The cold facts are that one out of four women in America will experience some type of domestic violence in their lifetime. Obviously, the safest choice is always to leave a dangerous or threatening situation, but many victims do not feel they can make this choice. Here are some reasons a woman might choose to remain in an abusive situation.
Nurturer by nature. Many women struggle to place their own well-being above the love they have for their partner. For women who are nurturers by nature, leaving can seem like a selfish choice.
Economics. Most families require two incomes to survive. For many women, the man is still the chief breadwinner. Some women work only part-time or not at all. Concerns over how to provide for housing, transportation, clothing, shelter, and education are among the top reasons for staying with an abuser.
Custody. Losing custody of children is one of the greatest reasons cited for staying. When money is an issue, a mother faces a genuine fear that she will not be able to keep custody. Leaving the children to live with an abuser, unable to be there as a buffer or to protect them, is a legitimate concern. This causes many victims to put up with whatever they have to in order to remain close to their kids.
Shame. Shame and the fear of isolation are powerful restraints. Victims are often convinced they did something to cause the abuse. They also believe they can do something that will make it stop. Physical abuse often leads to sexual abuse, even within the confines of marriage. This is a very difficult thing for a woman to talk about.
Denial. Because abuse is cyclical, there are often seasons of calm or even “good times.” In the calm times, it can seem as if things have changed, maybe for good this time. Many women believe each abusive episode will be the last. They convince themselves that the worst is over and abuse will never happen again. The longer the time lapse between episodes, the harder it is to leave.
No hope. For a woman trapped in abuse, the situation seems hopeless. She feels trapped, and she’s convinced that she has no choice but to suffer. Although this is not the case, in her mind she has no choice because no alternatives make sense. The emotional damage she experiences is severe. It cripples her self-esteem and renders her powerless to make decisions, particularly as they affect her own health, safety, and well-being.
Build her up. When a woman shares her situation with you, even when she is unwilling to reveal all the details, it is important to acknowledge her feelings and stress that the abuse is not her fault. She does not deserve to be punished by abuse. Let her know that what she is going through is terrible, but she doesn’t have to go through it alone — you are with her and for her. Give her the confidence of knowing that you will stick with her, no matter what she decides to do. Let her know that you are a safe place where she can come to talk and, if necessary, to have action steps put into place to intervene.
Remind her that she has choices, and give her strong encouragement. Affirm her for sharing her situation with you, and note how it demonstrates that she is doing something right. Resist the temptation to say things like, “What you need to do is . . .” or “If anyone ever hit me, I would . . .” Such statements only damage her self-esteem more. It is easy to say what you would do or what she should do, but you are not the one suffering the abuse. If you were, you might see things less clearly.
Pray. Pray for her, and pray with her. Pray for her safety and that of her children. Pray that God would intervene in the life of her abuser. Just knowing that someone is praying can bring enormous encouragement to her soul.
Help her create a safety plan. Helping her create a safety plan is one of the most valuable and empowering things you can do. The website for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org) provides practical guidance for a variety of situations, including safety planning with children, pets, during pregnancy, and while living with an abuser. You can also call anonymously, and they answer the phones 24/7. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Their staff is available to assist victims (and anyone calling on their behalf) with crisis intervention, safety planning, and referrals to shelters and agencies in all fifty states. They offer valuable information for victims and victim support, as well as someone to talk to who can provide help.
Help her create a financial plan. An important part of creating an action plan is assessing potential financial resources. A loss of financial support is one of the chief reasons women remain with their abusers. Help her assess what she has available, and put a plan in place to set money aside, develop job skills or seek employment, access financial assistance through government or charitable organizations, and perhaps even speak with family members who might support her while she gets on her feet. Helping her develop a workable financial plan to support herself without her abuser’s income will empower her and allow her to make better choices.
Be trustworthy and remain supportive. It may take some time before an abuse victim is ready to take action. It can be difficult to remain patient and understanding when you know someone you care about is living with abuse. But trying to compel her to act before she’s ready may place her at increased risk of abuse. You must be sensitive and aware. However, if you believe her life is in immediate danger, contact the authorities. Then be prepared to stand by her until she is safe from harm. Victims of abuse have difficulty trusting other people. Betrayal is real to them, and they have been repeatedly hurt by someone they love. It is important that you be trustworthy. If she confided in you, it was a big step for her. Take your cues from her, and make sure she knows she can always trust you and rely on you.
Encourage her to learn self-defense. Learning self-defense techniques is a valuable skill set for everyone, but it can make the difference between life and death for victims of abuse. Depending on the situation, it may not be possible for a woman to take a self-defense class, but resources are available that can help. For example, the National Domestic Violence Hotline website (www.thehotline.org) encourages women to make themselves a small target by curling into a ball and to avoid wearing scarves or long jewelry that might be used for choking or strangling. Identifying available resources (online and in the community) may help her to defend herself and limit the damage from a physical attack.
Encourage her to grow in self-awareness. It is very important for a victim of abuse to become self-aware. She can combat the emotional damage inflicted by her abuser by deflecting the ugly words and reminding herself of her value and worth. This is easier said than done, but the greater her self-awareness, the less power the abuser has over her. You can help by reminding her of her value and affirming her in her strengths. If she is a Christian, encourage her to take refuge in God’s Word. Filling her mind with the truth of what God says about who she is will help deflect the damage of what her abuser says about her. This is a powerful practice that should not be underestimated.
Reach out to others. First, know that you are not alone. You are the victim. One out of every four of your women friends has also experienced some type of domestic violence. Being abused is not your fault. Don’t isolate yourself by shutting people out. Isolation is dangerous. You need to reach out to someone and let them know you need help. You have someone who can and will help you — a friend, a family member, a church, or an abuse shelter.
If you are uncomfortable speaking with a friend or family member, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can call them anonymously. There are people
available 24/7 to answer questions, direct you to local assistance, or just to talk. For additional information, access their website at www.thehotline.org. You’ll find practical information to help you protect yourself now and to create a plan if and when you decide to leave.
Reach up to God. Calling on the Lord is not a platitude or a last-ditch effort. He does protect, defend, comfort, deliver, and heal. Spending time with him, meditating on his Word, and worshiping him can bring hope and great inner strength when you need it. It will also fill your mind and heart with truth. Believing the lies and negative things an abuser has said during a shouting match serves only to lower your self-esteem and give your abuser power over you. Shouting back is a natural response, but it only escalates the abuse.
Instead, focus on what God says about you by trying to see yourself through his eyes. Dare to believe his promises and the grace-filled truth that he has a destiny for your life that no one should ever be given the power to deny. You are beautiful. You are unique and special and one of a kind. You are precious in God’s sight. He esteems you highly and has numbered the very hairs on your head. He is grieved when you suffer, and he captures your tears in remembrance. Reach up to him. Call on him. He is always there.
It is easy to sympathize with a victim and easier still to vilify an abuser. What makes someone abuse another human being? Why do some people turn to violence and cruelty, particularly with people they love?
Research clearly demonstrates that abuse patterns repeat for generations. If children were abused or witnessed a loved one being abused, they are much more likely to grow up and be abusive. Watching cruelty go unpunished or internalizing values that violence is normal and acceptable contributes to this generational curse. Likewise, victims of childhood abuse are more likely to seek out unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships in which they again become victims.
People who deal with emotional discomfort through addictive behaviors such as alcohol, drug abuse, unrestrained shopping, and gambling are more likely to become abusive. Abuse itself becomes an addiction. It is a coping mechanism.
Abusers tend to deny their responsibility, even when they come back and apologize. They’ll say, “That wasn’t really me,” or “I just lost control” — or some similar excuse — rather than try to repair the damage or change their behavior. No matter how excessive the abusive behavior is, they seem to find a way to excuse it. They blame a “trigger” event, not their lack of self-control, for the violent outburst. Unless and until abusers can accept personal responsibility for their actions — for choosing to harm another person — little can be done to help them.
Abuse victims sometimes say that on the day after an abusive episode, abusers often seem to have little or no memory of what occurred. They act as if nothing ever happened. Stranger still, abusers often demonstrate outrage at the abusive behavior of others, without recognizing similarities in their own abusive tendencies and behavior.
Abuse tends to go in cycles. It begins with a buildup of tension, followed by a violent outburst, the denial of responsibility, an apology driven by guilt, and then a period of calm. Then the cycle repeats itself and can continue for years.
Abusers demonstrate behavior that is egocentric and selfabsorbed. They see the world only as it impacts them and have little awareness of how they impact their world. They excuse their violent behavior as a legitimate response to the injustice or unfair treatment they have received. Their demands are selfcentered, and their need to control their victims is obsessive. Having to cover up their bad behavior leads to lies and deception, a lifestyle pattern that is difficult to reverse.
The good news is that abusers can change. But they cannot do it alone. If you are an abuser, or if you recognize abusive tendencies in yourself, one of the best first steps you can take is to seek the support of a qualified counselor. You also need an accountability structure. Find a close friend — not your spouse — with whom you will be honest and who you know will be honest with you. Ask them to meet with you regularly and to hold you accountable for your actions. Give them permission to intervene if you violate your partner through violence again.
Ultimately, your avenue for deliverance and restoration is the same as it is for every other human being, which is a surrendered relationship with God. God’s love and forgiveness are available for you. His forgiveness isn’t partial; it is complete, total. It covers all your sins, not just select sins. You can be forgiven. God can deliver you, heal you, redeem you, change you, and give you the opportunity to lead a whole, functional life.
Nate Newton found God. It was not until after the divorce and his prison sentence that he came to the reality that he was never going to be “good enough” through his own efforts. He needed God to step in and cleanse him. But he chose to change, to let God change him — and you can too.
Maybe you consider yourself a Christian and wonder why you remain abusive. Have you admitted your sin? Acknowledged your guilt? Have you repented and asked for God’s forgiveness? Have you accepted his sacrifice, believing it is sufficient for you? Do you understand that the same grace that covers lying and stealing and adultery and murder also covers cruelty and violence and abuse? Sin is sin in the eyes of God. Total forgiveness and amazing grace provide an opportunity to live free again. Jesus paid the price for you. You have but to receive his sacrifice.