When you look at a battered woman, you should be thinking, “there but for the grace of God …,” never, “why does that idiot stay with him?” You could probably never know or understand and more than likely she doesn’t even know why. There are such a myriad of factors involved, such as the victim’s personality, upbringing, psyche, degree of submissiveness, religion, and/or belief in commitment; the perpetrator’s personality, upbringing, intelligence, degree of dominance, and brand of abuse; and the circumstances which can include finances, culture, children, and peer or family pressure. Even another battered woman, although she’ll have a greater understanding, can never fully understand any one individual’s experience.
During my sixteen year period of abuse and the many physical abuse-free years since, I have read every magazine article, newspaper article, or book, and watched every documentary, television show, or movie on the subject of battered women. Subjecting myself to these accounts always arouses feelings of deja vu and fear, anger, sadness, indignation, and futility. But, they have all reinforced my opinion that while each case is different, they are all the same. Viewing the other victims’ suffering helps the healing in myself by allowing me to see the deep traps set by the abusers and the gradual disintegration of generally good, intelligent women. Women who, under different circumstances, would be loved and revered. Understanding their victimization, I can begin to understand and forgive myself.
The common threads found in most, if not all, abusive relationships can be directly correlated with the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people. A man, who needs to believe he is superior, takes a woman (or people, in the case of the Jews) who is innately peaceful, acquiescing, and non-confrontational. He begins his abuses gradually, finding out what degree of degradation will be accepted without resistance. If at this point the victim fights back or escapes the cycle is broken. But, all too often she stays, either believing his claims of remorse, blaming herself, refusing to realize the real danger, needing to keep a routine as a semblance of normality, thinking she can give her children a normal life, fearing the unknown, or feeling financially insecure. The abuser carefully nurtures any or all of these feelings, gradually eroding any sense of self she may have had or could attain without him.
Bruno Bettelheim, in The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank, states of the Jewish people that they “out of anxiety, become unable to contemplate their true situation and with it to plan accordingly. Anxiety, and the wish to counteract it by clinging to each other, and to reduce it’s sting by continuing as much as possible with their usual way of life incapacitated many, particularly when survival plans required changing radically old ways of living that they cherished, and which had become their only source of satisfaction.” You can see the same psychological influences at work in the women who won’t leave their homes and daily routine, broken though they may be by periodic abuse. As the desperation mounts, they cling ever more to routine and possessions. The more freedom is reduced, the less the free will. “Their life energies drained out of them, sapped by their ever-greater anxiety.” applies to the Jewish victim and to the battered woman as well.
To have women who do not meet the criteria of victim state. “You can get out. I did.” or “I would never take that from any man.” does no good to the woman who has gradually yielded her strength to the person who has beaten it out of her. Other women, who were lucky enough to have escaped such a fate, by luck or strength of character, need to suspend their judgment of the ultimate mental, emotional, and physical victim. Blaming her is comparable to blaming the six million Holocaust victims for their own deaths.
Dedicated to Lisa and to my boss for his work against abuse.