Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence to Stop Self-Blaming

Many victims of domestic abuse will blame themselves for the way they are being treated by their partners. When you are in an emotionally vulnerable position, it is easy to make excuses for a domestically violent spouse: they didn’t mean to do it, they only hit me when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it was my own fault for making him angry. The reality is that the only person to blame for domestic violence is the individual perpetrating it. You have not made your partner abuse you, and you don’t have to stay and take their abuse.

Why Women Stay With Abusive Partners

It’s common for women in abusive relationships to stand by their spouses, and for many different reasons. Religion is a factor, with some women believing in the sanctity of marriage with such conviction that they believe God wants them to stay with their abusive spouse. Many more women will stay simply because they don’t know how to leave: they have no financial or emotional support, nowhere to go, and aren’t sure how they will feed their children or where they will live without their abusive spouse. Many women will choose to stand by a domestically violent spouse if they show tangible signs that they are seeking help and support for their issues: entering a rehab or withdrawal program, for example, or attending counseling sessions to deal with their anger issues. Standing by your man is something that women are taught from an early age is the right thing to do, demonstrating admirable and feminine qualities. But in reality, if you are living with someone who causes you both physical and emotional harm and you’re frightened of your spouse, then there is no shame in leaving: it is the right thing to do to for the good of your survival, your health, and your long term future.

Re-purposing Your Strength

It is a widely spread mistruth that women who stay with a domestically violent spouse do so because they are weak. This misrepresentation can cause a lot of harm. It takes strength to stay with a partner who abuses you; you need inner strength in order to cope with their verbal and physical assaults and to still be able to hold your head up high. You need to be strong to protect your children from the harm in their home, and to love them despite the harm that is being done to you on a regular basis. Women who are being domestically abused should realize that they are already strong. However it takes even more strength to recognize you are worth more than the treatment you are receiving and to get up and leave. It takes considerable strength to seek the help and support of others for your continued survival. It is time to re-purpose your strength so that you can stop blaming yourself for the treatment you are experiencing, for every hit, kick and cruel word, for every time you took the blame for something that simply isn’t your fault. The women we support are some of the most vulnerable in our society, but they are simultaneously the strongest women because they have experienced the very worst of the human condition first hand, and lived to tell the tale.

It is time to stop blaming yourself for the domestic violence you are receiving and begin to see, as everyone else sees, that in reality the only person to blame is your partner or spouse. Many women hope that their partner will change, and whilst it is true that with rehabilitation and therapy domestic abusers can stop being violent to their partners, this is only true in a very small number of cases: it is the exception, rather than the rule. There is no single and universally effective strategy for ending abuse but one: leaving the abuser and restarting your life on your own. It will seem scary, daunting and almost impossible to start with but, in the end, the positive change that you will see in both yourself and in your children will make all of that hard work and instability seem worthwhile.

Written by Anne Hoole