From an outsider's perspective, it seems pretty straightforward. If someone is abusing you, physically, verbally, or emotionally -- you leave.
Why would you stay with someone who is causing you pain, making you afraid, or even damaging your children?
Why would you put up with such despicable, destructive behavior from the person who is supposed to love you the most?
It might seem clear to those who aren't in an abusive relationship, but the reality is far from simple. Abusive relationships are like spider webs that trap the victim in a cycle of confusion, fear, hope, and despair. The complexity of these relationships is hard to understate.
The man who was once caring and charismatic has turned into a Dr. Jekell - Mr. Hyde whose behavior is unpredictable, manipulative, and even violent. The poison of abuse can be subtle and insidious at first, only to escalate as the victim becomes more compliant and fearful.
Through the fog of fear and shame, a woman who is a victim of abuse doesn't see a clear way to extricate herself. She often feels she is to blame for the abuse or that leaving the relationship will make her life worse than it is.
You might think abuse only occurs to a certain kind of women, someone who isn't smart or educated enough to get out of harm's way and leave the relationship. But domestic abuse is far more common than you think.
According to an article in Time magazine, "One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and it is one of the most chronically underreported crimes: only about one quarter of all physical assaults, one fifth of all rapes and one half of all stalkings are reported to the police."
These statistics don't include other forms of abuse like verbal assaults and emotional abuse. Throw those in the mix, and it's likely some form of domestic abuse is happening to you or someone close to you.
In fact, emotional abuse can be more difficult to escape from for many women. The manipulation, isolation, verbal assaults, and passive aggressive behaviors don't leave physical scars that others can see. The abuser often denies his abuse and tries to place the blame on his victim. This form of abuse erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and judgement. It is almost a form of brainwashing that keeps a woman bound to the person who causes her suffering.
Our society reinforces a women's shame and fear of leaving an abusive relationship by suggesting she is culpable for the abuse or by judging her inability to extricate herself. An important part of ending domestic abuse is through education and awareness for everyone, not just the victims.