.
So next time you read about a domestic abuse victim, please don’t judge her as being a “glutton for punishment;” please take a minute to consider the terror and absolute loneliness she experiences each day, and wish her the strength to cry out for help.