The Shame of Domestic Abuse
I was recently reading an article about Mary Murphy, one of the judges on the show, “So You Think You Can Dance”, about her experiences as a domestic abuse survivor following a 9-year marriage. One of the recurring themes in such stories is connected to the shame that a woman or man feels when they are in an abusive situation and I know from my own personal experience what that is like.
The shame appears in many different forms. For me, I felt that I was a fairly well-educated person who should have been smart enough never to have gotten into such a relationship in the first place. But, it didn’t take long for me to understand that when you love someone, so many things that you would normally see were the situation being viewed from the outside are never even noticed when you are in the middle of it. After all, here was this attractive guy who was interested in me and who thought that I was someone special. Wow, no one else has ever seen me in that way and how could I not love this? And when he wanted to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me, I felt like the most fortunate person in the world.
For Mary, the abuse began 3 months into the marriage. For me, it was 4 months. For her, she initially tried to fight back but it took only being hit for the first time that I learned that would never be a good idea. I quickly realized that any challenge would bring additional consequences and if I did as I was told, things would be a lot easier for me. Of course, that didn’t mean that everything went smoothly from there. There were always the times when I was attacked and would find myself with a loaded gun in my face just because he believed in his less than sober state that I had done something wrong or that I was thinking the wrong thoughts. It didn’t take long to figure out that he was the one who was cheating on me and that he felt that if he came home and went on the offensive by attacking me, he would never have to deal with any of the consequences for his bad behavior. He was right and in fact, I began to pray that he would find someone else and just leave me for her but no such luck.
The other part of the shame results in the silence that comes with these situations. For me, my in-laws knew what was going on. The only thing that my father-in-law ever said was had he known that we were planning to get married (we eloped), he would have tried to talk me out of doing so. But, my mother-in-law thought that the sun rose and set on her only child and she blamed me for any and all problems that were occurring in the marriage. And I believed her. Therefore, I couldn’t tell anyone about the failure that I was and I had to find a way to fix everything. After all, when you are still young and in your 20’s, you believe those adults who are older and more experienced.
It took me 10 years to finally leave even though I was promised that I would be hunted down and killed if I ever did so. After I left, I learned that everyone knew what was going on but no one said a word. Actually, I was grateful that they hadn’t because it may have made my life even harder within that marriage had anyone tried to intercede on my behalf. And if someone had stepped in and been injured or worse, as a result, I would have lived with the guilt forever.
With time and talking to others, the shame has gone away. I have learned that had I chosen to do so, I could have found a friend in whom I could have safely confided. I could have found a way to safely get away and I could have found the resources that would have allowed me to make a new start. And for anyone reading this blog, you can, too. There are many, many of us out here who have traveled the road on which you currently find yourself. We know that there is no reason to be ashamed about the place in which you find yourself. And we want you to know that there is help available. If you can’t or don’t want to turn to your family and/or friends, you may want to contact the organization, Safe Horizon, at the email address shown here: http://www.safehorizon.org/. Help is available if you choose it. And you have absolutely nothing for which to feel any shame. You have not done anything wrong.
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