Elena Darmenko

Expat Psychotherapist

Domestic Abuse – Why Doesn't She Leave?

If you suspect a domestic abuse – don't suffer alone, speak up!
Domestic abuse, as well as domestic violence can happen to anyone. It occurs within all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, all age ranges, heterosexual, and same-sex relationships – it doesn't discriminate. It's used for one purpose only – to gain a total control over a victim, and an abuser uses a wide range of mechanisms to reach their goal – a fear, guilt, shame, etc. Unfortunately, victims of domestic abuse often face a negative judgment in the society and the most common question they are asked is "Why she just doesn't leave?". In many cultures even the issue of domestic abuse is still stigmatized, and a victim feels ashamed to discuss it.

Domestic Abuse or Conflict?

One of the reasons, why "she doesn't leave", is that a victim of an abusive behavior prefers to think it was JUST a conflict which occurs in all families. However, there's a huge difference between them.

Conflict is a normal and natural part of any relationship, it's a healthy way to express emotions and discuss an issue. Both parties of a conflict respect each other. When we speak about an abuse, it usually involves a type of behavior that belittles another person, it includes insults, verbal threads, and other tactics to make victim consistently feel ashamed, weak, or degraded. As one my clients described her feelings, "Seems like you can't be you".

While physical injury may seem to be the most dangerous, the emotional consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotional abusers can destroy your self-confidence, make you feel helpless, guilty, and isolated.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse – Much Bigger Issue Than You Think

Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence. Many people suffer from an emotional or psychological abuse, and it's not less destructive. However, this kind of a domestic abuse is usually minimized, even by a victim. The main purpose of an emotional abuser is leave you with a feeling that without your partner you have nothing and even mean nothing.

This kind of a domestic abuse includes all types of a verbal abuse like blaming, yelling, and shaming. All forms of controlling behavior like isolation, intimidation and gaslighting are also widely used by emotional abusers.

It's important to know that the impact of an emotional abuse is very real and significant. Some of my clients thought that a physical abuse was much worse that and emotional domestic abuse. In fact, when someone was sent to the hospital due to the physical violence, they decide to leave their abuser much sooner than those suffering from an emotional violence. But remember, that emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and sometimes even more.

So, Why Doesn't She Leave?!

This is unfortunately, the most common prejudice about the domestic violence. For many "observers" it seems so easy to just leave. However, the reality is much different. There are lots of barriers that a woman faces when decides to leave an abusive relationship.

What we really need is to stop blaming victims of domestic abuse and start supporting them. Here are some common reasons that prevent a woman leaving. By understanding them, others may change their point of view, and this might become the first step for empowering women to make this hard, but important decision to release themselves from a domestic abuse.

First and the most common reason is fear. And there's a reason behind it – a huge rise of violence after separation.

Isolation is the second biggest reason to stay. Domestic abuse usually relies on isolating the victim as it gives more control to the abuser. All connections with family and friends become weaker, and even contact with the outside world are reduced. This makes a woman extremely dependent on her partner.

Low level of self-confidence. Victims are usually being told they're worthless, and this makes a significant negative impact on their self-esteem. They are usually traumatized, their perpetrator tells them "You can't manage anything yourself, I know better, you need me". This is also a source of a constant fear.

Shame, guilt, and denial. Unfortunately, abusers are often well-respected people in their community. This prevents others to recognize the fact of a domestic abuse and makes a woman feel even more isolated. The perpetrator often minimizes and denies the abuse.

And finally, practical reasons. As abusers usually control every single aspect of a victim's life, it's hard or even impossible for them to have a job or be financially independent. So, women might feel unable to leave and support themselves and their children, or even be afraid having their children taken away.

What You Can Do

Asking for help is not easy. Misunderstandings about domestic abuse often prevents professionals from knowing what to do, how to talk about it or where to direct women disclosing abuse.

This may surprise you, but an abusive behavior is a choice. Many people believe that a domestic abuse, as well as a domestic violence takes place when an abuser loses control. In fact, choosing abusive tactics is a choice to gain a full control over the victim.

If you suspect a domestic abuse – don't suffer alone, speak up! You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.