First, if you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, reach out to crisis services. You don’t have to be in an acute crisis to get information. Leaving can be very dangerous, thus it is best to create a safety plan before ever attempting to leave.
Here are some recommended resources:
In Austin, Texas: SAFE Alliance
In the United States: The National Domestic Violence Hotline
For Americans Overseas: The American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center
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If you are no longer in an abusive relationship, this is for you.
While the physical traumas can be scary as hell, the emotional traumas can take a lot more work to heal. When I work with domestic violence survivors certain themes come up over and over again.
What’s wrong with me?
Why did they hurt me?
Why do I still love them?
For starters, there’s nothing wrong with you. People from every kind of background – poor, rich, privileged and marginalized – go through this. People from healthy families can fall into a relationship like this as well. It crosses all these barriers. In the end, though, it’s more of a reflection of something about them than you.
Why they hurt you? Well, that’s complicated. The common theory is that this person is seeking power in their lives by having control over you. Their need to have power and control may stem from their own traumas. And, domestic violence survivors are often very empathetic to partner’s trauma histories. There is nothing wrong with having that compassion. It is also important to discern between having compassion and holding people accountable for their actions. The two are not mutually exclusive, although it can be hard to figure out how to balance these two realities.
As for love – this is a biggie. There’s no need to feel ashamed that you love or have loved this person. By the time this person shows their domineering side, more often than not you’re already in love. They had to have had good qualities for you to develop loving feelings towards them. And, typically, they do not show this more controlling side at the onset of a relationship.
Additionally, our friends and families often find them charming as well. This is yet another reason why it can be so hard to leave the relationship. If the people in your life feel like this person is a keeper, they genuinely might not see the abuse. That combined with any gaslighting would make it hard to leave for anyone.
It’s hard to abandon love for safety.
Finally, we have evolved as a communal species. Falling in love is part of how we muster up resources to survive. It happens surprisingly fast, even if it takes a while for us to say, “I love you.” Yet another reason why leaving may be terrifying. It can feel like you are losing EVERYTHING when we the average relationship ends. In this way, it can feel even scarier when ending an unsafe relationship.
Love is something you define and you know you and you know them best. It may be that in your core you feel like this person loves you. Those feelings are real. However, you deserve to be loved, respected, valued, and free to be you all at the same time. Loving them does not mean that they can do whatever they want with you.
Anyways, this is what I often find myself telling domestic violence survivors. You didn’t do anything wrong. There is not something wrong with you. You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who will respect and love you without a need to control you. Someone who won’t feel threatened by your power. Someone you feel free with.
It is common to experience trauma symptoms even after the end of an abusive relationship. Therapy may help you calm down those symptoms, regain your sense of self, and cultivate your own sense of power. All of which lead to a greater quality of life, which you totally deserve.
Here are some psychotherapy resources:
As always, feel free to contact me if you would like to work with me in the Austin Area. I am glad to be of service in any way I can.