Abuse thrives in silence. It grows within the walls of shame. If I told you I was being abused, it was a big deal.
Maybe you’re being abused. Maybe you know someone in an abusive situation. Maybe it’s both.
There’s a special kind of isolation that latches onto you when the person who is supposed to be your safe place isn’t actually a safe person at all. The world looks a bit more scary.
So, if I told, please understand this:
1. It meant I was at a breaking point.
One night, my boyfriend held a butcher knife to his neck and told me he would slit his throat if I ever left him. An hour later, we were eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and watching TV.
I didn’t tell anyone; there was no need to. We worked it out. I mean, there was ICE CREAM.
Yes, that sounds crazy. It IS crazy. There’s a reason abused humans feel like they’re going insane.
But I was convinced that if it all ended, I would end with it. My priority wasn’t open communication. It wasn’t becoming emotionally healthy. My priority was to survive. And I thought I needed him to survive.
Abuse exhausts your soul.
If I told, it was because the abuse had already bled through the cracks in my own composure, and it was starting to leave stains that showed. It had become unbearable.
2. I rarely told the whole story.
We step onto frozen ponds carefully. If we just thunk onto the ice feet first, all reckless and wild-like, it might be thin and crack. We might fall through and die. So we take baby steps.
It’s the same with people.
Shame is a powerful thing. Abuse loves it. I minimized the crap out of my stories. I polished off their prickly bits and bleached them, so they weren’t too scary or too much for you. I already felt messy enough. My stories needed to be more tidy than I was.
You couldn’t handle hearing the whole story. That’s what I told myself. But also, if I said everything at once, out loud, I might’ve had to face it too.
I wasn’t ready.
When sizing up a potential “ear,” my mind sounded a lot like this: Are you going to judge me? Are you going to think I’m crazy for staying? Or that I’m just complaining? Are you going to believe me at all? Will you think I’m pathetic? If HE finds out I told, it’ll be a fight. Or I’ll lose him. Maybe I’m making this a bigger thing than it needs to be. This is so stupid. I’m stupid.
If you wonder why people stay in abusive situations when they could just leave, please know this: they have already judged themselves, questioned themselves, mentally beat themselves up far more than you ever could.
If I told, I felt embarrassed. Like I was a failure for allowing myself to be abused in the first place.
3. I felt more defensive of my abuser than of myself.
So, you know how you’re allowed to complain or joke about your family, but the minute someone else even mentions a perceived flaw, it’s ON?
Take that feeling and make it bigger. That was me.
I talked my abuser up in double-time. Especially in situations where you knew about what went on behind closed doors. I felt so ashamed, knowing that you knew. I didn’t want you to hate him. I cared about you both. I didn’t want more waves.
Even if you weren’t talking him down, I could FEEL your distain for my life. I KNEW you didn’t approve.
I loved him. If I could help you understand his good side, it might justify the rest. Often, I would defend him immediately after talking about the abuse. Like I was balancing the scales.
Like it would erase my guilt for telling at all.
If you got angry with him, it was because you didn’t UNDERSTAND him. You couldn’t see his good qualities, and how a lot of this was my doing.
If you only understood how much I provoked him. I’m strong willed. I say too much.
“He actually has a really good heart.”
An abuser’s partner is often his or her most vocal cheerleader.
4. If you knew the truth, I avoided you sometimes.
Abuse has a distinctive cycle. The description details differ, but it generally looks like this:
The honeymoon part carries its own shame. Especially if other people know. Part of the bliss involves playing along with the illusion of happiness.
For me, if I saw you and things were good again, I would be reminded that I let it slip how NOT good they were before. And it would remind me of what happened, what might be coming next.
It was embarrassing, knowing that this happy period was a lie – and you knew it. I didn’t want to have to explain myself. Because, SHAME.
Abuse loves to ignore reality.
5. You couldn’t have fixed things.
If I told, I trusted you. There was a part of me hoping to hear the magical solution to it all. How can the abuse stop AND how can my life stay together in the process?
You couldn’t give the answer. You couldn’t save me. Even if you had perfect advice, I needed to be ready.
What you could do was be there, be steady, be present. Make time. Create space. Don’t lose yourself in my life. I know that can happen. It’s hard to watch those you love being hurt.
Understand that if and when I found the strength to leave, I would be forever thankful for your friendship during the hard times.
Thank you for being there.
Thank you for listening.
Thank you for loving me.