HealthyPlace.com interviewed me about leaving an abusive marriage yesterday. It is now almost a year after I left my abuser, but before our divorce is final. I have some issues with the interview, and I’m not certain I delivered my message as clearly as I wanted. I want to use this post to clear up a few reasons why leaving an abusive marriage is so difficult.
Leaving An Abusive Marriage Interview
Leaving An Abusive Marriage After Physical or Sexual Violence
Physical and sexual abuse are definable events (sexual coercion, rape, bruising, death). Unfortunately, in the throes of an abusive relationship, abuse victims dismiss physical and sexual abuse as mistakes on the part of the abuser or blame themselves and quickly try to make things right with the abuser.
The abuser plays into the victim’s (undeserved) guilt in different ways.
- The abuser may promise not to physically or sexually abuse their partner ever again. Those promises usually accompany tears, admission of guilt and excuses designed to make the victim feel sorry for the abuser.
- But sometimes, the abuser meets the victim’s desperate pleas for forgiveness with stony hatred, blame and the attitude of “Yeah, that was stupid. You shouldn’t have acted that way.”
- And sometimes, the abuser denies the event ever happened (crazymaking).
People outside of the abusive marriage may read this and think, “What the hell? None of that makes a lick of sense!” and blame the victim for being so gullible. If you are one of those people, please understand that physical and sexual violence do not happen first. Violence of the physical type occurs deep into the relationship, when the verbal and emotional abuse don’t seem to be working for the abuser and after the victim undergoes a good bit of brainwashing.
Brainwashing Hinders Leaving an Abusive Marriage
Brainwashing through verbal, mental and emotional abuse is relatively easy to achieve and is no reflection on the intelligence of the abuse victim. Usually verbal, mental and emotional abuse are not so easy to tell apart from normal interaction, especially when the abuser shrouds the abuse by saying things like, “I’m only saying this because I love you.”
There is no magic formula that we can identify and say, “If this is said to you, if this is done to you, then you are being abused.” Abusers tailor their abuse to your unique personality and personal hang-ups. The key factor to deciding if you’re abused is how you feel and think after or during an attack. Of course, you must first be able to recognize an attack for what it is (no matter how sweetly your abuser says it).
Again, brainwashing makes it difficult to even think of leaving an abusive marriage because the victim often does not realize he or she is abused.
Symptoms of Abuse Make Leaving Abusive Marriages Harder
Another problem with leaving an abusive marriage is that the long-term symptoms of abuse cloud your emotions and thoughts. Verbal, mental and emotional abuse causes victims to blind themselves to what others so easily see as manipulative abuse.
To make it worse, abuse causes victims to forget to pay attention to who they are. The victims of the unseen abuses dissociate themselves from their own thoughts and feelings, instead placing their focus on deciphering how the abuser is feeling and what the abuser may do next. Only by being in tune with the abuser can victim more safely navigate through the volatile relationship.
Abuse victims usually do not realize how they feel or what they’re thinking because how they feel and think is not important. It’s what the abuser thinks and feels that is the primary motivator and activator in the relationship. When the victim loses touch with him or herself, then it becomes less likely the victim will consider leaving the abusive marriage because the focus never falls onto how the partner treats the victim, only on how the victim can make life better for the abuser. The victims dreams fall to the side, and he or she lives life for the abuser.
It takes a great shock or sudden realization to jolt an abuse victim from the spell of abuse.