Domestic Violence & the Women who Stay

Having grown up in a household where I witnessed more than my fair share of domestic violence, I can’t help but wonder … 

Why do women stay in abusive relationships? 

Why do they continue to pretend inside themselves then out loud that things are “okay” when their whole beings are slowly dying? 

Why do women expose their children to the same (more or less) violence they have been exposed to expecting their children to be “happy”? 

Why do women try to solve their children’s behavioural problems by focusing on the children instead of their environment?

Why do women try so desperately to be heard by their abuser while isolating themselves (and their children) from people who deeply care?

Why do women lie to themselves and try to manipulate people in their environment to believe that things aren’t so bad? 

Why do women believe that  living such small lives is the only life available to them? 

In the model of the world I operate from now, I know: why is a closed end loop. I would never get the answer to that question, no matter how hard I tried. Human beings are complex, no doubt. But more than that, internalized cultural conditioning always prevails …

This is why I wrote my piece calling on Mothers to Evolve with Intention. If women (mothers) don’t learn another process to live from, habits prevail and we wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of our children. 

All of it … all of it: rooted in shame. 

All of it, rooted in powerlessness. 

All of it, rooted in intergenerational modeling.   

Growing up, the strongest woman I knew was my paternal grandmother. Because she took charge, got shit done,  and everyone feared her. But, her achilles heel was always my grandfather … quiet as a mouse in her presence, yet conniving and indifferent to her feelings. And man did she ever love him. And he, in his way, her. Where’s the line between love and hate … I wonder. 

Everyone else…every single other woman in my family experienced a multiplicity of abuse. To put it gently, every woman in my family had a husband who beat the fuck out of her. Bruises, and all. Emotional, physical and sexual violence. Indifference to their well-being. Indifference to the well-being of their own children. Power tripping galore. I cannot remember a single household which felt peaceful. 

At best, when I was home alone with the women, I felt relatively safe. (It wasn’t much until later that I would realize: the women who were supposed to protect us  violate in different, more covert ways that we often cannot bring ourselves to notice  as children because we are too busy trying to survive and the women are the ones that won’t immediately kill us). 

I remember growing up and wanting nothing more than to save my mother from the dire circumstances of her life.  As soon as I turned 11, I decided I have a voice and I’m going to use it (funny enough, I stopped getting cavities after 11). I tried desperately to model to her what it looked like to stand up for yourself within the context of domestic violence. It never worked. 

It didn’t work. Not because she didn’t care but because she didn’t know what else to do. 

So she tried to teach me how to deal with the abuse by not getting so angry… 

Turns out, I wasn’t alone in that (shocking, I know…). I have witnessed so many women in my lifetime defend violence and predators, and tell their daughters that they must learn to deal with the abusers. Stay out of his way, don’t provoke him, just be nice, don’t wear those shorts, don’t be rude, good girl don’t —, it’s just a hug, stop being so difficult, just shut up, … among a plethora of other inhumane degradations supposedly done with best intentions at heart. 

Yet, the truth of my experience is that mothers, generation after generation, have been teaching their daughters how to feed the literal predators and the culture of violence with their essence and through their bodies

Truth is, the violence hurt me, no doubt, but what was most hurtful was the pretending. How was I supposed to pretend I was okay with the unfathomable circumstances I was exposed to regularly? How was I supposed to pretend when my body was screaming? How was I supposed to pretend when the truth was so invasive and in-my-face?

What I’ve come to discover in my few years of working with women, is that all the women were taught how to pretend. Manipulate their inner cues to be able to tolerate the outer ‘reality’. Manipulate, too, the outer circumstances so people think their lives are “perfect”. Yet our inner world is in total and utter turmoil. So is that of our children. 

That, ladies, solidifies that the next generation repeats what they see. 

In the meantime … pretend. No matter what we witnessed as children, we were all supposed to pretend the men in our lives were “good men”, “good fathers”, “good people” and the women were always the “victims” who were “powerless” in “leaving” because … always … fill-in-the-blank. 

I wonder what makes one a good man … 

I wonder what makes one powerless …

I wonder what makes sharing your bed with a man who hurts you and your children more appealing than leaving and living under a literal rock… 

I don’t actually know. No matter how many women I talk to, I still don’t know.  I don’t think I ever will…

But what I do know is that illusions always and necessarily cloud our ability to be discerning. 

In an effort to protect the illusion by perpetually pretending and protecting the prevailing and pervasive myth of the intact family (not the well-being of the children), women tolerate the intolerable. And, they teach their children to do the same by exposing them to the violence, constantly justifying and defending the abusers. I once wrote about how women protect abusers and predators in an effort to “save face” (not the children).  

From my own experience and in working with so many women now for the last two years, I have come to discover that, just like me, the pain their (supposed to have been) protectors caused them is much more deeply rooted than the pain of the abusers. They can forgive the abusers, they can forgive the predators … but, the pain of lack of protection cuts really fucking deep. And it ignites equal parts rage, terror, hopelessness and shame. 

It truly breaks my heart, not because I don’t understand, but because I know what’s possible

I volunteered at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Center a decade ago, and one of the questions was “why do women stay in abusive relationships?”. I came up with all the politically correct answers – money, status, “what would people think” and the big one: kids. What I left out then was “love”. The interviewer reminded me that, along with kids, was the biggest reason. 

When you love someone … when you wish life was different … when you believe you have to make it work no matter what …. you contour yourself into a pretzel, manipulating yourself into believing “changing him” is possible. 

Oh yeah, I forgot …I, too, tried that for seven miserable years of my life. The reason I stayed was definitely “love”. And immense self-loathing. Funny how easily I forgot. 

Love. This nominalization that has destroyed lives for generations. In the name of love, all women everywhere are supposed to let others feed off their bodies. Let them take. And let them offload. How many women get raped daily in their relationships and call that “duty”… 

I have yet to meet a woman who has changed her violator. I have only met women who settled for a life of intolerable misery, somehow convincing themselves: this is just my luck … 

Intergenerational violence, generation after generation, with no end in sight. 

I have yet to met a woman who did not, while tolerating the intolerable from her miserable partnership, hope her children would do better. In fact, tried desperately to teach her daughter of what’s possible for her, while modeling day in and day out that it isn’t. We don’t communicate with words; we communicate with our nervous system. That’s why, unless we consciously and perpetually intervene, we become, more or less, our mothers. 

I wonder why the desperation to believe our daughters will do better than we have, when we don’t. Yet another sad self-lie. Self-manipulation to not pick up her courage and vote with our feet. 

Indeed, it does take great courage to live. It takes courage to stay in abuse, and it takes courage to leave abuse. It’s a matter of choice, fed from internalized beliefs about one’s inherent and fundamental worth. 

How do you convince a woman she is worthy of so much more, when …

She has internalized a lifetime of self-abuse?
She hates herself because of what she knows she’s doing to her children? 

She is deeply steeped in shame about it all? 

She feels profoundly powerless in having it be otherwise?

She lies to herself to just get from one day to the next? 

She simply would rather die than fully face her reality? 

She feels completely and utterly isolated from everyone she cares about? 

She feels completely and totally alone in the world? 

Turns out, you can’t. 

Family violence … the gift that keeps on giving … and giving … , as Louise LeBrun likes to say.

In my latest Unapologetically Unfuckwithable group gathering, I found myself in this stream of consciousness expression that I am choosing to share with you.

I titled this: The Myth of the Intact Family, Women and Safety. Listen here.

Get help! Do it now!

If you are finding yourself trapped in a violent and abusive household (however you define that for yourself) know that you are not alone. There are people who care and who are able and willing to help. And, as always, you have got to be the catalyst of change in your own life … 

The first step is always that internal boundary that says enough! When that internal boundary is reclaimed, everything from there unfurls. 

For resources on this, please check out: 

This podcast on the burden of silence and violence in the home.

This blog on violence and silence and it’s impact on our well-being.

This blog on acting now (do it now) as the invitation to start creating a different reality for yourself.

And finally, this blog on the answer is: live a meaningful life.

PS – violence, overt or covert, always takes a toll on us. It shows in our eyes because we become strangers to ourselves. If you feel you are in an abusive environment, I invite you to look into your eyes and see yourSelf … your essence … your being. Because no matter what the abuser(s) try to take away, they can never take away that which is scared inside each and every single one of us. If you re-awaken to that, you might just being to notice: you are worthy of a meaningful existence. 

If you are having conversations that are not life-sustaining for you, I invite you to consider joining my monthly women’s gathering called Igniting Your Potential. The conversations are intended to be life-affirming and expansive; so if you feel “stuck” in any way, consider joining us next month! If it’s your first time, I invite you in as my ‘guest’ (as in, for free, because you don’t know what you don’t know … ).
If you’re called to participate, email me to join.

Are your habits hurting you?

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