6 things you should NEVER say to a domestic abuse survivor

As many as one in three women will suffer physical or other form of abuse in her lifetime. Lots suffer in silence. Those who speak out run a gauntlet of often well-meaning but profoundly ill-informed remarks, that can leave us groping for the right words to respond. Here’s how I answer the most common comments.

1. “Are you sure it’s abuse?”

It’s abuse. I’m constantly tiptoeing around him, yet somehow everything I do is wrong in his eyes. I’m afraid. I’m not the person I was. I sometimes wonder if I’m going crazy. Worst of all, I can’t see a future for me beyond this. And the fear of not being believed by people like you is one of the (many) things that make it so much harder to escape.

2. “I’d never have thought he’d be capable of that. He seems so nice!”

He’s a regular, model citizen isn’t he? I mean, he goes to church, holds down a job, chats to other parents at the school gates. But he’s wearing a mask in public. You’ve never seen his real face. Be thankful. It’s ugly, and terrifying.

3. “I knew this was going to happen. He always appeared shady to me.”

And you did nothing because..? Congratulations on being proven correct, by the way.

4. “Have you tried [insert idea here]..?”

Yes. I’ve tried everything. Couples counselling failed. He wouldn’t take an anger management course, and wasn’t interested in getting treatment for his addiction / mental health problem. I’ve shut up when my heart cried out to answer back to his hate-filled rants, I’ve pirouetted on eggshells and changed beyond the point of self-recognition in my effort to avoid triggering his abusive behaviour. I’ve worked myself half to death trying to fix him. It didn’t work. And it won’t work. There’s no shame in walking (or running) away from a toxic, destructive individual. So take your attempt to ‘save the relationship’ elsewhere, please.

5. “Wow, you must be a wreck right now.”

Ten points on your observational prowess.

6. “I’d never allow my partner to do that to me. Why did you put up with it?”

I once thought that (victim-blaming) way too. Then my previously loving, caring partner began to drop his mask of normality. Imagine you’re in a giant pan of lukewarm water. Someone puts on the lid and begins turning up the heat. At what point do you realise your upper limit for pain and leap out of the soup?

Handful of stars

Photo by xJasonRogersx

With endemic victim-blaming commonplace across our media and public infrastructure, it’s hardly surprising that misconceptions and ignorance abound in the murky waters of domestic violence / abuse.  What would you add to this list of ill-advised remarks? How would you respond to these observations? TELL US in the Comments!

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20 responses to “6 things you should NEVER say to a domestic abuse survivor

  1. Sometimes when I tell about the abuse, it’s like I am saying “there are concentration camps where thousands of people are getting killed” and it is the year 1940 and nobody believes it or they think that it is a gross exaggeration. The reaction of people that just hear me talk about it is so different to the people that were around me during that time and actually witnessed (some of) it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s such a powerful analogy. Domestic violence is happening all around us, yet shame forces survivors into silence and ignorance keeps the rest of the world quiet.

      How would you describe the reactions of those that witnessed what you went through? I had some of the ill-informed remarks included in the article directed at me by those who actually got a glimpse beyond my ex’s mask. That somehow made me feel worse 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some people that witnessed the abuse were frustrated with me for staying in the relationship or giving it another chance. One friend in particular thought it is my responsibility not to let myself being abuse and called me out of it. She was right of course. There came a point when I was a volunteer to the abuse rather than a victim of the abuse.
        Another friend was very helpful. She could understand why I would get my hopes up when the abuser was in the “honeymoon” phase. She understood it was a process and it takes time to get to the point of no return.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have been thinking about this. What could have my friends said during the time that would have been helpful for me.
        I came up with two:
        Bring the focus to herself. Example: She tells you that her other is a picky eater and doesn’t like her cooking. So possibly you could ask her how SHE keeps motivated to go through the trouble of shopping, cooking and cleaning up afterwards with the criticism. Or simply ask her how that makes HER feel. Making HER the focus of the conversation, sends her the message that SHE is important.
        The other thing is to bring a Higher Power up. I recently told a friend who could be in the beginning stages of an abusive relationship, that this relationship might not be God’s plan (her destiny’s plan) for her. I encourage her to look for signs (to become an observer) of whether this is God’s plan or not. I don’t think our God wants any of us to be continuously miserable.
        Friends play only a supportive role. The decision of how and when is solely hers.

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      • Great advice, exposure001. I especially like your point about encouraging an individual going through abuse to focus on themselves for once. Often we are so accustomed to putting the needs of the perpetrator first and we cannot think of our own needs at all. So anything to encourage this would be hugely helpful, I think. Also, I agree with your point about God. Some schools of thought believe that God tests those He loves (and he surely tests each and every one of us) but also that suffering in this life is rewarded in the next. Regardless, I believe we were all put on this Earth to have full lives – and that the misery of abuse is something nobody should suffer. Thanks for your wise words.

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    • You’re right Lynette – people think they are being nice, and often it’s because they don’t know what else to say and because the world has programmed them with this victim-blaming perspective. Glad you liked the post, thank you for commenting!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Booksbyjameswnelson and commented:

    as a man who really loves women, I’d love to say I don’t believe the first sentence of this blog post: “As many as one in three women will suffer physical or other form of abuse in her lifetime.” But also, as a man who has worked in all forms of jobs from the bottom to near the middle, yes, I have seen it, again and again and again….

    Like

  3. ”Why do woman always go for men that are a** holes?”
    If our partners had shown anything other than charm when we first met them do you think we’d have gone anywhere near them? I’d have ran like the clappers had I known then what life was REALLY going to be like with my partner. When his behaviour started changing towards I was confused, then I thought i was being paranoid. After that I thought it was my fault and I had caused his change in behaviour because he was always so nice to everyone else.
    Also until you’re in an abusive relationship nobody knows how they are going to react. The one thing an abusive partner starts doing almost immediatly is chipping away at your outer self, slowly draining away at your confidence and your strength until there’s nothing left. By the time you realise what is being done to you and that no, you weren’t being paranoid, you feel like there is nothing left to fight for and there’s no point in trying to get out because they would never allow it.

    I hope you don’t mind but i loved this article and i shared it on my twitter and fb page. It was so wonderfully well written. Thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

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    • Hi Beautiful Disaster. Thanks for adding your voice. You’re so right! The idea that people would deliberately seek out a partner that will give them nothing but misery is all-too common, and again another example of insidious victim blaming, because it places the burden of responsibility not on the shoulders of the abuser, where it belongs. Thank you for your wise words, and for sharing.

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  4. This is a great post. Numbers 1 and 6 are classic. Are you sure? Hmm let me think? Well, I guess verbal and physical battery could be considered like hugs and kisses from a highly disturbed individual. And really…who of any of us would ever ALLOW our partners to do this to us. SO we MUST really love them. Sheesh. The thought of the stupidity out there turns my stomach.

    Kudos doll. Needed to reblog. Hope you are well. 🙂

    Like

  5. From what I can tell, in my experience, it comes closets to an addition. I mean, I am (or hopefully was) addicted to the abuse, like an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, or a drug addict to the substance of choice. I am not addicted to alcohol, I can take a drink and leave it, because it does nothing for me. Not so for an abusive relationship. I argued with the abuser while in the relationship, and keep on arguing with him in my head even years after the relationship end. I don’t do the arguing in my head (head-trauma) with the former (semi-) healthy relationships. It is really odd.

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    • Hi there. I can relate to what you say about arguing with the ex in my head. I think it’s a part of how we work through trauma, trying to reach closure that an abusive individual will never give us. To argue with a perpetrator in reality is like screaming into the wind – nothing we say will get them to change permanently and they will always see things their own twisted way, however unfair, irrational or deluded that is! I still do the arguing in my head thing sometimes, though when I first left and the wounds were fresh I spent a lot more time in my head than I do now.

      Like

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