...and exactly what you need to do to get safe.
I heard my phone chiming early this morning, and I knew something was up. First texts, then a call, and then another.
“I knew something was off but I had no idea it could be something like this. I just don’t understand, how could she let him do this to her?”
It’s nearly impossible to understand unless you’ve escaped domestic violence yourself, like I did.
The best explanation I could give my friend was that when I finally found the courage to leave — and once I got some perspective — I thought (and still do) of myself as someone who was brainwashed.
Domestic violence is impossible to truly understand unless you’ve lived it.
Brainwashing is a theory that human subjects can be subjected to "an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations."
Well, if you put it like that, yeah, I was brainwashed.
My entire personality changed and I ceased thinking for myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore nor could I make a move without doubting myself.
I wasn’t allowed to dress the way I wanted, vote the way I wanted … in short, I wasn’t permitted to think for myself without it resulting in a fight.
So I just stopped trying.
Do you worry this is you? Are you reading this article because deep down, you know something is wrong?
If so, please, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel your anxiety level rise as soon as you hear him pull in the driveway or turn the key in the lock?
- Do you think of him as “Dr.Jekyll/Mr.Hyde?”
- Do you hold your breath until you see what kind of mood he’s in?
- Does he insist on snooping through your purse? Phone records? Email? Texts?
- Does he demand to know where you are, whom you are with, what you are doing at all times?
- Does he tell you that if you leave you’ll be penniless and on the street? Does he threaten that you’ll never see the kids again?
- Does he keep a close eye on every penny you spend?
- Does he criticize what you wear or how you look?
- Does he accuse you of flirting with other men or insist you are having an affair and demand you confess?
- Do you think to yourself, “But he’s never hit me or anything.” Do you almost wish he would, because that would be a tangible sign of abuse?
- Do you fantasize about what it would mean if he left, if you left, or even easier, if he had a tragic accident and died? (Those of you who have never been suffered domestic violence, don’t be shocked by this, think about it.)
If you answered “yes” to anything I’ve said, you are involved in domestic violence — whether you are ready to accept that or not.
I know you can rationalize why every single one of those things is no big deal or in some way acceptable. But that’s what our brain does to help us make sense of something that doesn’t make sense … it’s a way to keep you sane.
But however you choose to explain it away each time he does something cruel or demeaning or dismissive to you, rationalizing is just a survivor mechanism.
How he’s treating you is NOT OKAY. It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is how to leave.
Domestic violence, in general, is not simple to escape.
After all, it’s really complicated right? Your life, your home, your money, your kids, they are all wrapped up in this marriage. You love him, you married him for a reason, you have a history together. You can’t simply walk away from all of that, can you?
The answer is no and yet you must.
You cannot stay in this marriage or you will eventually wither up and die inside, leaving an empty shell of a woman. So the question for me is not whether or not you leave, it’s a matter of when and how.
First, though, you must want to leave.
You may be terrified of how he will react or how you will support yourself or that he really will take the kids away and that’s ok. We can figure those things out.
If on any level you want the abuse to stop, you can face your fears one by one and get through it. If you are not ready to admit that you are being abused and not ready to leave, I cannot help you.
You should file this article away and try again another day.
If you are ready though, if you simply have had enough abuse and long to be free of him and his toxicity, it’s time to start planning.
Please know that I cannot offer you a complete solution here. Leaving a complicated situation like this needs to be done with care and with help.
My intention here is to get you to reach out to someone for the help that you need.
In my mind there are two scenarios:
1. If you and/or the kids are in physical danger and things are escalating, you need to make a quick escape.
You will need a restraining order at least and possibly need to file a police report. You will need a safe and secret place to stay and some cash to tide you over. I recommend that you talk to a trained specialist at either a local women’s shelter or call the National Hotline (1−800−799−7233) to get help immediately.
Understand this will likely enrage him.
You can’t worry about that now, lean on the professionals to help deal with him in this moment.
2. If you feel you are not in immediate danger, it might be wise to plan a longer escape route.
This will keep the drama at a minimum and buy you time to think everything through.
Put a "Go Bag" together and keep it somewhere safe in case you need to leave in a hurry:
- Keys to car, house, and work
- Prescription medicine
- Childcare supplies
- Extra clothes
- Extra phone charger
- Extra prescription eyeglasses, hearing aid, or other vital personal items
- Pictures, jewelry, anything that means a lot to you
In the meantime, meet with a trusted friend or professional to help you plan your exit.
This may be someone like me, a divorce coach, or a therapist, clergy member … or visit your local police precinct and ask to speak to an officer trained in domestic violence.
I know from experience how hard it is to think clearly when you are in a panic or living in fear. When you are ready, please reach out to someone who can help you find a way to leave safely.
You deserve to feel safe, secure, and dare I even say it? — Yes, yes I will! — You deserve to be happy. Please take a step today.
Divorce Coach Kimberly Mishkin is Cofounder of SAS For Women and a survivor of domestic violence. SAS is dedicated to all of the challenges women face while considering or navigating divorce. Contact Kim if you'd like some help getting your plan together or if you aren't quite ready, sign up for six free months of help in your inbox.