Becoming Free Again
Escaping an abusive relationship
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is the perfect time to discuss the meaning and effects of abuse. In many cultures, abuse can be normalized and even shameful for the victim. As a result men, women and children feel like there is no way out. But the more educated and aware we are, the better we can help someone who is experiencing abuse.
When we hear the word “abuse,” most of us automatically relate it to a physical kind, but abuse comes in many forms. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines abuse within a domestic violence relationship as “a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” No exact criteria exist for an abuser or for a victim of abuse – meaning you can’t tell just by looking at someone what is going on behind closed doors. Abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, sexual and/or physical.
Dealing with abuse doesn’t end just when the victim physically leaves the harmful relationship. Emotionally, scars are left behind and victims have to work to acknowledge their feelings and work through the pain or else they will stay trapped mentally and be stuck in a phase of stagnation.
How can someone who has experienced domestic abuse or any kind of abuse start healing? The first step is to seek help. Many agencies provide therapeutic and legal services, and several can provide these services at a minimal cost or even free of cost. Leaving an abusive relationship and healing from it requires support, and sometimes the shame behind having been abused keeps victims from talking to family and friends, leaving them isolated. The truth is no one is alone. Unfortunately, many people experience abuse. Having been abused isn't the end, but not seeking a way out can lead to the end.
I once attended a conference where abuse and domestic violence was discussed. The group leader brought up a scenario where someone who was being abused came to you and sought help. His question was what would we do for that person. I was shocked when he said we should not get involved and allow the person to escape if he/she feels safe enough. Although it is true that if we are not trained in this area we shouldn't approach the abuser or make it known that the victim is seeking help, we should offer empathy, emotional support and direction as to where the victim can receive help. Abusive relationships can be extremely dangerous but when a victim seeks out our help, we shouldn't ignore it. Otherwise we are just re-enforcing the victim’s feelings that no one cares and they are stuck.
I had the opportunity of interning for a legal agency during my graduate education that provided services for domestic abuse clients, and I noticed the pattern that these individuals did attempt to seek help by speaking with best friends, religious leaders and family. However, no one recognized this as them asking for help and didn't offer any kind of support or direction. The more educated we are about domestic abuse, the better we can react to someone who asks us to help them.