Friendships are called support networks because that’s precisely what they are. They are our anchors through turbulent waters. We tell secrets and hear secrets, share news and spread news and sometimes are just together through the passage of time. Our friends know our faults and love us anyway. They understand our way and accept and accommodate it, the way we do theirs. In friendship we know we aren’t perfect but we are loved. Friendship gives us confidence in ourselves and in the world.
It is for exactly that reason that the abuser targets friendships. Abuse is about power and the abuser will disempower his partner in every way possible. A woman without a support network is a more needy and insecure woman who is less likely to be able to leave or even want to. A woman without a friend is a woman with one less place to go. In the words of an abused wife:
“I finally have no friends left anymore. But worse than that I don’t want any. It’s just too complicated. He has flirted with some of them so much that they are embarrassed to see me anymore and I am threatened by them. Those friends have become “the competition”. Others have been labelled “a bad influence”. The people I have the most fun with are “the bad influence”. I don’t see them anymore because their existence has cost me his respect. I was stupid enough to allow myself to get caught in that trap. Somehow I felt like I was less in his eyes because they were in my life and so I sought his approval by neglecting and abandoning those friendships.
People invited us to functions and he would be so aggressive and contentious that it was embarrassing. Then he would expect me to support his view and I could see their pity and their irritation that I showed so little backbone. There were stayers. They have become tired of seeing me cry and then run back when I have promised that this time I wouldn’t and couldn’t. They tell me over and over that I have become a “shell of my former self” and all I can say is that I know”.
A friendship is an intimate relationship without physical intimacy and the abuser is a monstrously jealous husband. They cannot tolerate any form of intimacy at all. The intimacy of friendship is based primarily in honesty. Our friendship is the place that we don’t pretend. We admit to our fears and insecurities. We laugh at our failings and we don’t gift wrap our lives for presentation. The abused women cannot tell of her life. She hides the details of the fighting and the insults. She covers up and in so doing she begins to break the unspoken beauty of friendship – its honesty. She hides her bruises and her welts, not because she is ashamed that she has them. She is ashamed that she is going home again. Her shame is of herself.
“It is easier to just be pathetic than to know that there are people who know you are pathetic”.
It is difficult for friends to watch the people they love floundering around and going nowhere at a rapid rate. However there are times when people and situations are beyond our reach. We cannot help them because they aren’t ready or able. However we can be around to gently pick up the pieces with them when they are.
“There are plenty of people who will ride in the limo with you, a friend will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down” Oprah Winfrey
Let’s all be prepared to take the bus with our friends when the limo breaks down.