A Mostly Comprehensive Guide For all Involved
By now you may have seen the video of Baltimore Raven’s football player Ray Rice punching, kicking and dragging the body of his then-fianceé Janay Palmer out of an elevator. (Janay eventually went on to marry her abuser). I have not watched the video. I didn’t need to, and I try to minimize the amount of violence I subject myself to. I haven’t had much to say about the story because others are doing a great job expressing my private thoughts. I particularly enjoyed Eric Adelson’s article posted on Yahoo Sports. In that article he talked about our culture of blaming the victim. More on that later. Janay’s story brought up some painful memories for me. I too had been involved in domestic abuse. Yes, lesbians can cause as much sickening damage as a 300-pound football player.
I had been in a long-term relationship with a woman who lacked healthy communication skills. While I was with her, I was constantly monitored, blamed, shamed, distrusted, manipulated, threatened, guilted and hit. And to top it all off, she often blamed me for her actions. She blamed my smart mouth and my daring to have a different opinion from her for our knock-down, drag-out fights. In the end, we both hurt each other. When she hit me, I hit her back. I’m not proud of this part of my life at all. And what made it worse was that most people had no clue what went on in our home.
How could they? On the surface we were two strong, well-educated, well-spoken and good-looking black women with great jobs and a nice home. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone no matter their race, gender, education level or socio-economic status. I was not poor, uneducated, with a gaggle of children and dependent on her for financial support. We didn’t need each other financially and that’s what made it easier for me to eventually leave. Don’t get me wrong, leaving was still a struggle and it did have some financial impact, but I was able to eventually leave. And even though I’ve been in other relationships since, I’m still working to rebuild my fragile sense of self worth. Abuse does not happen in a vacuum. Most abusers have been abused. I’m hoping that this article will help all those involved—abusers, potential victims, victims and friends and family—break the cycle of violence.
How Not to be A Victim in the First Place
Abusers don’t reveal themselves right off the bat. Why would they? If they did, you would leave before they had a chance to sink their claws into you. I use the term “potential victims” because we can all fall prey to some psycho with a cute butt and a cute smile. Most abusers are attractive, charming, employed and seem very sane and reasonable at first. Learning to identify those people upfront is key to avoiding a world of hurt. Here is a great list I found in a Dear Abby column years ago that has really helped me when I have doubts about someone. Below I’ve added some things I learned from personal experience:
- Take things sloowwww. Lesbians are notorious for quickly getting emotionally wrapped up in their new lady loves. Guess what? This person is a stranger. Take time to get to know each other outside of the bedroom and in public. There should be no rush. There is no need to spend hours texting or talking and spending every spare minute together when you first meet.
- Get to know their friends and family. Seeing how she interacts with the people who know her best can give you an idea of who she is. But don’t be fooled. Even now no one, not even my ex’s friends and family, know exactly what happened between us.
- Have a life. When we fall in love, we tend to make everything in our lives center around our girlfriends. But guess what, not having your own interests makes you susceptible to being victimized. Because it makes it easy for her to cut you off from your friends and family.
- Be financially independent. Abusers want to make you complete dependent upon them so you wont have options. Keep your finances separate and that includes having your own place to live.
- Is she controlling? This may not be obvious at first, but if your partner throws temper tantrums because of the way you do things, it may be a sign that she is not mature enough to date period. When we went out with my ex’s friends, I knew better than to try to be friendly with any of her friends. She had very specific ideas about how her lady should behave with her friends and even small talk was out.
- Trust your instincts. Most of the time we want to be in a relationship so badly that we ignore that gut feeling that tells you something isn’t right. Don’t talk yourself out of your feelings, it can be a pretty effective warning system.
- Look at her past relationships. One of my exes offered to give me references when we started dating. I should have taken her up on the offer. Another petite ex described an incident with the girl before me—where she picked up and slammed her girlfriend on the ground—I should have ran like hell when she told me that but I rationalized that she was provoked. She explained that the girl was drunk and had slapped her first. Even her version of the story made me uncomfortable.
- Look at your past relationships. If you find yourself having the same problems with the different women, you could be part of the problem. You could be an enabler who attracts and encourages a certain type of partner. I know for me, I tend to attract manipulative women who are quick to blame me when things go wrong. I had to ask myself why I kept repeating this cycle and came to the painful conclusion that I simply didn’t trust myself.
- Have a healthy support network of trusted friends and family. Part of my problem with my abusive relationship was that I was closeted when I was with my ex. She constantly threatened to expose me at work and elsewhere if I dared to leave. Threats like these are a very effective tool for the abuser. Click here to see Cindy Abel’s experience of being abused while closeted. When I was with my ex, very few people knew of the true nature of our relationship and I was afraid of burdening the ones who knew.
- Practice healthy conflict resolution. This one is especially hard. Often we only do what we know. Many of us did not have mothers or fathers who modeled healthy conflict resolution. Yelling, screaming and hitting is never okay. If that is the only way that you know how to communicate with your partner, then you should definitely walk way. Listening then talking should be the two most important tools in your relationship arsenal.
- Look out for angry women. There is a lot about our unjust society that makes it easy to be angry every day. But that does not mean that your partner needs to take her anger out on you everyday. Venting is fine. Sharing is fine, but constant upset is draining and worrisome. Nowadays I’m very observant of women who have road rage, always think someone is out to get them or women who get angry when others don’t immediately recognize how special they are. Child bye.
- Love yourself first. Sometimes we end up loving and putting someone else before us. And that is exactly the wrong thing to do. True love is not about self-neglect. People who love themselves take care of themselves and attract people who will want to contribute to their health and happiness. If you are with someone who threatens your sense of emotional, mental, spiritual or physical wellbeing in anyway, then love yourself enough to walk away.
If You Are Being Abused, Get Help Leaving
If you are in an abusive relationship, here are some tips to get out of it:
- Know that you do not deserve anyone’s anger. Don’t believe her when she says you made her hit you or you made her angry. That is bullshit and if you believe it this will keep you a victim forever.
- Love is a verb. Don’t believe someone who tells you they love you but treat you like an enemy.
- Don’t believe her when she says it will never happen again. People who hit other people have poor impulse control. The only way it won’t happen is if you leave.
- You must leave. The environment you’re in, whether or not you live together, is not safe. Most abusers are master manipulators and will lull you into a false sense of security. But you and I know better. You will walk around on eggshells attempting to please her but never know when something you do or say will set her off.
- Confide in friends, family or a spiritual leader. Abusers thrive on secrecy and shame. Because we are often so embarrassed to be in this position, we keep these things to ourselves. Don’t. People who love you want to help. Let them.
- Make a plan. Sometimes you have to call the police. That’s up to you. Leave when she is not there and bring a friend to help you move. I left when my girlfriend was at work. Still, she came home in the middle of the day and I was glad I had someone there. If finances are a problem, talk with friends and family about staying with them temporarily. It may not be all that nice or comfortable, but it will give you a chance to get yourself and sanity together. (I stayed on a family member’s couch for a couple months until I could find an apartment.)
- Cut off all contact. Once you move, you are still vulnerable. The abuser will try to get you back and make you think that it was all a misunderstanding. Do not go back. Block her number, don’t tell her your new address and even stay away from her friends.
- Go to therapy. You’ve been through a lot and you’ll probably need help undoing all that damage to your self-esteem. If you can’t afford therapy, then join a small group or mental health support group online.
- You are loved. Often the abuser tries to make you think that no one but she will love you. That’s not true. There are many people who care about you.
- Remember you are worthy. You are worthy of love, the greatest of which is self love.
If You’re an Abuser, How to Stop Now
If you recognize yourself in the list above, below are some steps for breaking the cycle of violence:
- Know that it’s not normal or okay to ever put your hands on anyone.
- No one can make you upset. You choose to be upset and you choose your reactions.
- Abuse can be verbal too. Just because you’re not hitting her does not mean you’re not hurting her. Verbal abuse can be just as damaging, it not more so.
- Be open to criticism. You are not perfect. No one is. And if your girlfriend says something you do bothers her, try to listen and understand her perspective. I had a girlfriend tell me that when I was angry with her, I withdrew my affections. She felt that was abusive. I didn’t like the terminology, but it made me examine my own behavior.
- Take a time out. Until you have figured how best to handle your anger issues, the best thing you can do is take a walk.
- Move and end the relationship. Once you’ve started hitting each other, it’s going to be really hard to repair the relationship while you are together. Just let it go, that is the best thing you can do for her and for yourself.
- Decide what kind of woman you want to be. Do you want to be the kind of woman who brings joy or pain? After you make up your mind, it should be easy. Abusers also have feelings and they too feel guilt and pain and hurt over their actions. But having these feelings and doing nothing to prevent abusive actions makes no difference. Take some action.
- Get some help. You cannot do it alone. Most of us have received no tools or training about how to handle conflict or feelings of anger.
How Friends & Family of Abuse Victims Can Help
If you are a friend or a family member of someone who is being abused, here are some things you can do to help extricate her from an unsafe environment:
- Pay attention. If you notice certain mood and behavior changes in your loved one, ask her about it.
- Listen without judgment. We all think abuse could never happen to us. It’s not helpful to tell your friend you can’t believe this is happening or to just leave. It’s not that easy. Most of the time abuse victims have their own reasons for staying no matter how illogical. Often they think they are in love and that things will change. It’s not your place to make her feel bad or stupid for staying.
- Help her make a plan. Research homeless shelters and support groups. Have her local police on speed dial and know her address.
- Provide a safe space. Even if you can only let her sleep on your couch for a couple of nights, let her know she is welcome as she cannot leave without a safe place to go. If her abuser knows where you live and you fear for your own safety, work to find another neutral place for her to stay. This is where your help and support can make a difference in ending her pain.
- Be there even if she decides to stay. Leaving an abusive situation is not often instant. Understand that no matter how much you want your friend or relative to get away from an abusive situation, she is not going to leave until she is ready. And sometimes the best thing you can do is be there and encourage her until she does.