There are all these moving stories about escaping abusive relationships floating around the internet. They are all unique, and poignant, and hopefully bring better understanding to what abusive relationships are actually like.
But for every woman telling her story of abuse, there are probably two others holding back on sharing theirs. Statistically, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of abuse in their life—be it physical, emotional or sexual—which often go hand-in-hand. This means that a big chunk of the population has a story about the time they had their dignity, their sanity, and their safety stripped away from them, and yet they keep their struggles quiet.
Today, I don’t really want to talk about why women avoid their stories of abuse (even after they’re free), but I will, because awareness.So here are some reasons not to talk about abuse, even after it’s over:
Reliving is terrible. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. A major deterrent in women avoiding the #WhyIStayed stories is because it involves thinking about one of the most scary, gut-wrenching, confusing, angering, taxing times of their lives. Even if it happened to you—especially if it happened to you—it’s a really big pill to swallow, and nearly fucking impossible to think about. True story: I still can’t think about it in its proper context. When I try, I think about tons of reasons why it wasn’t actually that bad, just so I can remember what happened fully. I often wonder if I was just young and the relationship was tumultuous. If I had been more emotionally mature, smarter, prettier, ablebodied, it wouldn’t have happened. Deep down, I know it wouldn’t have mattered if I was as enlightened as a Zen Master, or as pretty as Megan Fox, all the horrible shit would’ve happened anyway, short from walking away sooner or never meeting him. (Imagine?!).
There’s also the beautiful phenomenon of blocking, which a lot of people employ after shitty things happen to them. It does wonders for daily function, and can even delete things from your personal history if enough time passes. Great for some aspects of coping, not-so-great for sharing your story of mistreatment.
Victim Status. Once you disclose that this stuff has happened to you, a veil of sadness drapes itself all over your otherwise happy relationships. You watch as the person’s eyes digest your past, as they sit up straighter, tightening their jaw and say, “You don’t have to tell me this if you’re uncomfortable,” What they (maybe unknowingly) mean to say (probably?) is that you’re making them uncomfortable with the weight of your secrets.
Victim status, whether you want it or not, pushes a lot of people away. You’re one of those girls, who’s likely have a ton of baggage, and for whom there must be a reason all that bad stuff has happened.
Disbelief. Every time I read about one of the women who has come forward with her story, I catch myself looking for all the things she could’ve done differently: “Oh, she could’ve left, here, here, or here and she wouldn’t be in this sticky sitch.” I hear her talk about the early signs of being in a controlling relationship, and I think, “Didn’t she find it strange?” As if I’ve never been there. As if I don’t get it. I wonder, just like many people, how she let this happen? And, surely, she could’ve nipped it in the bud. What scares me about this is that I fucking know what it’s like, and I’m still inclined to question, be skeptical of woman sharing their souls. If someone who knows, way down, how this stuff happens, doubts the woman for her role in the events, what does that mean for how the rest of the world sees them?
Can’t leave it at the door. Being severely mistreated for years is not something anyone just up-and-leaves, physically or emotionally. Telling your story about it solidifies that. If you ever find voice to talk about it, either generally or specifically, it becomes more and more real (and less and less deniable) with every detail. And you’ll have to take that with you, into your next relationships. It’s likely that your whole worldview morphed to match your abusive situation, and that never (I presume) goes away. You’’ll spend a long time (maybe forever?) waiting for the “other shoe to drop” in your new and old friendships and relationships, the way it did in your abusive one. This stuff, it doesn’t leave you. And knowing that can throw you back into denial harder than whiplash on Space Mountain.
Safety is another huge reason I’d imagine some women aren’t sharing. Sometimes even whispering the words “He’s hitting me,” can mean tons of danger. I didn’t address it here because the focus is mostly on emotional bounds that keep woman from disclosing, even after the abuse has dissipated.
So, next time you read a #WhyIStayed story, try to believe it with your whole heart, and if you want to put things into perspective, think of all the women who aren’t sharing. Commend all the women who are sharing—they are fucking heroes, but be mindful of those who aren’t there yet–they’re on their own journey.