Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Why Didn't She Just Leave?

Most women don't love getting beat up. Most women don't want to be violently killed by their husbands. When women are in relationships with men who abuse them, why don't they just leave?

1) Abusers are often very smart, very talented, very convincing. They might seem like wonderful men to family and friends. They might seem very honestly apologetic after the fact. And many of us took Psych 101. We know that we respond very well to inconsistent systems of reward and punishment. We love gambling. We prefer stocks to bonds.
Yet in the present case we have a man who, though he beats his wife, is often very charismatic to the rest of the world, and perhaps to his kids. And even if he beats his kids as well, it is known that intermittent affection can be a stronger binding agent than consistent affection. We also have a man who has demonstrated his power over another human being through brutality.

2) Women who are abused by their husbands have often been abused before or grew up in abusive households. They might feel like this sort of situation is normal. They might not feel like they deserve any better. They might not know how to get out.

3) Women make less money than men and are often tied to abusive husbands by fear for their lives or of losing custody of their children. And have you ever seen the way shelters work for battered women and their children? Would you take your children out of their suburban houses and schools and put them into that situation? It's never as easy as it might seem.

4) Women are not believed when they claim that they've been raped or abused. And women are blamed for rape and abuse. Still. Today. After all this time. Men rape. Men batter. Men are to blame.

Many years ago I dated a guy who is probably now a classic wife beater. He was smart and popular. He made me feel like I was the luckiest girl in the world to go out with him. Once we started dating, he'd say bad things to me about my friends. He'd tell my friends that I said bad things about them. He got angry when I'd make plans without him. Gradually, he isolated me from all of my friends, making me feel special and loved all the while. He missed me when we were apart. He loved me so much that he was jealous when I spent time with other friends. He used to tell me how much he loved me. He used to tell me how he had a bad temper. He used to tell me that if he ever got really angry, I should leave the room immediately because he couldn't control his temper and he didn't want to hurt me.

Get it? It was my responsibility to keep from getting myself hurt - by him. Lexus (see above) probably sees the reason in that flawed logic; I don't. I'm smart, I've watched the after school specials, I know better - and I still fell for this guy.

I did leave, I didn't get hurt, and I managed to rebuild many friendships that had been damaged. I was lucky - in part because this guy was still learning his craft. Many women aren't so lucky.


none said...

I can attest to the truth of this post.

Unfortunately, people will never be able to understand this particular situation unless they´ve been in it themselves.

none said...

PS. I´m so glad you left Sarahlynn!

Jessica said...

Wow....people like Lynne really exist, huh? Amazing.

I have never been physically abused or felt physically threatened but I was emotionally and mentally bullied for years - during a time in my life when I was still trying to figure out who I was. Not only did leaving him seem impossible at the time, but it took YEARS before I no longer "heard" him pinpointing everything that was wrong with ME.

laura said...

I can attest to it, too. And, Sarahlynn, I'm glad you left.

Redhead Editor said...

This story was TOO close to home (just up the street!). No one can judge what goes on behind closed doors. Although I have never been in an abusive situation, I've been the friend helping out. What about her? Those kids are without a mother because she was doing something right. What does Lynne have to say about that? My mother was beaten and even in the end, after leaving him and taking control of her life, she would say, "Your father was a wife beater." She was intelligent, strong, brave and couldn't admit what he was or what she was. Glad you got out before it was too late.

Psycho Kitty said...

Powerful post.

thistle said...

Thanks for that, Sarahlynn. The "why didn't she leave?" bit will get me every time. Every time I read one of these stories, I can see how easily it could have been someone I know, or me. And I work with battered women, and we see them over and over again go back to their abusers because their other alternative is a temporary shelter and probable future homelessness--prospects that make women, especially women with kids, a lot more willing to gamble with their lives than people more happily situated might expect.

trisha said...

Excellent post!

I, too, knew better. I, too, did not get hurt, but I did have a gun pointed at my head. I sent him to jail and never saw him again.

I hate even thinking about this stuff.

That Lynne is part of the problem.

Sarahlynn said...

I am so sad that so many women know so much about this stuff first hand. :(

I dream that someday this will be a horrible historical phenomenon that disbelieving children will read about in school books.

Lori said...

I lived that life for a year in my early twenties, and I have the physical & mental scars to show for it. I never thought I would find myself in that situation.

Sarahlynn, I'm glad you left. When I left the relationship, it was the scariest thing I had ever done. I didn't know what he was going to do to me. Well, he basically stalked me for the next 8 years. It stopped when my husband, son & I moved out of state. I echo what Ciara said, you don't know till you've been there.

Chloe said...

You knew better and you fell for him anyway... But you didn't marry him. Why not? Was it just luck? Or maybe you were somewhat more prepared than some other women. (I mean prepared psychologically and in terms of culture & self-esteem.)

Sarahlynn said...

In part, I was young and not ready to think about marriage (thank God). In part, I had a really really supportive, healthy family who helped me out a lot. In part, I think I was just lucky. After 6 months with this guy, I still had some shreds of perspective left, as it turned out. One day, he was loudly berating me in front of a group of people and I just walked away. It's one of the things I'm most proud of. I just walked away. Like it was nothing. But it was really something.

genevieve said...

Wouldn't it be great if it was history, yes indeed. But unfortunately it takes a couple of generations before people realise what behaviours produce this pattern and change their parenting accordingly.

My grandfather thumped my uncles, and now my mother is terrific at making sure everyone else is at fault if she is angry. She can say whatever she likes when she is angry and never apologises. She is always right because 'my father was a bastard' - QED!! And will never see the connection or understand she has learnt this behaviour from him. She has also encouraged my sister to believe that this behaviour is acceptable. They have no conflict management skills once they get upset, it all flies out the window. You see it on Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil every day, people.
I have read plenty about how they could do something about it, but if you are the bad guy because
'you made me angry' - hey, Sarahlynn, I might stick to my guns and stop calling her. I do think sometimes walking away from a difficult person is the best thing you can do.

The thing that makes me sad is that eventually she realises she is wrong, and makes the first call - but never apologises, just wants to roll on as if nothing has happened. It's like a Trojan Horse variety of abuse, really.
Thanks for the post.

cinnamon girl said...

Er, I know you wrote this years ago, but I just read it and wanted to say it's a really good post. Thanks.

Sarahlynn said...

You're welcome, cinnamon girl. And thank you!

Genevieve, I used to have a friend like this. Everyone was expected to understand: when he gets mad, everybody else better take care, protect him from the worst of himself, etc. And since so many people were willing to allow him to behave this way, he was completely unaccountable for his own behavior.

I can see this behavior so clearly in others, but I'm still working to acknowledge that my words hurt as badly as others' fists.