Imagine this. You step out of a car, and a six footer comes at you.
He seems angry, is yelling and there is a fair possibility he may physically attack you.
What will you do?
It is a quick and simple decision.
You prepare yourself, get your defences ready and do whatever it takes to protect yourself.
Imagine another scenario. A neighbour or a colleague you work with snubs you, says something nasty. How do you respond?
Ignore it or give them a piece of your mind.
Obvious, wasn’t it?
Why then do most people stay in abusive marriages? Those who in any of the above situations would do anything to protect themselves or demand respect, fail to see the damage being done to them by those at home.
That is the power of love.
Unlike the man outside your car, your body doesn’t see the person back home as a threat.
The attacks start really small. The adjustments in the beginning are tiny, and there are parts of you that feel the discomfort but it sounds really awkward to say it aloud; to make a noise about something so silly.
So you keep quiet, you let it go.
Sometimes these attacks come layered, coated with honey.
‘But why do you have to go home and be with your parents?’
‘Don’t meet your friend today…I’ll miss you so much.’
‘What will I do without you – stay, hang with me?’
‘The house seems so empty without you, don’t go.’
And the fool you are, you make that call, you tell your friends you can’t make it. You come up with an excuse.
A few more times and the friends stop calling.
By then the adjustments have also become bigger.
The attacks a little more visible.
Ask a woman who was slapped really hard the first time. There is always a big apology that follows it — tears, and I have no idea, what happened to me. I am sorry, I wasn’t thinking…
You almost feel sorry for them for having made them so upset, they had to hit you.
By the tenth time though, no apology comes your way. The pattern has started coming through.
And the friends who would have questioned such behaviour have slowly stopped coming around…your partner feels no fear, no threat from you or any worry of being challenged.
And, you have started doing such a good job of hiding these issues.
It was after all, your fault.
With great love comes great power. It leaves you vulnerable, so helpless.
The heartbreak each and every time, alongside the physical pain and trauma.
And what if there were no physical attacks.
Just the daily comments that make you feel smaller and smaller.
‘Why can’t you get anything right? Who will look at you?’
Comments that are hurtful not just to you, but insulting to you and your family.
Words that push you into an abyss, leave you helpless, feeling meaningless.
Each and every person who has suffered abuse, physical, sexual and emotional, fight multiple demons.
The loneliness that has come with being in such a relationship.
The feeling that they deserve the behaviour that is being lashed out at them.
The sense of guilt that overcomes them for wanting to run away.
The inability to understand why they are suffering
The sense of failure, incapability and utter loss of confidence.
The manipulation that they face daily blinded by the belief and trust they put into the people they love.
The fear of the consequences of walking away, at so many levels: the fear of loneliness; the sense of utter helplessness; the fear of the society and extended family; and the public drama that may enfold.
AND if there are children and financial dependence to add to that muddle, the plot thickens.
So how do we help that person we know (and we all know that one person) utterly blinded by their sense of loyalty and love.
1. Look out for signs: You will see them if you care to watch. Sudden absences, the physical marks, the clothes that cover every inch in the sweltering summer, the response to calls from home, the distractedness, the sense of worry.
2. Don’t Judge: You could be in that position. Don’t question their education, their exposure, their judgement – they have enough of that on their plate. Instead accept them, their situation and just be kind.
3. Talk to them: Reach out even when they seem to be distant. Make conversations even when they don’t engage. Let them know you are there when they need you. Don’t overwhelm them, step back if necessary but be around, be available.
4. Show them possibilities: Tell them about friends who got out of abusive relationships. Talk about abusive behaviour and how it affects people, the more real the example the better. Point them to books, blogs, people – give them a direction.
5. Compliment them: Show them what they are good at. Tell them they look good. Surround them with positivity. God knows, they need it.
6. Don’t guilt them for taking it slow: Once again, they are battling multiple demons. What seems simple to you, could be a mountain of a task for them. Don’t expect them to take the bait as soon as you throw it their way. Stepping out is difficult, is personal and everyone takes their own sweet time. Be there when they are ready.
Abuse has multiple forms.
It eats away a person in ways that cannot be explained.
Each experience so different from the other, yet so similar.
Abuse cannot be fought alone.
So don’t turn a blind eye.
It takes the family that holds you through the trials. It takes a dear friend who tells you the hard truth and moves in with you to share the hard times. It takes the colleague who gifts you a book, shares with you a writeup. It takes the boss who promises to stand by you and protect you. It takes the nanny who refuses to stand on sidelines. It takes so many to save one.
Choose to be one among those.