Last month, Dr. Romance received the following letter from a reader:
“A topic I would like you to cover/explore is that curious phenomenon which permits otherwise independent women to be dominated...even abused...by males with whom they share some sort or relationship. Why is it that a seemingly strong, intelligent woman would allow herself to be hurt...her life to be altered in a negative way by some guy with whom she has some sort of relationship? I currently know a couple such women and feel completely helpless with regard to alleviating their problem (which they apparently fail to see).
“I realize we/you could attack this from the other angle: Why would a man want to completely dominate a female to the point where she fails to exist as an individual? But, for now......help me understand this from the female perspective.”
I’d be happy to, and I hope the following information answers your questions.
Of course, every person involved in violent situations has his or her own reason for living that way. Usually, women who remain in abusive or violent situations are more afraid of being alone than of being with the abusive husband. She may also be afraid of what he’ll do if she leaves. She’s usually financially dependent on him. If the couple has children, the woman feels even more invested and trapped – she believes she’s protecting the children. The more time passes, the weaker, more dependent and “stuck” she becomes.
Abusive men are narcissistic – they have “Jekyll and Hyde” personalities, which means that they can be very charming when they’re not being abusive. Women who stay in abusive situations focus on this charm, and deny the abuse. They also have experience of their husbands smoothly talking their way out of any responsibility for misbehavior, for example if she once called 911 and he got the police to believe nothing was wrong.
In this situation, the woman feels hopeless and helpless, that no one will believe her or help her get out. She’s also ashamed, and doesn’t want people to know her misery. Various women have combinations of all or some of these reasons for staying.
The question here that concerns most of us would be: “What can I do to help?”
Here are some steps you can take when you believe a friend or family member is in this situation.
1. Get informed about options. Before attempting to help, make sure you know what the options are for the woman and her children. Obtain a domestic violence hotline number, (National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) the Child Abuse Hotline or call 1-800- 4 A Child and ask for numbers for local women’s shelters. Call the numbers, explain that you want to help a female friend, and find out what information these organizations need to help your friend or family member. Make a list of the information she’ll need to provide.