Laughter fills the air, people flood the shopping malls, couples frolic about hand in hand, and Salvation Army bells ring on almost every corner. The holidays bring families together and are the time of year that everyone strives to bring some type of meaning to the end of another year. The main focus of those around us has been to ensure that gifts were bought and wrapped and neatly placed under the tree for our loved ones. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences joy during the Christmas season. Domestic violence does not take a break for the holidays. Sometimes, the strain of the festivities can exacerbate an abusive relationship. There are many factors during this time of year that play a part in pushing abusers to their limits: financial stress, higher alcohol consumption, and tension between families. This is no excuse for their behavior, but rather a catalyst or justification for them to take out their frustrations on those closest to them. Many of us find that we question why the victim stays. Why do they subject themselves to the torture? Why don’t they just leave? We should be asking the question, why does the abuser put them through so much pain?
We are all guilty of questioning the victim’s motives in staying in a toxic relationship. I’m guilty of it, and I was a victim to verbal abuse for 12 years. I was one of the statistics that stayed and gave chance after chance, which left my family wondering why I wouldn’t just leave. Why is it that our society is automatically ready to place the blame on the victim?
“Well, she went back to him again, she should know better. I won’t feel sorry for her the next time he hits her.”
While family members can only handle so much pain, watching their sister/brother/cousin go through an abusive relationship, we also need to remember that abusers have an incredible hold on their victims.
He only viewed me as an object and not a person . . . It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time.
Their techniques of manipulation and control, with empty promises of change, allow them the ability to sink their talons into the victim and pull them back into their clutches, time and time again. When an abuser thinks they are going to lose the victim that they have spent so much time molding into their little puppet, they will bombard them with relentless phone calls and text messages of undying love. It’s up to us to help the victim become aware of what is happening to them, to help open their eyes to the reality of their situation and give them the confidence to cut themselves loose. This isn’t done easily, and they must be approached delicately. The main thing they need from their friends and family is support. Any attempt to heavily persuade or shame them into leaving their abuser will only drive them further away from you.
When looking back at my situation, I recalled a time when my sister brought to my attention the cycle of abuse wheel. When I first looked at it, I saw that I could relate to every single aspect on the wheel, but then something inside me flipped a switch. I had been manipulated for so long that I believed all of the issues in my marriage were my fault. I looked at my sister and said, “Maybe I’m the abuser.” She stopped immediately and didn’t mention any more of it. She simply requested that I do a little research for myself. After I left him, she later confessed to me about how terrifying that moment was for her. At first thinking she was finally opening my eyes to the reality of my situation to then fearing she may have caused more damage, she was scared to press the matter any further.
We should never underestimate the harm that years of manipulation can cause. I have been tossing the memories back and forth, trying to find some way my family could have approached me early on that I would have been willing to listen openly. I have yet to come up with anything. In the mind of the victim they think they deserve the treatment, manipulated to believe that they are abused because of something they did. They will immediately defend their abuser, or become offended if anyone else points out the abuser’s bad behavior. We have often heard the response, “But you don’t know him like I do.” They will make excuses for the behavior of their abuser, they will believe wholeheartedly that he is going to change this time, that he loves them. After it was brought to my attention that I was in an abusive relationship, it took about a year before I realized nothing was ever going to change unless I made the change myself.
I couldn’t escape the hold my abuser had over me until I realized he never actually loved me. He only viewed me as an object and not as a person: something for him to vent his frustrations on, something to exert control over, something to mold and to shape. When I let myself realize this, I was no longer persuaded by his empty promises and his declarations of unending love. I saw through the lies and was able to claim my life back. The cycle of abuse wheel planted the seed and I began recognizing the patterns of his behavior. I saw our dynamic as though it were a broken record, the constant repetition of abuse and promises, abuse and promises. It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time. But I am happier and healthier now than I ever was during those twelve years.
Now the holidays are a time for being around those I love and who truly love me.