Many people, mostly women, stay in dangerous marriages because they are paralyzed by fear and self-doubt. In a dangerous marriage, being afraid is healthy and normal. Unfortunately, fear tends to shut us down rather than strengthen us. This shutting down is biological – a very real mechanism that “prey” use in an attempt to survive an attacker. Anyone who has gotten close to an opossum has had the opportunity to see this mechanism up close. When applied to a dangerous marriage – and repeated over and over — this mechanism can keep an abused woman frozen in place with her abuser.
The effects of fear are compounded by self-doubt. Years of systematic emotional abuse (often starting in childhood) can cause what I call the ‘fun house effect’. In a fun house, one mirror shows you tall and skinny and the next short and fat. The floor moves one way and then another. It is the same with emotional abuse. You are constantly kept off balance by the questioning and even ridiculing of your perception of reality. After time, you begin to doubt all of your thoughts and feelings – even your thoughts of leaving and your feelings of being in danger.
And then there is empathy. Odds are your partner was abused as a child or at the very least witnessed abuse. You probably feel like you understand him better than anyone else. You relate to his brokenness. No wonder, with what you have been through. But empathy (or love) does not mean that you have to be a victim. No one — not you, your partner or your children — will be able to become unstuck until someone takes the first step – and you know deep down that it will have to be you. You have the key. You are the key.
You need to make a phone call to Sojourner Family Peace Center or the Women’s Center if you are in southeastern Wisconsin or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-SAFE. Put aside your fear and your self-doubt for five minutes and tell someone exactly what is happening to you. That’s it. They are the ‘experts’ and they will know what you should do from this point on. Listen to them and trust them. They will guide you to a better place.
Also, know that there are many people in the community that care about you. You are not as alone as you feel. If you need financial education or advice while you are on your new journey, call me. I will slide my fee scale down to zero if I have to.
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