Written by a former client who feels it is important to talk about this issue that is not oftentimes addressed…
Finding the right place to start is hard, whether it is telling your story or figuring out you’re in an abusive relationship.
I first need to say that both men and women can be victims of domestic abuse. Our society focuses on supporting female victims, and with very good reason. However, we also need to support male victims. This is not a matter of shifting focus, rather expanding the focus, or as the “professional negotiator” in me would say, we need to “expand the pie”.
Our society also expects the “strong and stoic” man, or perhaps a more appropriate term for what we expect from men is “stolid”, which means to show little emotion (with the notable exception of anger). For generations, men have suffered alone, afraid to admit they might be a victim of anything, much less domestic abuse, because that would make them appear weak and vulnerable. I experienced this for years; every time I would get the courage to talk about the way my wife treated me with another guy, I was told that I was being “too sensitive”, or that “all marriages have struggles”. These are words that silence men and empower abusers. The sad reality is that this fear and isolation makes men more vulnerable to abuse, as it gives an abuser the perfect target: someone who will never seek help.
A key feature of emotional abuse is isolating the victim and making them reliant only on the abuser. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a month, but after years of slowly breaking down the victims self-esteem and self-worth, the abuser gains ultimate power and control. The victim becomes convinced that they are the problem in the relationship, and that they are lucky the abuser will tolerate and stay with them. I can attest to how devastating this becomes: I was constantly told I could not do anything right, but when I changed my behavior, that wasn’t right either. No matter how much I adapted to meet her ever-changing standards, I was never good enough, smart enough, competent enough. I was never enough. The scary part is that I grew to believe it. This form of abuse will leave deep emotional scars that will not immediately heal after leaving an abuser. It can take years, even decades, to recover from such insidious abuse.
It is very important to point out that abuse is NEVER THE FAULT OF THE VICTIM (yes, that was meant to be loud). Many people that do not understand the dynamics of abuse try to make sense of the situation by questioning why the victim would tolerate such behavior. This is called victim blaming, which only serves to further shame and silence a victim. If you ever come across a victim of abuse, never ask a question that starts with the word “why” (i.e. “why didn’t you leave sooner?”; “why did you stay for so many years?”; “why did you have a kid with your abuser?”; “why didn’t you call the police?”). I have experienced this personally from my manager, my former manager, and even a judge in district court. Everywhere you go, people have so bought into this idea of the “stoic man”, that they refuse to accept that men can be victims as well.
To compound the issue, whether in front of a judge or in the privacy of your home, the abuser loves to cry, to sob, to choke down tears (and it’s not only female abusers that cry to manipulate). This is just another tactic in the abuser playbook. They want you to think that they are the victim, that you are the problem. They want everyone to think that they are a victim and you are the problem. The truth is, an actual victim will not cry in front of their abuser, the real victim has learned to hide their emotions from the abuser, because they know that to an abuser, tears equal weakness. A victim has been conditioned to give as little emotional ammunition to an abuser as possible.
If you have ever thought you were in an abusive relationship, even if your partner has never touched you, please seek help from a domestic violence-trained therapist or advocate. Start documenting the abuse in real time. Tell the nurse or doctor at your next office visit that you think you are being abused. I once thought I was alone and don’t want others to make the same assumption I did as I found there are great resources out there that can turn victims into survivors.