What is the cost of freedom from domestic abuse? Women weighing-up whether to end an abusive relationship grapple with the (often unspoken) question, is it worth it?
‘Is leaving your abuser worth it?’ was one of the search terms that brought someone to my blog this week. The query struck me immediately, as in my head I replied with a resounding ‘Yes!’
But then I realised that not so very long ago, I didn’t know the answer. I felt trapped in an abusive relationship (my second, actually) and was trying to weigh-up whether my freedom was worth the price I’d pay to leave.
We are at greatest risk of being murdered at the point of leaving, or after we separate from our violent partner (Lees, 2000).
I was afraid for my personal safety – and, even more acutely – that of our child and my family. My abuser was clear about what he would do if I tried to leave. I felt that by staying I was keeping them safe. I was afraid that if I left, he would have nothing else to lose. I was a hostage.
However, my child was witnessing the abuse. Daddy didn’t care if Baby was in the room. I wasn’t protecting my child by staying. The best protection I could offer was to get us out, and do whatever I must to keep us safe after that. When I made my exit, my abuser swung into action. A failed hoovering campaign turned into stalking. But, realising that I wasn’t able to handle this alone, I involved the police. They took my situation seriously.
Though he chose to ignore their directives to stay away – culminating in him being convicted of harassment under UK anti-stalking laws – my child, my family and I have so far remained safe.
Leaving an abuser is dangerous. For this reason, a safe exit plan is essential – as is action to ensure your continued safety on the outside.
Love and attachment
One of my biggest arguments against leaving, was my passionate belief that I loved this abusive man. This convinced me that I couldn’t live without him, and that it would hurt too much to leave. Unfortunately, I realised that at the same time, it was agony to stay – and every day I stayed, more of myself leeched away. I resented him for the hurt he so willfully caused, and that he resisted all of my attempts to help him.
Leaving him ripped me to emotional shreds. But, researching domestic abuse, I came to realise that it wasn’t love that bound me to him. Rather, it was an intense emotional (and, some argue – physical) attachment formed directly out of the abuse.
Understanding trauma-bonding will help you work through the avalanche of confusing feelings. In time, the bond will weaken.
Splitting up the family
My abuser regularly reminded me that our child needed their daddy. Even though he ignored his parental responsibilities – leaving parenting to me whilst he concentrated on drugs and gambling – I believed that too, for a while.
Children are always affected by domestic abuse. To my abuser, our child – whom he undoubtedly loved, in his selfish way – was primarily a tool through which he could consolidate his control over me.
I had to decide whether I was willing to let him use our child in this way, and whether I was prepared to allow both of us to continue living this way. I wasn’t.
A father figure is important. But only if that father is also a good dad.
I was the main breadwinner, and we didn’t share any property. I was lucky. Many women find themselves financially dependent upon their abuser, who has systematically eroded her independence in every way they can. Others find their resources and savings depleted by their partner, who refuses to share in financial responsibility and has no scruples about saddling her with a mountain of debt.
However, there is a way out of financial abuse – using careful planning to build a secret escape fund, and cutting all the purse strings that we can. Domestic violence services can also provide practical advice and help us to access support with finances.
If we share a tenancy or co-own a home with an abuser, police services in some countries can put in place an order to make him leave and forbid him to return. Refuges and emergency accommodation offer sanctuary for women fleeing domestic violence.
Despite financial challenges, it is possible to leave an abusive relationship – and there is support out there to do it.
Yes, it is worth it.
In weighing up whether it is worth it to leave our abuser, we all make our own judgements. Many abusers act in similar ways, but no situation is exactly the same. We all face unique hurdles – but the only barriers are those that exist in our own minds. Hurdles are there to be climbed over or demolished. They are not brick walls.
The decision to stay or go is one of the biggest that any women in an abusive relationship will face. It is also the most significant, because, in choosing to escape we are telling our abuser and (most importantly) ourselves that we are worth so much more.
Which factors did you weigh-up in your decision to live with abuse, or forge an abuse-free future?
ALSO SEE: A woman worries that she can’t leave her abusive husband in, “Maybe I just don’t have the strength to get out.”
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14