In the immediate aftermath of abuse, life feels insurmountable. It feels like driving an out-of-control race car headed toward the wall, like you’re behind the wheel, gripping and steering, but the only end is to crash and burn. It’s accelerated when compassion leans away from the victim towards the victimizer.
All to often society reacts to the facts of an abusive relationship with unbelief – are you sure, you guys seemed so happy, it couldn’t have been that bad, what did you do. Blaming the victim, belittling their experience, reducing them to a ball of apologies – it’s not hard to do. Even if not intended, these seemingly simple questions carry significant weight for victims and survivors of domestic violence. In a single instant, words can absolutely crush any hope of her feeling valid, heard.
Every one of these phrases had an effect on me as I first reached out. I questioned if I was believed, even if I was.
Are you sure?
What made me suck in breath with are you sure when I first stepped into admission was that I wasn’t sure about any of it – he’d already told me it wasn’t as bad as I remembered and I was making stuff up. He had a “logical” and “rational” explanation for his behavior and each point pointed fault back to me.
It takes a breaking point to be sure, and even then it may not come for a long time. I would have preferred to be asked if I was confident about moving forward. At least then the question wouldn’t feel like disbelief.
You guys seemed so happy.
Thank you. That was the point: seemed. Opening about abuse is sharing that what it seemed wasn’t what it was. It was not happy. I never felt very reassured when faced with re-explaining why is was it only seemed happy, and many times I didn’t.
There is going to be an incredible disconnect from the person who everyone knew and the person the victim knew. I would have preferred a humorous wow, you’re a good actor to you seemed so happy. Recognizing there was a cover-up going on is validating. Verbalizing that the two realities don’t match up feels like disbelief, if not outright, at least on the horizon.
It couldn’t have been that bad?
Why? Because Hollywood hasn’t put it on the silver screen yet? Describing abuse takes ugly words. Words like controlled, raped, kicked, stabbed…words that describe criminal actions, crimes the news reports happening in the streets not in our homes. At least not until someone is murdered, and they may perhaps get a mention.
There are stories of women being dragged down the hall by their hair. Others kicked in the teeth. Some strangled until they passed out. There are stories of women held captive in their own homes. Women who were forced at knife point to perform fellatio on her husband’s friend and later beaten for being a whore for agreeing.
It was that bad. Simple as that.
What did you do?
I don’t know why these words are still coming through in stories of escape. Stop it. Questions like what did you do to him? and did you provoke him? cut to the core of a domestic violence victim. If it passes through your mind, don’t let it pass through your lips. We are conditioned to believe everything is our fault and “what did you do?” only confirms it.
When someone makes the choice to hit someone, throw someone through a door, lock someone in a closet, that is their decision. I felt feel accused of asking for it, deserving it, provoking it every time I was asked what I did. The people I talk to ask me only what happened?
What can I ask?
Rather than any of these, though, a really great question is how can I help?
Share: How did any of these questions effect you?