Friday, June 26, 2015

Finding empathy - when abuse victims don't leave

I enjoy following the blog Plowing through Life, as the author, Martha, in her charming, easy and life-affirming way relates her various musings and experiences, shares the photos she takes on her bike rides around her Canadian town, and posts the jokes and cartoons that amuse her.  Her blog is a welcome eddy of positivity in my internet feed.

Which makes it all the more significant that she's recently been relating how she found her way to this positive place by way of an abusive marriage and the near total collapse and reconstruction of her sense of herself.

Like a lot of people, I grew up in an extended family where men and women treated each other more or less with casual respect. For a long time it was impossible for me to really understand - or even feel empathy for - people who stayed in abusive relationships. I didn't get why a woman would stay with a man who hit her or treated her with manipulative cruelty.

Obviously there was something despicably wrong with the abuser, but it seemed like the woman (or man) who stayed was to blame as well. This makes it so, so easy to give up on them. It's only from hearing stories like Martha's - stories where the victim is frank about their own participation, the damage it's done and the intricacies of the traps that keep one stuck - that have enabled me to find the empathy that I should have felt all along.

I feel bad that the indifference and blame I once directed at abuse victims - and which I know others still direct at them - serves as one more bar in the cage that keeps people from escaping. 

"Yes, he's right, my friends are right, people are right -- there IS something twisted and damaged about me - something in me that must like this, or deserve this, or be too weak to escape this."

So I want to say that sharing this kind of story is really, really important if it can change the way we think about abuse. If more escapees are willing to challenge the embarrassment and the glare of ignorant judgement, it can help people find their way out of these relationships.  

Anyway, it's a good story - on a lot of levels.