Sunday, August 28, 2011

Avoiding Abusive Relationships

For the last week, I've been working as a crisis/grief counselor at a workplace where an employee was brutally stabbed by her ex-husband. I've been dealing with traumatized and grieving employees and customers who mourn the loss of Leslie, a woman who was (by all accounts) friendly, cheerful, funny, and made you feel special. She was always smiling, even though she had a difficult home life, with a husband who had beaten her at a former workplace, and was continuing to stalk and threaten her.

Leslie's story has been on the television news and in the newspapers, so I'm freer to write about her than I would be if that wasn't the case, although I am changing her name.

Leslie had recently moved out of her home, and her daughters and friends were proud of her for taking that step. Unfortunately, it's when a woman tries to escape from an abusive man that he can turn violent, and that's what happened with Leslie's ex.

It's extremely difficult to pry a woman out of an abusive relationship. She thinks she "loves" him. She's verbally (and perhaps physically) beaten down to the point where she has no self-esteem and believes that much of what happens is her fault. She may have little resources to aid in her escape. She may fear for her life if she leaves. And she may have children that bind her to a relationship with their father.

This blog isn't about helping women to escape an abusive relationship. It's to educate people about how to not get into one in the first place. The beginning of a relationship is when the woman has the most self-confidence and emotional resources to leave. This blog is about educating women to see the trap and not walk into it.


No matter how much a woman loves a man, she can't make him secure. She can't change him. He has to do that work for himself. But most women believe that if they love a man enough, he'll change. And sometimes, men do change. But they have to want and make the effort to. Pouring all your love into an abusive man is like pouring it into a bucket full of holes.

There are red flags that a man is controlling. He is often very attentive and loving at first. He knows how to get a woman to fall in love with him. Then he starts his attempts to control her. These attempts don't look like a big deal at first. He may start to criticize her. He might complain about her hanging out with one of her male friends. Or, he might tell her to change the outfit she's wearing because it's too revealing or sexy. He makes the excuse that he doesn't want other men looking at her, or he's afraid he'll lose her. She may think this is romantic and loving.

This is the point to leave. Most women don't because they don't understand their danger. Or, they may have had a father/step-father who verbally (and physically) abused their mother. But if a woman continues in the relationship, then BEWARE because his attempts to control won't stop.

The control is gradual. In the beginning, a woman might be okay with giving up a friendship or changing how she dresses. She wants to please him. But systematically, he isolates her from friends and family. He doesn't want her to have a support system. He wants to be the focus of her attention. She might find herself living in a "box" of rigid do's and don'ts. Sometimes his rules are arbitrary, giving him a chance to punish her when she does something "wrong." But even then she won't be able to please him because he'll always be insecure.

At some point the woman becomes the man's property. She belongs to him, and if he can't have her, no one will. He threatens to kill her if she leaves. He stalks her if she does. Then, like in Leslie's case, he may actually murders her.

Leslie had so much love and energy to give a man. She had plenty of experience with cheering people up and showing them she cared. That's who she was as a human being. I'm sure she thought that if she'd just showed her love to her husband enough, he'd relax and feel secure.

Perhaps, like with most abusive men, he wooed her back. Sent flowers, acted loving, promised to change. Maybe he did "change" for a few days, or weeks, or months, or even a couple of years. But the signs that the change wasn't real were still probably there. Leslie might have ignored them, or not known to take them seriously.

It's too late for Leslie, but her life and her death can make a difference for others.


A good book on this subject is: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. I think it's essential reading for any woman.

Rest in Peace, Leslie. You're safe now.

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