When You Must Leave

Time to Go
Family, Heartbreak

I am often amazed that a woman who has been beaten will not or cannot leave the batterer.  Leaving would be the most instinctual and self protective thing to do.  In my clinical practice I’ve heard women make excuses for the batterer and talk about the times when it is really good between them.  Usually such times are referred to as the making up, honeymoon period.  From where I sit, this is a lull that lasts roughly six weeks between episodes.  When the beating stops there is overwhelming relief, and often a powerful high.  He is attentive, contrite and “very very good”.  He has the power to deliver the lowest lows of his “not self” (just not like him) contrasting with the highest highs of his “real self”.   He swears that it will never happen again, and because she has no plan in place to leave, believes him.

After the immediate relief, the batterer verbalizes and the victim believes that he’ll never do it again.  It is incongruous situation when somebody one loves can cause such a see-saw existence.  One woman told me that in the middle of a beating she saw her surroundings and her husband as dark and dangerous.  When the beating was over she was so relieved, she felt she was at home with a protector in a safe environment. After each episode things tend to rock along on a more or less even keel for a while.  Between violent attacks women have described the man as “the kindest, most affectionate, most attentive and a gentle person”.  They are often in such denial, they believe that this is the “real him” and the dark side they experienced was “not him” and expect it to be different going forward.

Although the man may be sincere in the saying “never again”, he cannot maintain it due to the fact that he has not made the necessary deep level changes.  The cycle starts again with a pick, pick, here; a demeaning remark there, until tension starts building between them.  She starts walking on eggshells, still in denial that he will hurt her again, until he does.

Why don’t women leave?  Logic doesn’t work.  Giving them statistics of the likelihood of beatings getting worse does not work.  Why not?  Why would she choose not to get out?  Notice I used the word “choose”.  Before the first beating she may not know that he was capable of such behavior, but after an incident, she does know and she does choose.  As in other areas of our life when we do not take action we are choosing, even no choice, is a choice.

What I have learned over the years is that most females involved in a violent controlling relationship have more the likely come out of a traumatic childhood.  Such upbringings diminish the abilities to judge what is dangerous and what is inappropriate.  Many children in order to survive the violence in their homes, literally dissociate from the heightened anxiety or terror within.  What happens when a child dissociates is that the fear or anxiety is more manageable or dulled.  When the fear is dissociated, or split off, one loses the ability to access degress of risk, or violence and they cannot tell what would be normal fear under such circumstances. A client of mine continued to stay in an abusive marriage. As a result of early trauma she did not have available to her the part that could realistically judge the different levels of danger that lead up to abuse.  One such incident occurred when she denied that danger she was in, when her husband who said “never again’, stabbed her and she saw blood gushing out of her side.

When a child goes through traumas at an early age, he or she does not develop that part of them necessary for self-protection and self-empowerment.  Usually there is nobody in the family able to nurture this development within the child.  If a child has developed a degree of self, it is often numbed out because needs cannot be met.
My client referred to above related that as a child she was subject to many layers of abuse.  During treatment process she remembered leaving her body(dissociating) and being near the ceiling in a corner of the room watching herself being raped.  An important part of treatment during our time together was to revisit the part of her that split off from the whole in order for her to be able to feel more integrated and feel more of herself available.  She learned that she was indeed valuable and learned to trust her instincts. Not every trauma causes such severe consequences, however on a spectrum all trauma causes some degree of loss of self when it happens early in life.  Just like “Humpty Dumpty” many of us do not know how to put ourselves back together again.  We suffer many years before considering professional help, if at all.

The above mentioned client continued her treatment, however the real impetus for leaving the marriage were her two children, girls age 8 and 10.  They were readily becoming targets in addition to herself, for her husband’s escalating violence.  Sometimes women who can’t find the power to leave for themselves, will leave to protect their children.  They are less likely to split off their horror, when they witness their children being hurt, and are more able to trust their instincts when it comes to the little ones.

From where I sit the abuser does not have to be overtly violent with the children for enormous damage to be done to them.  Alas, many mothers do not find the will and the courage to leave, and the children witness her having no power and being a victim.  Children internalize the woman’s weakness and if they are of the same gender tend to take on such behaviors of weakness, helplessness and being victims etc.  The male children often learn behaviors that treat females as weaker, often growing up to be bullies themselves.  The

This article was originally published at Laura B. Young . Reprinted with permission from the author.