For the 3rd, and final for this round, discussion on Interpersonal Violence, we will talk a bit about how to survive / help survivors of abuse.
Abusers have a highly accurate, internal radar for potential people to trap… to the surprise of many it’s not perceived weakness. I will preface this with, it is never your fault for being abused, the same following traits when presented to a self secure and nurturing partner can build a beautiful relationship. When presented to an abuser, they become points to take advantage of. Survivors are often:
- Full of empathy, to a fault, often putting others before themselves
- Committed, they don’t back away from people they care about because of challenges
- Intuitive, they know how to read and understand people, changing to fit the situation
- Forgiving, they will forgive people and don’t seek revenge
- Patient, they don’t make impulsive decisions or quick reactions
- Resourceful, often taking challenges in stride
Also common in the stories of survivors of abuse are:
- Experience violence during childhood
- Struggle to be economically independent
- Lack social support
- Previous mental health challenges
- Previous relationships containing abuse
When we are children, we have a hard wired need to attach to caretakers. However the person we attach to treats us, we learn that is love.If this sounds like you or someone you know, be extra considerate of who you allow into and share your life with. I have been told, the rallying cry of the abused is, “I can fix them”.
New relationship energy is both a helluva drug, and a set of blinders. Abuse often begins in the honeymoon phase of relationships, but there’s so many chemicals shooting through the body we overlook them. Friends, metamours, and partners in polyamorous / swinging relationships can really struggle watching someone they care about missing all the red flags. On average, it takes 5 attempts to leave an abusive relationship for reasons that go beyond, “but I love them, and we can fix this”. Beaten down sense of identity, very real physical danger, lack of financial resources, limited social connections, fear for children, toxic societal “ride or die” expectations, and embarrassment are some other reasons.
For those currently in abusive relationships, first take care of yourself. Eat, drink water, sleep, bathe as you can. It may be overwhelming, try to pick one focus a day. Create a safety plan which includes:
- Maintaining social connections, try to avoid being isolated
- Create a telephone list of local police, shelters, crisis help lines, family, and friends
- Have somewhere you can go your abuser doesn’t know
Finally, try to find fun and seek out passions as you can such as hobbies, arts & crafts, reading, or meditating.
For those who care about someone being abused, be patient and supportive rather than confrontational, don’t let them lose you. Attempt to be a part of their safety plan, which may include a code word only known to the two of you. You may be asked to hold onto important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, or passports. Lastly, as you can, encourage them to talk to professionals and use local resources.
I was asked by a wonderful client once, do we act first, or think first? I brought this up as a topic to about 200 people. Some said, “sometimes I just angry and act out before I think”, others said, “before anything important, I spend time considering it.” After two weeks I figured out the answer, we do our habits.
Possibly the most insidious aspects of abuse, is those who survive it often internalize the voice of their abusers as a survival skill. Long after the survivor has left, their abuser still influences their daily lives. As an example:
I know my partner has had a stressful day at work. I hope if I can make the evening go perfect, if I’m good enough, maybe they won’t attack me. I try to remember all the mistakes I made before, all the lists they’ve yelled at me, cook their favorite dinner, make sure to have their favorite dessert, beg whatever higher power the pets behave, talk to or yell at the kids about what a rough night this might be. I hope to anticipate whatever might set them off in desperation, quietly knowing nothing I do is good enough.
Trying to remember everything the abuser says, attempting to predict what they’ll say or do next becomes a habit of survival. As we go into the future and new relationships, we will unfortunately carry these habits with us. We may unknowingly cast our partners and ourselves into the roles we understand the best, abuser and victim. It may be terrifying to be asked, “what do you want”, because you don’t know, that’s never been the actual questions meant, and you try to find what the safe answer is. You may have a hard time knowing what you want because you’ve lost who you are.
Be extra careful of future relationships, as we can fall back into familiar territory. Seek out those who have supported you and find professional support as you continue on your journey of self discovery and healing.