We’ve all seen, or are at least aware of the Ray Rice elevator video of him knocking his then fiancée, Janay Palmer out cold. Of course this promptly sparked numerous conversations, articles and blog posts dissecting abusive relationships and what causes people to stay in them. No one can fully answer that question except the victim but even then, the fog of relationship war with all its physical and emotional trauma, unhealed wounds and sheer physical exhaustion can cause a person to not fully comprehend what is going on.
There is a profound loss of freedom for an abuse victim, not usually with physical barriers but unseeing mental ones that bind the mind in to thinking there is no way out. In severe cases it’s a form of slavery where the abuser keeps his prey around not out of love but to control, dominate and fulfill his needs. The abused person is devalued to the point where *she really believes she has no worth and would not survive without her abuser.
Whatever the reasons a person stays in a harmful relationship; kids, finances, fear for their safety, co-dependency issues, you’ll never really get to the heart of it as an outsider. I’m not inside Janay Palmer’s head and so am not at all qualified to comment on what she should have done or should be doing now. This post is not about her or anyone specific person but thoughts on abuse victims in general.
After a public incident of abuse, there is always incessant talk on who or what is to blame outside of the abuser himself. Much of this I believe is unhelpful at best and just blatant self-important posturing at it’s worst like the ridiculous diatribe ESPN commentator Kate Fagan made about the need to spend millions of dollars “reprogramming how we raise men.” Abuse is an enormously complicated subject that requires deep thought and empathy from those wanting to help plus an honest look at how personal responsibility plays a role.
**That process has to involve an abused person looking within though to see why she allowed a person like that in to her life in the first place and repeatedly put up with such awful treatment. Do I mean they are responsible for getting themselves beat up? Absolutely not but the point here is to focus on what would actually help that person and I believe a national conversation about abuse that doesn’t mention a need for the abused to change things about themselves does them and future victims a disservice.
First of all, it makes it seem like any woman at any time could suffer from abuse and there is nothing she can do about it. This is just not true and not only because most men are not abusers but because an emotionally healthy woman’s immune system will not tolerate an abusive partner for long. A person with emotional baggage however that makes her vulnerable to bad people could be left with the impression that men being violent with women is just the way things are and prevent her from doing the inner work needed for change.
I’d like to see the narrative on abuse formed around empowering its victims by making it ok for them to be open about their weaknesses. ***There is so much shame in our culture around admitting your faults that even normally shameless day time TV is hesitant to bring it up when talking about abuse victims. What if this were not so though?
Can you imagine what the response would be if after the next celebrity abuse incident, the victim came out and said, “The reason I stayed with Mr. Bigshot for so long and allowed him to treat me so poorly is that I have some deep areas of hurts in my soul which required filling regardless of what else came with it. I am fully aware of this now and have left Mr. B in order to heal and could use your prayers and support as I do so.”
I think it would be overwhelmingly positive, not only for the celebrity victim as she embarks on her path of healing but for those suffering silently and who may be inspired by such a display of vulnerability and courage.
Look, we all have broken parts to us that affect the way we react to things, many of which we probably aren’t even aware of. When a person reaches bottom though, that’s when a choice has to be made to either continue living in unawareness and attracting the same sort of crap that is making you miserable, or look within to identify things that may be contributing to the situation and how you can change them. That’s empowerment and is something we should encourage.
*Many men suffer from abusive women but for the sake of simplicity and continuity I’ve kept the terms as he/she for abuser/abused.
**For more information on how we bring about our own healing see Melanie Tonia Evan’s very incisive blog on overcoming narcissist abuse and how our “unhealthy parts attract other people’s unhealthy parts” at http://www.melanietoniaevans.com/
***Researcher Brené Brown has done great work on the subject of shame and vulnerability. Her book “Daring Greatly” is a fantastic resource on this topic as well as her blog, http://brenebrown.com/ .