Have you ever told yourself – and quite possibly friends and family also – that you know your abusive partner better than anyone else does?
In some ways you would be right; you would know far more about his quirks and habits and frailties than anyone else. And in some ways you would be wrong;
because the temptation is to assume that knowing as much about him as you do, somehow means that he really feels and will ultimately behave the way you hope he will.
How does that work? Obviously it doesn’t. Yet we have all been there at some point. You launch into the abused woman’s anthem: “No, no, it’s not like that. You don’t understand. He wouldn’t…” and people look at you open-mouthed in utter disbelief. But you are convinced you know better.
How do you know better? Therein lies a mystery, the potentially fatal mystery of denial.
This week an abused woman wrote about her partner: “I know him better than anyone and I don’t believe he’d go that far.” In her case ‘that far’ meant murdering her. He has a gun, he has threatened her repeatedly and he has behaved violently towards her and people connected to her.
Viewed from the outside she is tragically misguided. Unfortunately for her she has spent more time with him than anyone else has and she chooses to disregard his threats and past behaviours, because of what she thinks he won’t do. Why? Because she can’t bear to face the enormity of the situation.
It’s agonizing to have to face the fact that someone in whom you have invested your whole life is hell bent on destroying you, in order to get their own needs met. It’s devastating to think that you couldn’t make yourself truly matter to them.
Anyone who has lived with an abuser knows how hard it is to face that ultimate ugly truth. It is far easier to slip into the kind of misguided thinking that minimizes the threat to your wellbeing, whether that threat to is physical and immediate or emotional. The awfulness of the reality is too difficult to acknowledge. Addressing it requires a degree of energy that may seem impossibly hard to find.
It may seem easier to give up the struggle and put your trust in – of all people – the abusive partner, or maybe just give up caring whether you live or die.
How tragic is that?
How tragic is it when you stop envisaging a worthwhile future for yourself? When you feel you will never be more than a beggar at the feast of life? When you are so drained that you feel almost ready to consign your children also to emotional beggary?
We’ve all been there.
It is the hardest time to do anything at all to change your situation, the time when you feel absolutely crushed by life. A woman I know told me that she once spent a whole day spreadeagled on the floor, too terrified by the thought of having to manage without her partner even to lift her head. Whether or not we have actually done that, most of us who have left an abusive relationship have certainly felt like it, and not just for one day either.
Still it is the time when whatever tiny steps you can take will bear the most fruit.
Sadly, those tiny steps probably won’t produce instant results. Wouldn’t it be great if you only had to take one tiny step and guardian angels or banners of support would appear right in front of your nose? But you know that that is most unlikely to happen.
The pace of recovery is way too slow at the start. Besides, you feel too weary to work through the process; you just want to hurtle through the recovery tunnel, like some kind of emotional time traveller, and arrive instantly at the other end. Healed. Whole. Of course it doesn’t happen.
But let’s look for a moment at what does. You take the first few small steps towards emotional healing and you feel like you are neck deep in molasses (UK treacle), trying hopelessly to wade through it. You focus on the molasses (treacle) and the sheer difficulty of the thing. That’s only human nature.
You are not aware of the chain of change you set in motion. Nor are you programmed to look for tiny shifts and changes. Having lived with misery and negativity of epic proportions, it’s hard to grasp how focusing on micro-shifts will speed the arrival of massive results. Yet that is what happens.
As regards the woman who wrote to me, she is clearly between a rock and a very hard place. There are no easy solutions for her. She barely has the strength to stay away from her violent partner. (Not that she will be much safer, over time, if she goes back to him, than if she keeps away from him. Either way, the very real threat to her safety, must be managed with great care.) But she has taken a few steps, one of which is contacting me.
I cannot always do this, but on this occasion I am able to offer her an hour of my time. Will this magically solve her problems? Of course not. What I am hoping – and believe - it will do, is speed up the chain reaction that will result in her healing. What she does not yet see is that she has almost nothing more to lose.
She has everything to gain.