Why doesn’t she just leave him? If he’s abusing her, truly abusing her, she should just leave him. If only it were that simple!
In order to understand why leaving isn’t as simple as just walking out the door and never looking back, one first has to understand the dynamics of abuse: how it starts, how a person becomes entangled in an abusive relationship, the vast range of emotions an abused woman experiences, and the possible repercussions of leaving.
Most people who have never experienced abuse cannot possibly understand. Even after reading about it and studying the phenomenon, until or unless a person lives in it, you cannot know, for instance, that you wouldn’t fall prey to an abuser. I know this firsthand, having been a social work and psychology student who landed squarely and unsuspectingly in such a relationship myself. Knowing what the signs are and how to recognize red flags, then making excuses for a “loved one” who exhibits those behaviors is a natural mistake. Even with my training, he was better at manipulation than I was at resisting his schemes.
The outside world – those who have not experienced abuse – also don’t realize that these men are very beguiling. They are skilled at what they do. They are patient. They toy with their prey, what the mental health profession defines as the honeymoon period but I came to remember it, in retrospect, as The Melding. I was no more, after that initial period, The Meld. I had ceased to be.
In the mental health profession, these abusers are sometimes referred to as narcissists, extreme narcissists, sociopaths or even psychopaths. These tendencies are not always easily recognizable during the honeymoon stage, but for a trained observer, subtle signs can often be seen. The honeymoon stage is a time when the men are wooing their prey, convincing her that he is worthy of her love and devotion. He will often go to great lengths to win her love. He might shower her with gifts, if he’s financially able to do so, or lavish her with attention if gifts aren’t possible.
The hook, however, is that the gifts are often geared toward his own selfish needs: lingerie if the relationship has developed into a sexual one, and sometimes even if it hasn’t; a nice bottle of wine – he expects you to share it with him; an unusual piece of jewelry that might bond the two of you. Lavishing time can also indicate some selfish needs: where do you spend time? Does he make all the choices? Does he argue about where you want to spend time? This might be an early indicator of gaslighting yet to come. In my case, I was frequently implored to choose what activities we did, then I was met with argument about all the reasons I made bad choices. Invariably, we did what he wanted to do. We always had fun, in those early months, but it was always his choice.
Up next, I’ll talk about how to recognize some more red flags and protect yourself from falling prey to these men.
NOTE: Not all domestic abusers are men, but 92% of the reported cases are man-on-woman abuse. There is speculation, which seems plausible, that men may be embarrassed to report being abused by women or even by male domestic partners. Ergo, with the overwhelmingly dominant demographic of reported abuse, my gender use is not to discriminate or minimize the fact that men are also abused. I have personally known of cases where men are victims to both physical and emotional abuse. It is not my intent to denigrate. My choice of pronoun and gender is for consistency only.
Also published on Medium.