When the young, the beautiful and the famous show the world that they are just as vulnerable as the rest of us, we sit up and take notice. Two young pop stars had a horrible fight one night, and the results were aired internationally. A bruised face, court dates, lost endorsements and public outrage followed. Just when the furor was beginning to die down a bit, a new development caught the media’s eye. Rihanna was back with her alleged abuser, Chris Brown.
The big question is and remains, “Why did she go back?” And more broadly, “Why do women (and men) stay in relationships that hurt?” It’s complicated, but here’s what some would say:
n It might feel normal. Abuse may be something witnessed in childhood that has become the blueprint for adult relationships. If most domestic or romantic relationships seemed to have this element of anger and loss of control, why should theirs be any different? If they simply say, “We had a fight,” they probably don’t see themselves as victimized.
n They’re scared. Many victims of domestic and relationship abuse feel that they have lost any real control of their lives. If they leave, perhaps things will get worse — they could be stalked or harmed unexpectedly. If married, they are afraid to lose children, friends and the life they’ve always known.
n They have lost confidence in themselves. They have finally succumbed to the emotional barrage that has accused them of being nothing without the abuser: unwanted, unattractive, unintelligent or incapable of making good and practical decisions — even if others perceive them differently. Their self-esteem has taken a hit, and they may start to believe the outrageous lies they’re being fed.
n They feel financially and emotionally dependent. Perhaps there really is not enough money or resources to live apart from their partner. They’re afraid to be alone and in charge of everything that concerns them.
n They’re in love. At least that is what they believe love can look or be like. And so they believe the abusers when they tell them they are so sorry and won’t do it again. They “understand” them, their childhoods or the pressures that can make them act the way they do. Or worse, they blame themselves.
Though both genders can be abusive, all studies show that men are much more likely. Interestingly enough, many men (and women) who abuse are not considered to be individuals with outrageous tempers in regular life. They often have a strong need to control or dominate another individual. The cycle of abuse is often one that begins with a setup that leads to aggression (verbal/emotional) or violence. The abuser then feels guilty, mainly of getting caught. He (or she) will rationalize his behavior, become normal by being sweet and charming or by acting as if nothing has happened. Then he begins to fixate on the things that his victim has done wrong, what he will do to “make her pay,” and he sets her up again.
If you find that you are in a relationship that causes you to feel afraid much of the time, there is help available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE, the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you feel out of control in relationships and want help for yourself, contact 1-800-MEN-1089. If you are a woman, call 1-941-475-8722, which offers help for women who batter.
For more information about the facts listed in this article, go to www.helpguide.org/domestic violence.
Tabi Upton, MA-LPC, is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.