Tell Someone
May 11, 2011 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Glamor magazine is encouraging women to talk about relationship violence—both to ask for help and to offer it without judgment. The most important step - Tell Somebody.

"I was involved in a 6-year abusive relationship in my teens. It started out very innocuously.....My dad has a Ph.D. and my mom has two master's degrees. I had plenty of options - I was a star student, scholarships, lots of friends. Why did I stay with him?"

"This rings true for Reena Becerra, 38, a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology, whose then boyfriend, Mike Vargas, once bashed her head against the linoleum floor and strangled her. “People think, You don’t have kids, you’re a beautiful girl—what’s keeping you with him?” she says. “Well, I started out a confident, strong girl. Five years of someone telling me, ‘If you just shut up, I wouldn’t have to hit you,’ and I started thinking, Maybe I should shut up.”

Tell Somebody, because It Rarely Stops. (disturbing)

Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Joe Biden share with Glamor why if they got one wish "It would be to end the abuse of women. Why? [Some studies have shown] close to 70 percent of men who are in prison have one of two things in common: One, they can’t read. And two, they witnessed violence or were victims of violence as a child. You would think that if you had seen your mother get beaten when you were 10 years old, you’d never raise your hand to a woman. Not true. The prospect that you will increases dramatically if you witness violence. So it’s so much bigger than just about women. It’s about our society. It’s about our culture. It’s about who the hell we are."

The first quote above the fold is from the comments of the main glamor article, and was posted last night by designchick77. The second quote is from page 5 of the article. Previously, previously, and previously.
posted by cashman (32 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cashman, thanks for a great post. (And for including that video.)
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on May 11, 2011


VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I’ve [spent a lot of time] speaking to men’s organizations, and I’d say, “Hey, guys, how many of you have seen the movie Deliverance?” And they’d all raise their hand. And I’d say, “How many of you badass guys would have come out of the woods, gone to the sheriff and said, ‘I was raped in there’?” Silence. I’d say, “How many of you work in a big law firm, and what if one of the partners was gay and every time you left the office he’d pat you on the ass? How many of you would report it?” Nobody. I’d say, “Why? Because you are ashamed.” People think, Why wouldn’t she just leave? When you explain it, they get it. You can just see it in their eyes.
This is useful for later. Thanks for the great post!
posted by Harald74 at 7:32 AM on May 11, 2011 [23 favorites]


Scary post. I found the main article quite disturbing enough, so I'm thinking I won't be looking at the video.
posted by JanetLand at 7:32 AM on May 11, 2011


My respect for Joe Biden just leaped by an exponential amount. Thanks for posting that quote.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:34 AM on May 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


On this topic, Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings wrote a fantastic post a couple years back that is still, for me, the definitive blog discussion of domestic abuse.
posted by mightygodking at 7:34 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


encouraging women to talk about relationship violence

Doesn't a focus on men's domestic violence towards women reinforce the paternalistic prejudice that leads men to commit violent acts against women in the first place?
posted by three blind mice at 7:49 AM on May 11, 2011


Doesn't a focus on men's domestic violence towards women reinforce the paternalistic prejudice that leads men to commit violent acts against women in the first place?

Given that the overwhelming majority of domestic violence is male-on-female, a focus on men's domestic violence towards women is simply one of prioritization.
posted by mightygodking at 7:54 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The pedantic in me sheepishly has to point out it is "Glamour", not "Glamor." I'm sorry. It's a compulsion.

Glamour was one of my favorite magazines as a teen because they did seem more activist than the others; I remember hearing more about abortion rights and NARAL from Glamour than any other source, and the fact that they could get teen girls into activism is a Very Good Thing. Back then, I subscribed to the magazine mostly for that reason (I was turned off by all the advertising for cigarette companies, some of which were clearly targeted at young girls, and ended up canceling the subscription over that).

I also feel more respect for Joe Biden after his stand on this.
posted by misha at 7:54 AM on May 11, 2011


The older I've gotten, the more girls I've dated, the more stories I've heard.
It is baffling how common this sort of thing is.
It just doesn't compute to me. How people are cruel like that.
Date rape and rape rape is also more common than I ever would have guessed too.
It just doesn't make sense to me.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Biden has been on the right side of this for a long time, now. The VAWA was his pet project, in fact..
posted by joe lisboa at 8:03 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


* VAWA = Violence Against Women Act
posted by joe lisboa at 8:05 AM on May 11, 2011


Hey, I liked Glamour in my late teens (circa the early nineties) too. They did have some pretty substantial articles about things like Tailhook and prosecuting rape cases and were very pro-choice.

And I'm all for the work the Bidens and Glamour are doing here. People who are being abused should definitely be encouraged to turn to their family and friends and social services for support, and to seek legal redress.

But I do keep thinking about a friend I had, who was being abused by her boyfriend. She talked about it. She talked about nothing but her relationship to everyone who would listen. Her other friends and I gave her lots of support. We listened, we were deeply sympathetic. I took time off work to help her move the guy's stuff out of her place not once but twice. Other friends gave her similar levels of practical assistance by letting her stay with them temporarily, etc. This went on for three years straight, and at that time she was still not only with the guy but trying to get him to marry her. I should probably add that her relationship prior to the one I've mentioned here was if not as abusive similarly dead-end and unhealthy, so that I had been listening to six straight years of complaints.

And I, like most of her friends, was losing patience. We just couldn't take having the same conversations over and over with her. We were tired of being loftily told that we "didn't know what it was like to really love someone", or her saying that she didn't need to seek counselling because she didn't have problems BUT that she deserved so much support and leeway in her behaviour because she did have problems. We were tired of the basic lack of consideration she showed others and the way she considered herself exempt from listening to other people talk about what was going on their lives or being supportive of anyone else, because you know, her problems were just so much more serious and important and ours were nothing. I once mentioned to her that I had a male friend who had been raped by a former girlfriend (she had a weapon, which she also beat him with) and she grinned delightedly and said, "You're kidding!"

The last straw fell the one of the last times I talked to her, when she ranted about how much she did for others and how she "wasn't getting anything back", and about how dared her friends get snippy with her when they were a bunch of single losers who couldn't even get into a relationship. (Item: I was single at this point.) I haven't had any contact with her for nearly ten years now. But I have heard via the grapevine that she's married to the guy and they have two kids.

I guess my larger point is, yes, by all means, anyone who is being abused should turn to others for help. I have known those who pretty quick to leave an abusive relationship once they had the help and support of their friends. But sometimes a victim has such serious issues that she or he needs professional help, and his or her friends and family need to set limits on how far they will go to help the person, especially if she or he refuses to help himself or herself.

Talking with someone who cares is a wonderful thing, but is hardly ever in itself a solution.
posted by orange swan at 8:45 AM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the "talking with someone who cares" is a way to get past the silence around the issue - thinking "I'm not in an abusive relationship, he just lost his shit because i was being unreasonable" while you're hiding the bruises. It won't stop someone from being a kind of maladjusted asshole; I'm sorry you had that in your life for a while.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:54 AM on May 11, 2011


It just doesn't compute to me. How people are cruel like that.

I'm not sure if this would also apply to physical abuse, but: When I was growing up, my father had some serious anger, manipulation, and control problems. My mom didn't stay with him because she loved him, as in the Glamour articles, but because his behavior had become something of a norm—surely, it was how everyone lived. She was focused on the day-to-day tactics of meeting his needs and fending off his insults and mood swings, not on crafting a long-term strategy for getting away. Meanwhile, my dad had an astonishing capacity for denial. In part, because he grew up in a household with a similarly volatile father—again, surely, it was how everyone lived.

It took some years into adulthood for me to realize that I was no longer residing in households where there were screaming, threatening, slamming, demeaning confrontations every single night. Seriously, I did not know that most people do not fight all the time. Or that people don't repeatedly tell their wives, apropos of nothing, that they're useless whores, or their toddling children (hi, Amy Chua!) that they're human garbage. I honestly hadn't known, on an internal level, that the way I had been living was out of the ordinary, because I hadn't experienced the alternative.

Fast forward to today. It's been over a decade since I lived with my father, and I'm still stuck worrying, on a regular basis, if I'm emulating his behaviors, or seeking relationships with people who do. I spent the vast majority of my childhood and adolescence learning those behaviors. And I probably am engaging in them at times, without realizing it. I do not want to be controlling or manipulative or insulting, but on some level, I do not have the frame of reference to realize whether I am. It's really fucking scary.

Whether or not you're physically abusing someone should be more self-evident than whether or not you're being emotionally manipulative. But it might not be, if the crap you've witnessed in your lifetime (or the sum of crap you've done) has shifted your idea of normal way off the baseline.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:27 AM on May 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Orange swan, that sounds really frustrating. Telling someone isn't the only step that needs to occur, and you make a good point about the value of professional help. I was in a bad relationship that I wouldn't have been able to leave without professional help. Friends and family played an important role throughout, though, so I'd encourage people not to draw a sharp line, particularly not quickly. It can take a long time. It's frustrating to watch someone go through that and not be able to do anything (or -- it feels like doing nothing, though you may be acting as someone's life preserver while they figure out how to get to shore). But there are ways to look at things that make it easier to settle in for a longer wait, so I'd hate to counsel impatience.
posted by salvia at 9:30 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Which is not to excuse abusers' actions, just to give my understanding of one way in which cruelty can happen, unaddressed.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:33 AM on May 11, 2011


Wow. Thanks for that, evidenceofabsence. That was really illuminating.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:35 AM on May 11, 2011


Thank you for posting this cashman. I had an ex who had an indescribably abusive childhood. He was self aware--- but there were limitations of this. We worked through some very difficult "near misses" with him acting out his families behavior and I'm really proud of him. He worked hard to figure out what in his behavior was abusive and what wasn't.

Where he came from, if a woman makes a mistake, like not doing the dishes, not getting chores done, forgetting to put something in the mail--- that was an act of abuse toward the family for not functioning well. So therefore anger, rage, threats of harming or getting worked up to the point of wanting to carry out real harm, made sense in the face of transgressions most people would not think about punching the crap out of someone over.

However it's certainly understandable to be pissed off when someone isn't behaving to your standards so it was really difficult for him to work through. Ultimately it wasn't safe for us to work through it as a couple, but we've had a lot of very cool conversations since then. Honestly, neither I, nor he, knows if he will be able to be healthy in a relationship--

and that is really sad because honestly, none of this is his fault. How he handles it is his responsability, but the fact that figuring out what is healthy in a relationship is so confusing is totally not his fault at all. The fact that the emotions that come up naturally for him are full of anger and crazy violence is not his fault (but what he does with that is his responsability) I'm proud of him for having self awareness and knowing himself well enough to protect others from that which is in him, but I see it as nothing more than a tragedy that he has to do that.

I feel a great compassion for people who had abusive childhoods and have a hell of a time figuring out how to make relationships work or find themselves in shock and horror that they just did something abusive just like their parents.

It's terrifying to be present for that moment, when someone can't believe they just did that. I want us to support people with histories of family violence and help them understand that:

-It is not their fault that they find their abusive past come up in their feelings and behaviors
-They find ways to work through it as much as possible
-they can find ways to keep others in their lives safe
-they deserve support even if they can't regulate themselves well enough to be in a relationship

Ultimately-- you take a man and a woman who both experienced past abuse and both have a hard time regulating behavior even with therapy and support---

Do you think they are better off single for their entire lives or better off together? Maybe it's not up to us to judge that for others.

(Now whether or not we want people with such behavioral problems in our lives is certainly fine for us to judge!)
posted by xarnop at 9:52 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, on second read, I don't want to put words into your mouth, orange swan. You weren't "counseling impatience." I had concern that someone could interpret your words that way. I could see your words ("his or her friends and family need to set limits on how far they will go to help the person, especially if she or he refuses to help himself or herself") being taken that way and applied by some frustrated friends as soon as it appears the victim is refusing to help himself or herself.

---

This conversation on the childhood roots is very interesting. The relationship I was speaking of was with someone whose grandfather was abusive. His father had sworn he wouldn't be abusive like his own father and had largely managed to stop using physical abuse but would still harshly shame his son...
posted by salvia at 9:59 AM on May 11, 2011


Thank you for the link, mightygodking. I can identify with that on so many levels, it seems unreal. I never, ever in my life thought that I would be a victim of domestic violence. I don't have a family history of DV and was never exposed to DV until I became involved with it on a personal level.

I was involved in a domestic violence situation for a total of 8 years. Every single person who knows this about my history has asked me "why did you stay?" and the more frustrating encounters involve me explaining (and re-living certain parts of that painful history) repeatedly to the same people.
I'm not going to go into very much detail about it here, but suffice it to say that when I fled, I was never more terrified in my life. I had $11 and a couple bags of clothing. I had the sort of "hard reset" on my life that I still haven't been able to fully recover from, almost 2 years and 3,000+ miles later. Now, I'm now living at a confidential address as if I'm in a sort of witness protection program.
Before I even had a glimmer of hope that I could leave, I talked to many people about the abuse going on. Many people suggested leaving, but the majority of them were unable or unwilling to offer me help beyond that - "just leave". There were no shelters available that could take me and my daughter, during the rare opportunities when I could have escaped.
Oh, and friends? No, there weren't any. All of my friends were alienated by my abuser until they didn't want anything to do with me anymore. I was kept so isolated, and was being so closely watched by my abuser that I wasn't even allowed to take myself to/from work. I still think it was an utter miracle that I was able to escape unharmed.
posted by erasorhed at 10:18 AM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm so sorry you went through all of that erasorhed. I'm glad you made it out.
posted by xarnop at 10:26 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to second Salvia's point about being a lifeline while simultaneously encouraging people to head orange swan's warning.

Offering a lifeline to people in desperates states can always come with risks to you. Only you can decide what you are willing/able to do safely without putting yourself at risk.

That said if you can find a way to set the boundaries you need but keep a door open, it might make more of a difference in someone's life than you know. You might have to firmly say, "I've assisted you with getting help before and you went back and that was too emotional for me to keep doing over and over. I will be available by phone if/when you are ready to leave again and I will be happy to offer you encouragement to leave and referral to a local women's shelter where you can empower yourself to get out. I can't carry you out of this when you aren't trying to get out, but I will be there when you truly decide to get out."

It really carries the same emotional risks of being there for someone with drug addiction and not everyone is up for being a support person to a drug addict who gets better and then goes back. This is understandable. But I do want to say that for anyone up to it, and who has the strength to set the boundaries they need and still keep a lifeline open--- it can truly make a difference.

In your situation, orange swan, it sounds like your "friend" wasn't actually much of a friend to begin with. Someone who is so self centered as to put their own problems above everyone elses likely just can't be offered help safely. So I would never want to encourage anyone to allow themselves to be treated badly and manipulated because of such a person.

But I don't want the existance of such people to result in lifelines being closed to human beings who AREN'T self centered jerks but are genuinely facing a difficult life journey.
posted by xarnop at 11:03 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last night I found out that my friend's sister got punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend a few days ago, fracturing a cheekbone. He's in jail now, and there's a felony restraining order out against him, so the system is currently working for her.

But the thing I keep thinking about is how in order for the system to start working, she still had to survive that first encounter. There are so many women who don't. I've known her for around fifteen years; she's a whip-smart, caring, deeply awesome person, who we can't protect at all until she manages to avoid getting killed the first time. I don't have any idea how to change it, I'm not advocating the precrime bureau or anything, but we have to be able to do better.
posted by Errant at 11:46 AM on May 11, 2011


In your situation, orange swan, it sounds like your "friend" wasn't actually much of a friend to begin with.

Looking back over the six years I knew her, I would say that yes, she was in general a selfish person with a princess complex who expected people to cater to her while expecting never to have to tolerate any inconvenience herself, i.e., for the six years, whenever we got together I always either went to her place/ neighbourhood or we met at a meeting place that was equi-distant for both of us. She came to my place/ neighbourhood maybe two or three times, total, because it was "out of her way". She was also consistently late meeting me (while I was always very punctual) and then expected me to listen to her bitch about how she hated other people being late for her. She was certainly far less selfish and inconsiderate during the first three years or so of our acquaintance than she was during the last two years, but the character trait was definitely always there. And I totally enabled her, and I wish I hadn't.

I wrote that post about my former friend with some care. I don't want anyone to read that and conclude that "abused people simply won't leave and it's not worth helping them" or anything of the sort. People in abusive relationships absolutely need and deserve help. There are some like xarnop who are only in an abusive situation because there are too many practical difficulties in the way of their leaving and they are too beaten down emotionally to deal with them. But it's often not nearly as straightforward as that. There are also abused people who are deep in denial and/or who refuse to make the effort to help themselves — and some are even abusive assholes themselves towards others in their lives. Even in such cases they still need and deserve help, but it's so important to approach all these situations with care and informed judgement and to make sure that whatever help the victim is given is actually helpful.

But the thing I keep thinking about is how in order for the system to start working, she still had to survive that first encounter. There are so many women who don't. I've known her for around fifteen years; she's a whip-smart, caring, deeply awesome person, who we can't protect at all until she manages to avoid getting killed the first time. I don't have any idea how to change it, I'm not advocating the precrime bureau or anything, but we have to be able to do better.

I don't want to sound insensitive or dismissive here, but was that the very first assault or sign of abusive behaviour from this man? Of course it may have been out of the blue, but my experience has been that abusive people give themselves away really, really quickly but still usually take time to work themselves up to that first blow. My former friend's [now] husband didn't hit her for about the first year they were together. For the first nine months or so, it was a matter of ever more hurtful verbal insults and put downs and high-handed behaviour that grew gradually into controlling behaviour. Then he started doing things like throwing a pillow at her hard, or shoving her — things that were violent without actually hurting. After three months of that came the blows. The first time I spent a few hours around the two of them (this would be four or five months into their relationship) and saw how he treated her I warned her that he was an abuser and would eventually start hitting her. She was troubled by this prediction, and I don't think she disbelieved it, but of course neither the warning nor the subsequent actual abuse made her leave. The guy was just supposed to magically change. So in her case, it wasn't the "system" that failed her.
posted by orange swan at 12:09 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A very close friend of mine shares custody of her son with his emotionally abusive father, whom I strongly suspect physically abuses his girlfriends as well.

We've run out of legal options at this point, as the abuse is largely invisible, and the courts ignored the warnings of therapists and other experts, and awarded him half-time custody of the boy.

This kid does have the benefit of having a healthy family environment when he's with his mom, but the boy is an adolescent now, and he's starting to show his dad's influence in some ways, including the way he treats and perceives women, the way he sees himself, and what his notions of 'normal' are. And those ideas are just, in a nutshell, all messed up.

We do our very best--his mom, her family, and friends--to counter those notions, and he does trust me and see me as a confidante, so I have long talks with him about what's healthy and normal and what isn't. But he spends half his life in an abusive family, and it's really a constant struggle for him to reconcile his two very different worldviews. And I suspect it's going to be a lifelong struggle.

My point is that this boy isn't at fault for having a messed up way of seeing things, and I don't think any reasonable person would blame him. But he has the advantage at least of knowing that not all families are like his dad's. What about those who don't know that? Is there some age at which they just figure out by osmosis that their normal isn't normal? That it's not healthy? Or even that alternatives exist in the first place?

I find it really trying sometimes even though he's a blameless child, so I can only imagine how maddening it'd be if he were an adult who at least had the putative ability to walk out. But in either case, it's vitally important that people in abusive families at least have someone they can talk to. Even if the results aren't immediate or dramatic, it has to make a difference just knowing that alternatives exist.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:36 PM on May 11, 2011


I don't want to sound insensitive or dismissive here, but was that the very first assault or sign of abusive behaviour from this man?

I very much doubt it, although I'm not really in a position to know, but from the way my friend tells it, it's not exactly out of the blue. I agree that threatening behavior frequently manifests first as the sort of verbal abuse you describe, and I'd like to stress that the woman was hit by her ex-boyfriend; I'm led to understand that she'd seen the signs and left the relationship well before this incident. But she couldn't prevent him from getting close enough to cause her physical harm, and the system is not set up to do much about it until he does. That is the thing I was lamenting, that we as a society so frequently can't find a way to help until something happens, and we and she just have to hope that there's still a person to help afterward.
posted by Errant at 12:52 PM on May 11, 2011


I'd like to stress that the woman was hit by her ex-boyfriend

Oh, I misread that!!! I thought she broke up with him after he hit her. Yes, that's a system failure. Are restraining orders hard to get where you live? In Ontario at least it's actually quite easy. A woman who went to the police and said that she was afraid of her ex and provided examples of why would be given one.
posted by orange swan at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2011


DV has existed since the beginning of time, but has been recognized as a problem only relatively recently - in the past few decades. Prior to that, often it was even sanctioned and encouraged by society, in the same way as beating children was (spare the rod etc.). With such a short historical awareness of the issue, is it any wonder that society really has not found a solution to this? Look at alcoholism - at least this was recognized as a problem for thousands of years, being a drunk has been seen as a negative in pretty much every culture; and yet, which society has solved that problem? Even with thousands of years of attempts?

DV is shockingly prevalent - everywhere. Even in countries that have progressed far further in gender equality than the U.S., like Sweden. You'd imagine that just because Sweden has a greater emphasis on women's rights, DV would be less of a problem - and you'd be wrong; based on a 2004 Amnesty International Report:

""The prevalence of gender-based violence shatters many people's image of Sweden as being the most gender equal country in the world."

While the report praised Sweden's laws for being "unambiguous," it warned that "strongly worded legislation is not in itself a sufficient instrument to ensure women's right" to lives without violence.

The Amnesty report concluded that over the past 15 years, incidents of violence against women in Sweden had spiraled upwards; the increase could not be explained away as merely a greater willingness by women to report such incidents to the police.

The number of police reports filed for assault against women increased by 40 percent during the 1990s, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. In 1990, the number of assaults was 14,000; in 2003, it was 22,400, and in half of those cases the attacker was intimately involved with the woman.
"

I encourage you to read the link I just posted - because it shows just how hard the problem is. Sweden has extensive and tough laws against DV, but the problem persists.

What can be done? When you have a problem that's as deeply rooted, you simply cannot solve it without dramatically changing many things about how a society functions. And this goes against our cultural expectations, in very profound ways. For example, it seems a right to simply be able to get a marriage license with zero instruction or any kind of examination. Why should this be so, when something less important, like a drivers license is harder to get? It seems to me inevitable, that one day we'll have to pass exams in order to get a marriage license. You will have to study - just as you do for a drivers test, and perhaps even take a mandatory course. That is the setting where at least both parties will have to absorb what society considers as normative, such as for example zero tolerance for physical violence, strong discouragement of demeaning, and extensive training in recognizing when any behavior slides into emotional abuse. You won't be able to prevent DV totally, but you'll at least set the bar for understanding "this is normal" vs "this is not considered normal".

Obviously, there are objections based on fears of discrimination - and those should be dealt with with appropriate and extensive safeguards, but it should not stop us from doing what needs to be done.

Until we change deeply embedded cultural expectations, we'll continue to make only barely a dent in the problem. It's not enough to just deal with individual human beings on a case by case basis as the issue arises. The whole society, and indeed the whole culture must change.
posted by VikingSword at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2011


Are restraining orders hard to get where you live?

The woman is in Massachusetts, and according to the always-reliable Interwebs, you need to demonstrate a substantive relationship and proof of immediate threat. I'm not sure if those things were present (I'm on the other side of the country and hearing this story second-hand) or if she felt sufficiently threatened to go through the process. I'm saying basically what VikingSword and Biden are saying: the legal tools are a stopgap, but the real prevention happens through education and a sea-change in our cultural expectations, and that's where we need to do better as a society.
posted by Errant at 1:55 PM on May 11, 2011


Orange swan, you're bringing up a very common phenomenon in abusive relationships that is really important to discuss. I'm not sure that I can do this subject the justice I would like but I want to try.

The hoping he will magically change is VERY seperate issue than your friend manipulating you with her problems. So try not to transfer your anger at your friend abusing you to women who stay and hope for magic change. Not every woman who hopes for magic change is doing so in order to abuse the compassion and attention of friends.

Are you better off being alone or having someone to share life with despite that things get crazy sometimes? I can't make this judgement for others. The comfort of another human is a wonderful experience. When you are at the bottom, or you have behavioral problems yourself--- you're going to have to choose among your own kind. The male version (and sometimes the female version) of such people are going to be more likely to get violent and cause big harm.

The females might be struggling just as much but they aren't as strong and aren't as prone to beating the crap out of people.

Consider that abusive people are humans too and that is what the abused person is seeing. They are often trying to figure out what is going on as much as the abused person is. I think it's understandable to want to work through it and I have in fact known people who have worked through some really dark abusive periods in relationships and grown old together and are deeply happy having each other around. These probably are not "functional" relationships in the sense most people think, but they are not "functional" people and they would have otherwise just been alone or with a different not so very functional person.

I know a lot of old drunken cosmic cowboys, old musicians and drunks. There can be found joy in strange situations, and love in places you wouldn't think. Finding that love and joy despite craziness and terribleness is a skill many people have to develop and it changes you.

You can call it "learned helplessness". I call it resiliancy.

But things can get out of control and warrent outside intervention. Really it's a mess and it makes my head spin. But I think the reasons people stay are so numerous as to not fit any one paradigm and I think to pressume the experience of being human is as clear cut as "abusive/non-abusive", "clearly better off with/clearly better off without"--- the whole thing is ridiculously complex.

I feel that I lost something very real when I left a man who was dangerous but who I loved and who I understood was just plain grappling with a difficult past and existance. He had really wonderful love and he had really wonderful parts within his heart. Losing that love was devestating and I've never found love again some ten years later. Pressuming it's as clear cut as "he was bad" and "I'm better off now" sound meaningless to me. He was human and he was f'ed up and in pain. So was I. We genuinely cared about and for each other as best we could and I don't regret sharing that time with him.

I understand why people stay. When people want out, I want people to get help getting out. When people hang on and hope it will get better and realize it's getting worse, I want people to get help to get out. When people thought love could save everything and they discover love could not, I want people to get help to get out.

But I also want have compassion for the reasons people stay.
posted by xarnop at 1:59 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think orange swan is the only one who has well-founded frustrations towards victims of DV. You hear it among attorneys for the district attorney's office, who repeatedly see victims decline to press charges, for instance. Sympathy fatigue and skepticism can be understandable responses to watching people refuse assistance and repeatedly put themselves in life-threatening situations.

But there's an important line here between what one person realistically can be expected to do, and what society or a (non burnt out) person should do.

I'm speaking as someone who spent four years dating, basically, an angry alcoholic (he was white-knuckling sobriety for three of those years). There were few insults, no violence, just a lot of fuming and a lot of blame, often out of the blue. (I didn't suggest we stop for lunch! Of course he was hungry, he'd been hungry for hours, it was almost 1:30!) As someone sensitive to anger, I walked on eggshells all the time and stopped doing many normal activities to prevent fights. I knew I was unhappy, but I thought we were "working on it." It took a year of therapy to finally give up and get out. I read every emotional abuse resource I could find online, too.

At any point during this process, it might've seemed like I was one of orange swan's "abused people who are deep in denial and/or who refuse to make the effort to help themselves." Do you count arguing and standing up to him as effort? Do you count joining extra committees or spending more time with friends? Do you count reading relationship self-help books? Do you count trying to help him go back to college? Do you count starting therapy? I didn't know what would work. I knew I was unhappy, but I knew I wouldn't be able to follow through with a break-up, and I didn't know what kind of help I needed to change that.

The friends, old and new, who listened to my indignant tales of unjust treatment and agreed that yes, I was right, it wasn't my fault he hadn't gotten lunch on time, provided a valuable service. (Hopefully I returned the favor then, or eventually.) At that time, I was so psychologically backwards that I literally couldn't validate my own emotions. These friends kept me connected to the world of the living and over time helped me begin to really really believe my own aggrieved sense of being mistreated. The friend who couldn't listen to me talk about it other than demanding to know why I hadn't broken up with him yet did not help. That tough-love approach did not do one thing to help me rewire my brain to stop putting up with the treatment I was receiving. If that friend couldn't help, that's fine; I'm not criticizing her; we all can't have energy for everything. But I do think that it's not an approach that's worth recommending to those who could meet the person more in the lost-and-searching place that he or she might be in.

I do really relate to your frustration, orange swan. (I have a friend in a less-than-ideal relationship now.) But I don't think* I'd ration the help quite as carefully as it sounds like you might, nor require as much evidence of progress as a precondition for help. (* acknowledging I don't know exactly where you'd draw the line) I'd suggest the approach be to let the victim be in the drivers seat, and respond with as much care and help as possible.

I also think that DV orgs could do more to support this "friends and family" role. How to help, without yourself feeling traumatized, and without getting burnt out, is really its own skill. There aren't materials out there about how to prepare for what might be a lengthy process, how to have patience while watching all this happen, and many other aspects of being someone's support during this time.
posted by salvia at 4:07 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The hoping he will magically change is VERY seperate issue than your friend manipulating you with her problems. So try not to transfer your anger at your friend abusing you to women who stay and hope for magic change. Not every woman who hopes for magic change is doing so in order to abuse the compassion and attention of friends.

I actually do think that in her particular case her expectation that her SO would magically change is part and parcel of her selfish behaviour in general. I mean, the guy went to counselling for awhile, and she kept complaining about how much it was costing even though he was paying for it himself (because that was money he wasn't going to be spending on her). He offered later on to go to couples counselling with her, and she resented his even asking her to do so because she felt she didn't have a problem and it was up to him to change his behaviour.

I defintely don't assume that all abused women are like my former friend. I just am very aware, from my experience with her and with some other people I've known who were in abusive relationships, of how complex such situations can be. If I currently had a close friend in an abusive relationship I don't think I'd do anything that could be called "carefully rationing" help. I'd just want to make sure I understood the situation and that any help I gave her was constructive, because I've been taken for a ride too many times. One time a friend of mine told me her boyfriend had hit her twice. Later on she admitted that although yes, he had hit her twice, she had hit him many more times than that and those two times were instances of self-defense because she was coming at him and was really going to hurt him.

At any point during this process, it might've seemed like I was one of orange swan's "abused people who are deep in denial and/or who refuse to make the effort to help themselves." Do you count arguing and standing up to him as effort? Do you count joining extra committees or spending more time with friends? Do you count reading relationship self-help books? Do you count trying to help him go back to college? Do you count starting therapy? I didn't know what would work. I knew I was unhappy, but I knew I wouldn't be able to follow through with a break-up, and I didn't know what kind of help I needed to change that.

I would have counted all those things as effort and supported you in them. It's things like refusing to even consider therapy and trying to get the guy to set a wedding date that don't count as effort.
posted by orange swan at 8:11 PM on May 11, 2011


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