I want to speak candidly today about how living with abuse can be so unrecognizable to victims. I think it’s hard to understand sometimes why people stay in abusive relationships.
I want to clarify that there are many forms of abuse. Some are easier for the person to recognize as unhealthy, yet, it doesn’t make it any easier to leave. Those suffering domestic violence with physical abuse can be filled with so much fear, it paralyses them into staying. Other forms of subtle abuse are equally unhealthy and destructive to the soul. Sometimes these forms of abuse are unrecognizable to the one suffering them, yet visible to others witnessing it. Sometimes, hidden from everyone, victims suffer behind closed doors.
There are many forms of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal, mental, emotional, and financial, as well as senior abuse. How is it that a victim can’t always recognize what is happening to them?
I want to share a little of my story. I got married very young, I was nineteen years old. I was a very naive Christian girl, who fell in love with a man who was a new Christian. He explained some of his past to me and I believed that God had redeemed him. I still believe God can redeem us from our past and from our struggles if the heart is willing, and a person pursues what it takes to be better. However, these should have been red flags.
We married and everything seemed fine for the first two years. Until it wasn’t.
I listened to the justifications for his behaviour and his pleas for forgiveness every time he hurt me. Until the words “forgive me” didn’t mean much anymore. In the midst of all this I still didn’t recognize what I was living under.
My family would talk to my ex about how he was treating me, encouraging him that how he was treating his wife would be the same way his sons would treat their wives, if he didn’t try to change. He would be good for a while, but always revert back. Even the term of endearment, “dear”, took on a horrible connotation for me. It followed words of contempt and blame. Yet, my family still didn’t know what else was going on, behind the closed doors.
When I finally found myself free, I discovered all the abuse I had lived under through counselling. I excused his behaviour and justified it as much as he did. I had been living a co-dependant existence and I had been afraid to leave him. When I was with him I wasn’t able to recognize what was going on. I had feelings of shame and guilt, low self-worth, and I felt constantly on edge, never knowing what to expect. I felt like everything was my fault and I felt violated. Yet, in the midst of that, I could not name it. When my counsellor started naming what I had gone through, it finally made sense, and I could begin the process of healing.
So why is it so unrecognizable? Why couldn’t I see it? I believe I was isolated and ignorant of the signs. I wasn’t taught what to look for in an abusive relationship; what was healthy and what wasn’t. I married so young that I grew up in those “unhealthy” conditions. My sense of worth was wrapped up in one person’s view and entwined in his life.
It is so important to start talking about what is healthy versus unhealthy. It is important to educate ourselves and those around us, so that we can have good relationships and healthy boundaries. I posted a link below, a Help Guide for Domestic Violence and Abuse. I like what they have to say:
“When people think of domestic abuse, they often focus on domestic violence. But domestic abuse includes any attempt by one person in an intimate relationship or marriage to dominate and control the other. Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under their thumb.”
Until I was free, I didn’t see it. It was unrecognizable. I hope to encourage anyone who is feeling low self-worth, shame, guilt and the feeling of being trapped or violated to search out information that may help you understand what is triggering those feelings in your life. If it is from an unhealthy relationship, I want to encourage you to seek help. There are places to find the help you need and resources online or by phone.
In my local community, the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation provides support for victims of domestic violence. Get Help - JMMF
In Alberta, there is a 24 Hour Family Violence Info line 780-310-1818. The information is provided in more than 170+ languages.
For those suffering Sexual Abuse, there are local agencies like The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at www.sace.ca or 780-423-4121 or the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres which provide links to family violence and sexualized violence programming, at http://www.casac.ca
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters provides information and lists shelters/services in Alberta at Find Shelter
These are just a few, there are so many resources out there for those in need. If you feel you need help or know someone who might, please talk to someone; family, friends, a hotline or professionals.
There is hope! I believe in redemption. I believe God has the power to heal us, to rescue us, and to redeem our lives.