This post is in response to what a blog follower felt in response to a poem GwenAnn wrote called “nothing left” but it goes out to the friends and family members who see someone they care about being abused…
Abuse is far too complex an issue to address in a few minutes but there are some things that you should all know.
Abuse breaks the rules of what relationships are meant to be like and what keeps someone entangled in an abusive situation is far more complex than most people realize and this means that you cannot just convince someone that they need to leave or that their relationship is abusive. It is not that simple.
Victims become trauma bonded to their abusers, which is like being brainwashed through a clear pattern of behavior into believing that this is what love is, that this is what they deserve, that no one else will ever love them, that everyone goes through this. It is both psychologically and physiologically like being addicted to the abuser and their behavior.
The amygdala is a powerful part of the brain which has one big job to complete which is to keep a person alive when something threatens their safety. It is the fast thinking part of the brain that can bypass all the logic and reasoning centers of the brain in order to cause a person to act without thinking in a way that will keep them from being hurt or killed. It will suppress the memories and emotions connected to them of tragedy and trauma. It will numb pain. It will make a person act in a way that seems completely illogical because that action is the safe one. When someone is being abused, even if they see the abuse for what it is, their amygdala may know of a threat, a danger, that you’re not aware of or that even they are not consciously aware of that will keep them from acting in a way that seems reasonable.
I know someone whose spouse tried to murder them and even though they were consciously aware of it they did not remember a threat made against their life 5 years earlier if they ever spoke up about the abuse.
The attempted murder happened when they stopped bowing to the abuse and when they started being willing to speak up about it and ask for help. It is not a coincidence. The abuser was following through on the threat even though the victim did not recall it.
Memories of events can seem fuzzy at times or can disappear completely at others in order to keep the victim alive. There are times when things are so horrendous and awful and dangerous that if the person were to focus on it, it would kill them or it would keep them from staying one step ahead of their abuser. Family and friends cannot see and understand these experiences and these blocks.
Even when the abused recognizes the abuse, it isn’t enough to want to leave. Leaving is dangerous and needs to be planned not only for the immediate physical safety of the victims but also for their future safety and success.
Roughly 75% of intimate partner murders happen when the abused partner tries to leave.
One fifth of murder victims in the US are killed by an intimate partner and two out of three of those are women.
Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in families.
50% of homeless women report that it is because they were fleeing domestic violence.
What should you not do?
I’m going to be really straight with you and tell you that sometimes the absolute worst thing you can do is continue to tell the victim over and over again that they are being abused for several reasons.
They will see it when their amygdala is good and ready because people are always in denial of the hard and ugly truth they aren’t prepared to face ~ it is called cognitive dissonance.
Another reason not to push them to try to make them see it is that if their abuser finds out that you are pushing against them, it puts the victim in a vulnerable position that may result in further violence or their isolation from you.
It is also really challenging to not feel shame and guilt when someone is repeatedly telling you that you are being abused and they don’t know why you can’t see it and won’t leave. This is a recipe for a psychological disaster for the victim, who you love and want to help.
So what can you do?
Talk in a safe place, in person if you can, and away from the abuser. Putting the words in writing might seem like a thing that will help them look back on your encouragement but words can be found and you don’t want to escalate the abuse.
Use specific examples of moments when you were afraid for their safety and well-being. If they are really strongly trauma bonded to their abuser, attacking their abuser might cause them to dig in their heels and defend them. I’ve been the person defending them; it only helps prolong the abuse to get the victim to defend the abuser. When you speak in terms of what you are worried about for them and leave the abuser out of the conversation more, you will make more progress.
When they start to speak up about what is happening, listen without heightened emotion and judgment. This is really hard! But the victim will probably have a lot of repressed and unexpressed emotions and getting them help is about their emotions, not yours. Stay calm. Listen. Be supportive and validate their feelings even when you hear them say things that aren’t logical.
Tell them you will be supportive of them regardless of what happens because you love them… and mean it. A very close friend of mine went through years of abuse from her husband and when she finally reported it, most of the people who promised their support and to stand up with her fell through so she no longer had the witnesses she needed for her abuser to face incarceration. Don’t be that way!
Recognize your limits and what things are not in your wheelhouse. Your loved one will need the support of a licensed clinical counselor to untangle and address the mess that comes with abuse. Christian counselors and life coaches may be very nice humans but they are not licensed and trained to address the complexities of this kind of trauma. Even other survivors of this kind of trauma are not necessarily equipped to help ~ GwenAnn talks about someone being in a shit filled cesspool and trying to help someone else get out of it when they’ve still got their own shit floating around them.
Don’t say stupid shit to them. “You just need to forgive them. Maybe you can work it out if you go to couples counseling. They didn’t mean it. Just get over it. You need to leave the past in the past and stop talking about it. I’m getting really tired of hearing about how much they hurt you.” There is a lot more but you get the idea.
Offer the help you can and help them get the help elsewhere where you can’t. They will need a safety plan for if they need an escape. They will need a safe place to go and time to recover not only their emotional stability but also their financial stability. This is even more challenging when you consider the fact that if they seek for their abuser to face justice, it will take several years to get through that, and it can take even longer for legal separations and divorce to take place when that is happening. When it takes years to get out, that means that they will need years of support.
It is not enough for someone to just choose to get out.
When a victim of abuse is ready to leave, it can cost them tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs, their health, their career, their home, their credit score, their stability in life over all.
Victims of abuse have to have the support to make it through all that and they have to be ready to face not just the reality of what they’ve endured but the reality of a loss of everything they have accomplished in their life in order to be able to leave that relationship.
I know there is not a lot here that sounds positive. The issue of abuse is hugely complex and challenging. It is something that every one of the members of this Kintsukuroi team has experienced and survived. It is not impossible to overcome or survive after, but getting there is a challenge. If you need help learning how to support your loved one, I encourage you to reach out to your local domestic violence shelter for local resources including a support group for yourself so that you can find others to help you understand your position and how to help the victim.
If you need help figuring out where to look for that help, please reach out to us here at The Kintsukuroi Life. We would be more than happy to help you.