I don’t get it! Why don’t they just leave?
“When he hit me it felt like love!” “I was addicted to the lifestyle I was provided.” “When the self-esteem is beaten out of you, the relationship is all you have left.” “I can change him.” “I’m the only one who believes in him and can help him.” “She said she was sorry!” “I had hope, that I could change them.” “When you grow up in a Christian home, you don’t get divorced.” “I was embarrassed about what others would think.”
The reason someone stays in an abusive relationship can vary from one individual to the next. Some reasons include: low self-esteem, fear, lack of resources, love, hope, cultural and religious beliefs, the lack of skills needed to be able to “just walk away,” negative intergenerational patterns, and so much more. And of course, there are some individuals who cannot break the vicious cyclic nature of abuse because it’s all they know.
In addition, some survivors experience what is known as traumatic bonding or Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome creates a strong emotional attachment between an abuser and the individual that is being abused. This bond forms as a result of the cycle of violence. Survivors using this psychological coping mechanism learn to identify with their abuser to maximize their chances of survival. In many cases the survivor will rationalize and defend the actions of their abuser. In extreme cases, the survivor may even respond negatively to authorities, family members or friends who try to rescue or forcibly remove them from their threatening and/or challenging situation.
It is always easy to sit on the “outside” of a relationship and say…”just walk away” or “she/he’s stupid for staying” when the fact is that we do not know why the person has either chosen or feels forced or coerced to stay. We sit from a place of privilege because we have not had to endure abuse. This makes it difficult to understand.
Leaving a relationship involving IPV is not as easy as just walking out the door. The individual must be ready to leave and believe he or she can be successful if they leave. They must have a definite plan of action in place, which includes safety planning, economic stability, acquiring necessary skills, education and training, therapy and a support system. All of the aforementioned components must be in place before the survivor can successfully transition out of the relationship. In addition, it helps to reduce the likelihood of returning to the situation and/or experiencing repeat victimization.
Can I do anything to help?
Absolutely! Consider getting involved in organizations and programs, like Project Create SAFE, which are designed to create awareness and provide prevention, education and skills building. Volunteer at a local agency in your community, like the YWCA, that offers support and assistance to survivors. Many organizations that offer a safe space, support groups and economic assistance can always use a helping hand. Donate items and/or funds to a domestic violence shelter. Speak up! Speak out! Speak often! Speak positively and become an advocate for IPV. Advocate for policies, programs and funding to help support survivors in the healing process and help perpetrators reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Learn bystander intervention strategies that will keep you safe but also potentially save a life. Finally, offer a nonjudgmental space and support for loved ones who are experiencing intimate partner violence. Oftentimes many survivors need a listening ear and/or open arms. Your ability to provide that may make all the difference in the world. In addition, it may be just the boost they need to get out of the situation.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org Relationships center for more articles.
Dr. TaMara loves nothing more than talking about sex! Her passion is deeply rooted in spreading messages about healthy sexuality. Dr. TaMara is a sexologist, sex therapist, educator and motivational speaker with more than 20 years of experience speaking, writing and teaching about sexuality. She travels the country helping individuals embrace and honor their sexuality. Dr. TaMara has published numerous books and articles. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, www.drtamaragriffin.com or www.projectcreatesafe.com.
Beyond Skin Deep: What You Must Know About Intimate Partner Violence was originally published on blackdoctor.org