Without exception all the women who arrived to my practice had no idea they were abused women. Their “presenting problem” was that they suffered from depression or anxiety. They felt inadequate. All were deeply disappointed with the condition of their marriage. It took weeks before they felt secure enough to relate the actual incidents that were taking place in their homes.
UNDERSTANDING THE PATTERN OF ABUSE IS A PROCESS NOT AN EVENT
However, once the words “abused woman” are on the table, they are shocking. Many women went into denial in one form or another. The most dramatic example was with Debbie who threw her copy of the book, Men who hate women and the women who love them” out of the window. She was driving across the bridge of the Emmarentia dam and hurled it into the water.
Let’s understand the nature of denial. Denial is a coping mechanism that was named by Freud who worked with recovering war veterans. It is the personality’s way of avoiding information to feel more comfortable. However the problem with denial is that it does the following:
- Other symptoms such as depression are created because this information needs to be processed
- It prevents you from making constructive decisions. A decision made on scanty or distorted information is never a good one.
- It prevents you from developing the life skills necessary to assist you with your current predicament.
Denial takes many forms. Philippa tells me that she often “forgot” dramatic incidents. She would find herself at physiotherapy or at the hospital but would be unable to recall the details of the assault event that got her there.
Excusing someone’s behaviour is also a form of denial. Cynthia explains her husband’s behaviour away and excuses it. She tells me that he works so hard and is so stressed and she understands that.
“Everybody attacks the people they love because that is the place they feel safest.”
There is a perverse pride hidden in that sentence. She is “glad” to be the attacked person because it implies his sense of security lies solely with her. She wears her abuse as a badge of honor.
When any form of substance abuse is involved then of course it is the easiest thing to deny that the relationship is abusive by saying he had no idea what he was doing. Laying the blame at the feet of alcohol and drugs is easy.
Philippa was one of the women who denied abuse in the face of substance abuse.
“I believed that he only hit me when he was drunk or drugged. One night I was lying in the guest room. The reason I was in there was the previous night we had argued and he had hit me. I didn’t want to share a room with him. When he came home he walked into the room and asked where his dinner was. In his walk and his face I knew that he was seething. I had made dinner but didn’t want to tell him I had. Stone cold sober he dragged me by my feet, kicking and screaming and shoved me onto the cold cement garage floor. He then locked it making it impossible for me to get into the house. That was the day I had to face the facts;
- He was sober
- He had come home from an AA meeting
- He had abused me anyway. What was I to do then with this information other than face it?
Why do women seek to deny the fact that they are being abused? There are several reasons. Firstly they feel ashamed. It is as though the abuse reflects poorly on them and not on him. Mainly they are ashamed that they are still there. They are ashamed that they haven’t left. They are ashamed that their husbands treat them shockingly and they lack the strength of character to leave.
DENIAL HAS A PAYOFF. IT ALLOWS YOU TO STAY WHERE YOU ARE.
Many women sing the song of, “better the devil you know tra, la, la, la, la”
Now the shocking truth is this:
- You are an emotionally abused woman
- The worst thing you can do at this stage is leave. Let me explain by way of a story.
Recently Carol arrived at my practice. She is in her late forties and very attractive. She lives with her partner but was previously single for about twenty years. In her late twenties she divorced an abusive husband and brought up her son as a single mom. As is often the case it was difficult. She had very little money and no qualifications to speak of. She worked in hospitality and had long hours and mediocre pay. At night she did domestic chores and attended to the needs of her son. Finally that son left for university. Despite her struggles and notwithstanding her loneliness she was quite proud of herself. It was the quiet pride of a woman who had done her best under difficult circumstances and she often wished they weren’t her circumstances.
Once her son left for university her friends persuaded her to go on a dating website. As I mentioned she is attractive and in almost no time she met a man who seemed perfect. He said he wanted to take care of her and persuaded her to leave her job because the hours were long and the pay insubstantial. She gave up the lease of her property and sold her car because he had a second vehicle in better condition than hers. Carol felt “saved.” She had finally met a man who was going to provide her “happily ever after.” Without a backward glance she leapt into his arms and his life. For a codependent “I want to look after you” are the magic words. It feels like the sacred deal. We want to look him and he wants to look after us. And so begins the dance.
As things stand now she has no apartment, no vehicle in her name, no job, and no means of income. She has no furniture because his was better than hers so she gave hers away. She has no friends because he has caused drama with every friend she ever had. Now he insists on showering with her because he says she uses too much soap. He buys her clothes because he says she looks like a tramp otherwise. He goes grocery shopping with her because he considers that she spends excessively. He has an insatiable sexual appetite and if she refuses him he loses his temper.
The point that I’m making here that although she divorced her first abusive husband she failed to understand her own codependency. She failed to read the warning signs down the relationship path. Carol had simply had no relationships and so hadn’t realized that getting divorced is a long way from being recovered.
Women deny that they are abused because they are afraid to leave. There is now no reason to deny the abuse because:
- The abuse is not a reflection of you, it’s a reflection of him
- You shouldn’t even consider leaving for now. The last thing you want is to start or perpetuate the pendulum of leaving and returning. You lose credibility in your eyes and his. The leaving – returning trap is one that you need to avoid diligently. So with the necessity for denial out of the way lets welcome the ugly truth. You are an abused woman but you will find a way either to leave or to stay in a way which you are empowered. Face the truth. It is the first step to your recovery