“Why didn’t you JUST leave?” The dreaded question all of us survivors hate to answer. Why do we hate answering it? We hate answering it because we know that since you have not experienced domestic violence, you won’t fully understand what we tell you. Why didn’t I leave? I was scared out my mind. I feared for my own safety and those I held dearest to me. I was ashamed and embarrassed. He had manipulated my mind to have me think that this is what I deserved. He had me think that he was as good as it gets. He had me thinking that without him I am nothing, that I would never amount to anything. Who would want me? I was “damaged goods” he used to say. DAMAGED GOODS?! Damaged and at his disposal. Damaged by his words and acts. I was hopeless. I saw no way out. I didn’t think I had anywhere to go or anyone to turn to. Who would I call? I mean, who would come for me? I would get close to leaving and when help came I would fall into his lies and change my mind. They were tired of it. Tired of me.
You see how my mind was manipulated back then? The trap I was in? I wasn’t even my own person anymore. I had been formed into everything he said I was. Our minds are very fragile. Our minds believe anything it is told. So if your mind is constantly being told negative things about yourself, guess what? It will take those things on and believe that that is the person you are. Which is why I find it so crucial to inspire, empower, uplift and build up other survivors of domestic violence. To help them see who they TRULY are!
Domestic violence survivors are NOT weak! That couldn’t be farther from the truth. A survivor of domestic violence has a strength like no other. We survived the physical, psychological, emotional, financial and spiritual attacks like no other. We fought daily against things that wanted to break us. We literally fought for our lives. We fought against what wanted to literally kill us and erase us from this earth. We escaped. We broke free. We came out battered and bruised. We came out with cracks in our armor. Yet, we were not shattered. We wake up every day struggling to be free from the traumatic experiences that plague our minds. The triggers and the flashbacks. We continue to fight on. We continue to heal each day that comes to us. We have good days and bad days and we continue to press on. We find hope in ourselves. We find our strength. We find our peace and more importantly we find our identity.
Reasons why survivors say they stayed in their abusive relationships as long as they did:
- In the midst of it, we believe (and hope) that the abuser will change because of the “remorse” and “guilt” they portray to us after an incident. The apologies that they will change. They say they will seek help. Etc.
- FEAR: The abuser instills this fear in us of what they will do to us if we attempt to leave. They threaten to harm us, our family, even our children. They threaten to kill if we try to report the incident(s).
- No support or the thought of having no support. A victim is most likely isolated from friends and family. Some family member and friends may have written us off due to not understanding what it really is that we are going through. Therefore, we think that there is no one for us to go to. We do not always know what resources there are available to us in order to help us escape.
- Guilt and/or shame: We feel guilty for allowing the relationship to get like this. We take the blame and we also are ashamed to admit that we are in this type of relationship. We are embarrassed, because at one time we were so strong and confident and now we are the complete opposite that we are embarrassed to admit what we are going through.
- We are attached to our abuser. They are all we know. They are who we depend on for everything.
- Fear of starting over: We are afraid of major lifestyle changes that will take place. We have a fear of being independent again.
- Responsibility: We feel like we are at fault for the abuse. Sometimes we may feel like we even deserve the abuse. Time and time again after an incident we hear things like “if you didn’t do this…” or “If you didn’t say this..” or “If you had just did what I had asked!” That we start putting the blame on ourselves and believe that it actually is our fault even though it isn’t.
- Loss of hope, feelings of being trapped.
- Believing that we are the only ones that can help the abuser with their problems. We believe that we are the ones that can get them to change.
- The victim thinks that unhealthy or abusive relationships are normal: The victim may have grown up in an abusive household as a child.
There is something called the “honeymoon phase,” where after the abuse, the abuser acts like they feel remorseful, ashamed and will even try to downplay the abuse. The abuser will then apologize, seem to be generous, will show loving behavior and kindness. This “loving” behavior strengthens the bond between the two and will most likely convince the victim that leaving is unnecessary. This is an ongoing cycle.
Domestic violence is not only physical abuse. What you may see on the outer surface does not even come close to the cuts and bruises hidden beneath the surface. Marks from physical abuse, those heal over time. The scars left from verbal and emotional abuse, those scars don’t heal nearly as fast. Those scabbed over cuts do not heal when we are still in the relationship because our abuser keeps picking the scabs off and the wounds continue to bleed.
Before you ask that dreaded question, be sure you are ready for the answer(s). Be sure you are ready to handle the graphic details. Believe it or not, asking a survivor why they stayed or why they didn’t just leave is a form of victim-blaming. No matter what your intentions may be. Asking a survivor that question brings back a lot of mixed emotions and triggers a lot of things. When people used to ask me why I didn’t leave and then follow it with “ I would have left the first time he hit me.” It made me feel embarrassed and ashamed all over again. I felt weak, I felt vulnerable. It put me in a very uncomfortable state of mind. So please, from the lips of a survivor, refrain from asking that question. I hope this blog post brings clarity to those who always want to know the answer to that one dreaded question: “Why did you stay?” “Why didn’t you just leave?”