There is no shortage of situations in which God throws me where I’m always in need of patience and a soft answer. I find it difficult sometimes to exhibit either, especially when it involves domestic violence and the ignorance that people still have regarding it. Last month I met a woman, a social worker, who asked me to tell her my story. I didn’t know her from Adam, so I wasn’t comfortable giving her intimate details, but I gave her a general picture of what life was like with my abuser.
Before I had finished my story she interrupted with, “I would have been gone the first time he hit me. I don’t understand why you put up with it!” I ignored the remark, chalking it up to ignorance. It isn’t as if I haven’t heard that comment thousands of times before.
I continued with my story, relating what it was like to be a mother who wasn’t allowed to be a mother. My abuser had moved someone else into that role as he used lies and manipulation to drive a wedge further and further between my kids and myself. Again this woman interrupted, saying, “Did you ever talk to him? Ask him why he was doing that?”
This woman had no clue.
No clue about domestic violence. No clue about abuse. No clue what it was like to be a victim. No clue what a hostage suffers at the hands of her captor.
So I decided to educate her. I suppose I was a bit harsher than I needed to be…but did I mention she was sent to work with my kids — all survivors of horrific abuse — and she didn’t know one thing about it?
I’ll tell you what I told her.
Never, under any circumstance, tell a victim/survivor what you would have done. You weren’t there. You didn’t live it or survive it. There is no possible way to ever completely understand or experience or know what I survived. Furthermore, you will never truly know what you would do unless you were in the exact situation.
It is never as simple as saying you’d leave the first time he hit you. By the time the first hit, kick, or punch was thrown, I’d been stripped down to nothing and filled with what he thought, felt, believed, and wanted. I believed I was worthless, unloved except by him, and would never make it on my own. As the years progressed I truly was a captive — he even slept with the house keys and car keys so that I could not escape. The first time he took a swing, I believed I’d earned it — that I deserved it — and it only got worse from there.
There is no way to rationalize with a sociopath. Yes, I was married to a sociopath. He was constantly changing the rules. What was okay one day was completely evil another day. He manipulated everything so that he was always right and looked like an upstanding citizen, perfect husband, excellent father. When no one was around he would abuse me for looking at him the wrong way or making too much noise putting groceries away or washing the dishes incorrectly. Changing the rules kept me constantly off balance and always on edge. I never knew which way was up, what I should be doing, or how he was going to react to anything. So, asking me if I ever talked to him regarding why he wanted to replace me as the mother floored me — because I knew never to question him if I wanted to keep breathing.
Most of us know someone who is currently a victim of abuse, or is a survivor. I urge you to take care how you judge, and what you say. If you’ve never been a victim of domestic violence, you will never truly get it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t compassionately support someone who’s been there. Leave the why didn’t you’s and the I would haves unsaid. Just listen. Love. Be there.