My previous post about my experience with domestic violence seemed to bring views that this happened to me, and was out of my control. I have to disagree with that. We choose what we do. I chose to stay with this man after the first physical attack because I thought I could help him. Of course, looking back, I see that to be a huge mistake. You cannot change another person, no matter how hard you try. That is a fact.
When I say I am taking responsibility for my part, I am talking about the cycle of violence. This just means that we are attracted to what we know. If we have seen violence in some form or another as a child, we are drawn to that because this is what we know, and we have become accustomed to this way of life. While my ex-husband was not physically violent, he was emotionally and mentally abusive, to the point where he would go months without talking to me, over some imagined slight, or statement I had made. This made me want to be a better, more understanding wife. Of course, when I started therapy, I learned a lot. I didn't have to take it. I could let him be silent and live my own life, ignoring his passive-aggressive behaviour. And even with that knowledge, I entered into another relationship that was not only mentally abusive but physically abusive. Why? Because in some primal part of me, it was what I knew, and therefore comfortable with. This is the knowledge that empowers people who suffer from abuse. The circle of violence. Witnessing violence as child, expecting violence as an adult, and seeking out that which will meet those expectations.
Abusers and their victims are drawn to each other by some unspoken signal. They know each other, from the first encounter. The abuser looks for the one with low self esteem, ready to please, perhaps in dire need of attention and approval. The victim looks for the person who strikes them as in control, will protect them, and challenges them to live up to their expectations. The key is breaking the cycle. And the only way to do that is through knowledge. It is a painful process. It means acknowledging that the childhood you thought you lived was not really what it seemed. In my case the abuser was my mother. And I loved her, and still do. She did the best she could with the tools she was given, as she was a victim of abuse.
My abuser had been sexually molested since the age of six by a family member. This is what he expected of women, that they were not to be trusted. When he told his mother and father about the abuse, he was blamed, and beaten. When my mother threatened me, or slapped me, for no apparent reason, I accepted it as the norm. This is where the cycle begins.
I knew enough as I grew older to be a mother that was the opposite of my own. I was accused of being too lenient, too giving, making my children mama's boys. But seeing them as adults, and knowing that at least 75% of their choices were made using their own judgements, I feel I did my best. Well, that's not entirely true. I feel I could have done much, much more for my sons, and that will never change.
But breaking the cycle is the most important thing. Realizing that what we see growing up is not always the right way to go about living. This, to me, is the only way to explain the escalation of domestic violence. In many states they now offer parenting classes for the parents of children who are at risk, given the parents history. Many people having children really have no concept of the words nurturing or understanding. They just know what they saw. What's the solution? Having every school age child take a course in family dynamics? Not a bad idea, if you could keep the religious aspect of it out of the process. By this I mean, the phrases that a lot of people use to validate their decisions, ie: spare the rod, spoil the child, or honor your mother and father as thy days will be long upon the earth, (my mom's favorite, albeit, father was optional).
When my sons were about six and seven, the big thing was to teach your children how to seek help in a threatening situation, scream, yell, kick, run, look for a phone, dial 911, do whatever is necessary to protect yourself. I always told them that this was a way to protect themselves from anyone seeking to harm them, even me. Even the people you have been told to respect. If it scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, or weird, then act on those feelings. Maybe I carried it too far, but given my history, I felt it necessary. And, we have to allow our children to express their anger. No matter how hard it is to listen to, or even understand, we cannot deny them self-expression. And we cannot punish them for doing so. My sons have told me they hated me, and my response was that no one said they had to love me 24/7. Each time, they were stunned. Here they had said what they considered the worst possible thing, and it didn't phase me. I understood, or seemed to. And acknowledged their feelings at that time. This is breaking the cycle. This is reacting in a way that you were not taught as a child. This is breaking new ground, and it is amazingly uplifting.
However, learning to not expect the worst for yourself is even more difficult. I often talked with abused women, even when I was being abused, telling them to get the hell out. But it took this realization of the cycle of violence as it applied to me, of what I expected for myself, to truly understand. I have learned warning signs, and how to recognize that whoever might appeal to me, I must first step back and take an honest look at myself and that person, and make my decision. Do I really like the way he treats me or other people, or is it just familiar? How many couples have you heard say, it was like we had known each other forever? That is the root of domestic violence. Feeling as though you have known that person forever, and coming from a background where you saw some form of abuse everyday.