VIOLENCE IN MY FAMILY: WHY SHE STAYED
Posted on September 06 2019
Why She Stayed
“Why does she stay with him?”
“Why does she always go back to him?”
“If a man ever laid a hand on me, he’d be dead.”
“Is she stupid? How does someone end up that situation?”
These are the judgment calls many people like to make after learning a woman was once abused by an intimate partner. The majority of these comments are made by other women.
This is maddening when you take into account 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
Sometimes these questions are asked aloud. Other times they remain opaque internal thoughts only.
Once upon a time, I had these thoughts about my sister. It wasn’t my most shining moment when it comes to the history of compassion.
I was a teenager when my sister’s relationship of half a decade was revealed to be an abusive one. Up until that time, most of my knowledge of domestic violence--and abusive relationships in general-- was shaped by Lifetime channel movies.
Tragic but true.
Battered women were nothing but fictional characters to me. Campy sensations portrayed by former 80's sitcom stars. They were not members of my own family.
I hated my sister's abuser, I would've protected and supported her at any cost. But genuine support and genuine understanding are two very separate entities.
I saw her involvement in that relationship as some grand show of weakness. Those types of relationships were pathetic and beneath her.
From my perspective, my sister was the woman who spoke her thoughts without second-guessing or filtering them. The one who wasn’t frightened of many things, let alone people. One man, least of all.
So why did my outspoken, outwardly confident sister in an abusive relationship for five long years? Why make the man she was in that relationship with the father of her child?
None of it made any sense to a teenage me. I know now it wouldn’t make sense for most adults, which is a terrifying problem.
Coincidentally, the same week that my sister's truth came to light, a celebrity couple had become embroiled in a domestic battery incident themselves.
The story was splashed across most news outlets. Within a week, domestic violence went from never registering on my radar, to dominating it. Abusive relationships were no longer a theme in some ridiculous movie starring Tori Spelling. They were hyper-reality, and that reality was not a glamorous one.
But even at such a young age, those questions about my sister’s role in that relationship never sat quite right with me. Somehow, I instinctively knew that there was more to it all. But as the years passed, my questions were neatly arranged in a box.
A box whose ultimate fate was to be pushed to the back of my mind.
It all resurfaced when I picked up a book written from the perspective of a woman whose relationship kicks off as a romantic fairy tale that transforms into a nightmare.
In the book, that fairy tale slowly snowballs into a violent relationship. Through that book, I learned that intimate partner abuse is a step by step process. It is a trap anyone, no matter their economic or social status can fall right into.
Vicariously living through a character whose journey involved becoming a domestic violence survivor, was the much-needed repellent for my sparked my empathy as much as it called for a reevaluation of the past.
I was an adult now. I had a grasp on the basics of psychology. It was time to grow up and face the ugly truth.
My sister’s relationship was the continuation of a cycle; the household, we grew up in was a verbally, emotionally, and mentally abusive one. Acknowledging this to myself was heartrending.
The things we learn in childhood make us who we are today.
We were all but trained to turn a blind eye, and adopt a deaf ear when mistreated by someone we loved. To us, when you truly, truly loved someone you protected them with everything you had in you.
When someone you loved hurt you… you took it when they hurt you. You tried your best not to upset them further in case it got worse. Finally, you pretended you were never hurt in the first place.
They can call you names, and dole out put-downs like candy. They can words at you because they work hard. They always make sure there's food in the fridge, and they keep a roof over your head. They kill themselves to provide for you, they drive to school, they cook for you, how dare you complain about some meaningless yelling?
Funny enough, neither verbal nor mental abuse made many appearances in that Lifetime movies-of-the-week. I suppose watching Judith Light being screamed at for 90 minutes wouldn't be half as compelling as watching her in-fielding a fist to the face for 60.
My sister’s past relationship now appeared almost inevitable from this vantage point. It seemed a natural progression of our special childhood training. Whereas I had a pathological fear of serious and committed relationships, my sister embraced them.
She’d been the long term relationship stand by your man type from the time she began dating. I could oh so easily see how the habits we cultivated as kids evolved, and found a place to exist within our adult relationships.
Trauma hits each person in its own uniquely dreadful way. My sister’s story is the story of a cycle repeated--but how much is an explanation for why women stay worth at the end of the day?
A survivor of intimate partner abuse doesn't owe an explanation to anyone. The one in the wrong is the abuser, the only one who should be prodded for explanations and subjected to interrogations prying into their past.
Hopefully, in the future, there will be a shift and a drastic change will manifest.
As for the present, my family was able to confront our demons and resolve our pasts with ourselves and with one another. And as for my personal growth as an individual. Now I know that within each case of domestic violence there is the story of a warrior who survived.