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Empowering our friends

by delan (follow)
“This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.” Terry Pratchett

Allowing ourselves Self Determination

1. the power or ability to make a decision for oneself without influence from outside
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Self determination is something that is hard for women to achieve sometimes. In an abusive relationship this right is taken away from us, and sometimes not only by the abuser, but also by well meaning people who are trying to help.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the ways that an abuser perpetrates the abuse is to take away a woman’s ability to make decisions for herself. It can be a slow process that sneaks up on you or it can be something that is there from the beginning and is aggressively crushed. Either way, it increases the power that the abuser has and reduces the woman’s ability to escape the situation as she feels reliant on him for decision making.

One of the biggest steps for a woman escaping from an abusive situation is reclaiming her power, and the ability to make decisions for herself is a big part of that. Unfortunately well meaning friends can unintentionally take this away from her.

Women will talk to their friends when they are having a hard time, and with the kindest of intentions their friends (who can see from the outside that it is a very bad situation) will tell her to “ just leave” or “don’t let him do THAT to you, I wouldn’t put up with it”.

One of the things many people are unaware of is that in telling a woman to leave an abusive relationship over and over again, like a broken record, they are telling her what to do - and it may well be best if she left, but if she doesn’t make that choice for herself she gains nothing from leaving. To an abused woman, the “just leave” broken record is akin to telling the woman that staying is 'wrong’, that she does now know what is best for herself, that she does not know herself even.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is done with the best of intentions, obviously to empower her and validate her, but in the end it takes the power away from the woman - which the abuser has done quite succinctly already. No one knows the situation better than the woman experiencing it for herself and only she can make the ultimate decision to leave. By applying pressure to leave the relationship before she is ready, you can actually push her away from her support systems and further into the trap of abuse, making it harder for her to leave when she is ready.

The pop artist Rhianna was in a violent abusive relationship with the equally famous Chris Brown, her private life became very public and there were people all around the world saying she should leave him - no questions asked. In an interview with Oprah, Rhianna summed it up very well - "I was hurt the most. Nobody felt what I felt… It happened to me, and it happened to me in front of the world. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating, it was hurtful". She went on to describe feeling torn by what she “should” do and her love for him.

The “hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me” adage is a dangerous and pervasive victim blaming mentality. Women are often embarrassed and feel as if they are being judged for their relationship with an abuser. Well intentioned as it may be, the people they turn to for support constantly telling them to leave can leave them feeling as though they are stupid for staying, that the support will not be there unless they leave, that by not leaving they are abusing their children and permitting the abuser to abuse them. None of these feelings help a woman find the power they need to better the situation for themselves.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So how can we help women?

By listening to their story without passing judgement on it. No one other than the woman involved knows how safe they are and how the decision to leave will effect that safety.

Instead of saying 'I think you should leave' say things like 'Have you considered leaving?' - the decision, and therefore the power, should always be with them. If she says she doesn’t want to leave, work with her, meet her where she is at. Tell her she is strong and worthy of love and that you love her and trust her to do what’s best for her and her family.

Don’t tell her what you think of her abuser. It will make her feel foolish and defensive because despite the pain he causes, she still loves him.

Be aware of the fact that many women will go back and forth about the decision to leave an abusive relationship, and will often leave and go back many times. Be there for her no matter what stage she is at.
If she does leave ask her what help she needs. Often simple things like meals, a hand to hang out the washing, or just a cup of tea with her will be more help than anything else.

Listen to her grieve, for whilst she has left an abuser, that person was still a big part of her life. She may grieve for what could have been if the relationship had been healthy, she may grieve for the years she has lost, she may grieve for the parts of herself that are so deeply damaged. Let her cry. Sometimes it's the best thing we can do for our friends, whether they stay or leave.
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Self-determination also means self-accountability. You have to accept it's your fault that you chose such a poor partner.
I am learning that the back-story need not fuel the story emerging in the NOW of the moment. Everything is fluid. All peoples are Sovereign unto themselves and yet each choice the individual makes can influence another! We must live the best life we can (according to our heart's calling) and trust that others will do so in kind. Where is your heart leading you?
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