I don’t understand. I’m pretty good at being able to mentally and emotionally put myself into somebody else’s situation and experience at least some of what it must feel like to face their challenges and fears. I don’t understand any woman’s decision to stay with an abusive partner. For one thing, true partnership is NOT defined by abuse, and I had a really hard time settling on that word to describe such a person.
I’m watching Dr. Phil rebroadcasts on OWN. I think he gives a lot of common sense (or what SHOULD be common sense) feedback and asks questions people in crisis don’t ask themselves. He’s good at prompting people to think about the reality of their situation and make a decision for themselves. He goes one step further and offers to facilitate them regaining control over their lives, repairing what can be repaired and moving toward a better life. I respect that. He opened tonight’s show about domestic abuse with the question, “Do you find yourself walking on eggshells to keep from upsetting other people?”
No, actually, I don’t. I’ve never been one to tiptoe through a conversation, certainly not for fear of inciting somebody else’s anger. I don’t think I’ve always had this level of awareness, but I know I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind. Not even in 1st Grade when the teacher told me I “colored wrong,” but that’s a story for another day. :-)
What is it that makes a woman accept and excuse abuse? What makes anyone justify somebody else’s hateful and hurtful actions toward them? I can’t get there in my mind. What would you do if your child were being similarly treated by a classmate or another kid in your neighborhood? Would you advise your child to just keep a low profile and not say anything that might upset the bully, or would you move heaven and earth to protect your child and fight for a safe environment? What example are you providing for your children? Do your actions prove out your words? Face it, it won’t matter what you say to them if what you do doesn’t bring the goods.
Mothers who accept abuse as part of daily life are effectively raising more abusers and more victims. They’re showing their sons that it’s acceptable to be abusive, and they’re showing their daughters that it’s okay to be abused. And the cycle continues. I know abuse happens in the reverse as well, and I’m not blaming the victim – I just don’t understand the rationale that leads to that place.
When I was very young, I knew I was the apple of my dad’s eye. He made me feel as if the sun rose and set with me. When I was 9, he left us for another family and went so far as to blame it on my younger brother and me. As a divorced parent, I now know that what he did was despicable. All I knew then was that it was my fault. Our family was hurting and it was my fault because he said so. At some point during my mid-teens, I realized that he was a coward for blaming his children for his actions, and I vividly remember deciding that I would never again accept the blame for what somebody else chose to do. Never.
Perhaps that simple act of becoming aware made the difference. I don’t know. I only know that I am wholly unwilling to take responsibility for someone else’s unreasonable reaction or unmet expectations. I will not apologize for or compromise who I am or my integrity for another person. There is no single person on this earth worth that sacrifice.
Of the three women featured on Dr. Phil, only one’s husband was willing to participate. One husband didn’t know his wife was on the show, and the other said that if she went, she’d come home to find all her things on the front lawn. All three were afraid of their husbands. All three were afraid to speak up for fear of the consequences. Fear has no place in a healthy relationship.
Dr. Phil has a few statements that he uses on a regular basis:
- The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior.
- You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.
- How’s that workin’ for ya?
If you were disrespected and mistreated yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, recognize the pattern. It won’t change by itself. What advice would you give a friend in an abusive relationship? What would you say to your sister? Why aren’t you saying it to yourself? How’s that workin’ for ya?