Victims of domestic abuse often have a very hard time leaving their abuser. This is especially true if they have children. Abusers keep them under their control using many methods. One of the most often used methods is to threaten harm to the children if the non-abusive person should leave. Or, they might threaten to petition for full-custody if there is a divorce, or even to kidnap the children and take them where the non-abusive parent will never see them again.
The abuser also works to lower the abused person’s self-esteem. The victim will often doubt themselves and their abilities to take care of the children alone. Because of the overbearing environment of coercion and control, the victim will often feel afraid to venture out on their own, will have no money to do so, or might have very few job skills to fall back on. All of this works to the abuser’s advantage. It keeps the abused person right where the abuser wants – under the abuser’s control. The children are helpless bystanders, left to watch and endure the abuse with few other options. The pain and fear produce mental and emotional scars that can last a lifetime.
I was married to an abusive man for 20 years. I did not understand the extent of the pain my children were experiencing being raised in an abusive home. I told myself that since our abuse was mainly emotional, my children weren’t really being harmed. Sadly, I was mistaken. Many other victims of domestic violence mistakenly believe the same, which is one of the main reasons they continue to stay.
The truth is that while a non-abusive person and their children are living with an abuser, it is very difficult to protect them, short- or long-term. The non-abuser might ask, “What if my partner focuses his abuse only on me, or we both try to argue when the children are gone from the house, or asleep?” But children are amazingly perceptive. They know when there is tension between their parents. The fear and pain this causes them can lead to many problems later in life, even if they are not being abused themselves. Adults who were abused as children may experience depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other adverse side-effects and consequences that can keep them from being successful or fulfilled in life.
No parent wants their child to grow up with long-term problems. For many who deal with domestic violence, realizing the damage that the violence in their home is causing to their children will be the impetus to act and break away from the abusive environment.
Leaving an abuser is a frightening thing. Each person must decide individually what is best for themselves and their children.
When I give information like this, I always caution those in abusive relationships. First, do not talk about this with the abuser. It most likely won’t change their behavior, and it might put you in more danger.
Second, although the abuser may have isolated you from others and made you feel totally alone, you are NOT alone. There are many, many people who’ve been or are currently in abusive relationships. And there are also many who’ve been able to leave and build new, happy, successful lives. There are many groups out there available to help.
You should always make a safety plan before leaving. Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for you because the abuser does NOT want you to leave. I recommend calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline from a safe telephone at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). Counselors will help you create your own safety plan. In addition, I have described safety planning on my website at http://www.carolineabbott.com/~caroline/2012/06/what-is-a-safety-plan/ Or, you can contact me directly via my website, www.carolineabbott.com.
My upcoming book, due to be published in September 2013, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom, walks you through all the steps needed to break free from an abusive relationship, for your sake and especially for the sake of your children. You can be the positive change you want to see in your children by having the courage to end the cycle of violence.
My name is Caroline Abbott, a former victim of domestic violence as well as former child of domestic violence, who grew up in a violent home. This is my first guest-blog for Children of Domestic Violence.