Feeling Believed

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?


  1. Extremely well written and expressed, Melanie. It’s always so helpful for me to hear from someone in an experience what it is they need most to hear and what it is they most need others to do. Thanks for this.

    1. Thank you Denmother. I can only speak for myself. Everyone will react differently. It’s one of those conversations that needs to move slowly so care can be taken with the words.

  2. This is so important, Melanie. I can’t really imagine how hard it must be to break away from something like this. I’m glad you pointed out which questions not to ask and which phrases can hurt someone further, even inadvertently. How can I help seems like the best question to ask anyone who needs our compassion.

    1. It is hard, and takes a lot of attempts. It’s easy to offend someone just trying to walk out, and I think the closer to out we get the angrier we get. It’s a fuel, both healthy and unhealthy at the same time. I know there were times when a question sent me over the edge and I shut down, and most of the time, the other person wasn’t intentional.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    This is a tremendous post, one that should be shown to every man, woman, and child who has lived through abuse…of any kind. You know that my own was childhood sexual abuse. Well, I heard all these same things after I finally spoke out. Not being believed, or only being partially believed (you must have led him on somehow, are you positive it happened that way) is very hurtful to the healing process.

    Are there people who lie about abuse? Yes, and they hurt us all. Do most people lie about abuse? No, and we must remember to speak out because we are worth it.

    1. They are such simple phrases, so easily used in so many situations, yet in the fragile moments after abuse, and, heck, those moments could last years, all of the conditioning from the abuser ruins any intention of kindness.
      I think it’s the partial belief that cut me worst of all, the great big “but” after I believe you felt so awful. I believe you, but what did you do? I believe you, but are you sure? It’s not helpful.
      Thank you for stopping by today Sophia. Do you find some of the offensive has lessened with time, or are these kids of questions just as offensive now as they were when you first started talking?

      1. The only person who has never said any of these things to me is my lover…he’s still the only man I’ve been able to touch freely, much less be intimate with. It felt so amazing to have my experiences accepted without question.

        As for the rest of my family members, they don’t mention it anymore. They’ll tell off-color jokes sometimes and look at me uncomfortably, or when my stepfather is around (like when my younger brother finished his Marine training) there’s this giant, unspoken “elephant in the room”. But they haven’t said any of these things in years.

        I actually just did a post about some of what happened, but it’s not for the sensitive of heart. I just want to help others know that they aren’t alone in facing this.

        1. Your post was so well done.
          Having your experiences excepted without question is such a wonderful thing. I felt that at the shelter I stayed at. That feeling kept me going.

          1. I’m so glad for you. Everyone deserves to find someone who accepts them, scars and all.

  4. This is really good. It is abuse all over to have people ask the questions you blogged about. The last thing we need is to doubt ourselves further. xo

    1. Thank you Zoe.
      It does really feel much like the abuse all over again, feeling like we’re being asked to defend or justify when all we want is to be heard and believed.

  5. Great post, Melanie. I think a lot of people don’t know the right thing to say, and end up saying all the wrong things. I’ve been there. A friend of mine told me that the best thing I could tell her after her leaving her abusive husband was that I’d be there for her.

    1. Thank you Jen. I know I’ve said the wrong thing just trying to say the right thing a time or two. I’m sure I will again in the future.
      It’s a terrifying process to leave and stay gone, and none of it makes any sense. Having someone there for you means so much.

  6. Melanie –
    I am just back on WP after a two year hiatus. I stumbled upon your 12 months later post and could so relate to the relief you stated you felt when not immersing yourself in writing or reading about domestic abuse. I find when I choose to ignore all the information out there I do feel more relieved. I have just referred to this as my own denial. I have been married to a man for 20 years and have been living in silence about what life is like inside our walls this whole time. My family had no clue. They did know we had some problems regarding the past, but, had no idea the extent of the problems today. It wasn’t until a recent family vacation that we all took together that the curtain was lifted and they got to see beyond the act and see what was really going on. Total and complete shock for them. I had never discussed my relationship with anyone. All they knew was the side of my husband that I fell in love with. They all viewed him as the caring, generous protector of the family. They knew he had a temper, but, had no idea it still existed or to what extent. During the vacation he showed his true colors to everyone. My family immediately opened their arms to me and just hugged me. It is the first time in my life anyone has seen inside our relationship and has confirmed that it is not just me, it is not in my head and it is wrong. I have used that as my one piece of solid ground to stand on over the last few months. For years I have been told by him that everything was in my head or had him deny things he has done. I have (and still do) a thick fog that seems to drop over my brain after any kind of altercation where it makes it extremely difficult to recall things or remember them correctly. My husband takes advantage of this and will be on his best behavior which makes it hard to remember that “all is not good.” Now though, now I have a group of people that confirm that I am not crazy. They believe me. Which helps me to believe me a little more.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

speak loudly, donkeys are sleeping

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