Unraveling the cycle
Stop the Ride… I Want to Get Off
By Jami Kirkbride,
Master's Degree in Counseling
CBN.com This article is part three of a three-part series. The first article, “Behind Closed Doors,” addresses common misperceptions of domestic violence. The second article “’Round and ‘Round We Go” discusses the cycle of violence. This article will help women in abusive situations and those supporting women to move from acknowledgement to action.
I passed the beautiful gray house for years. Only when older did I realize it was a women’s shelter. Never did I dream I’d darken the door or that my safety would depend on it.
I walked sheepishly through the entrance as my parents followed closely behind. It felt like we were sleep walking, waiting to wake from a nightmare. A woman welcomed us into her office. She used words that felt foreign. Surely I don’t belong here. She pulled out a paper and pen. “Tell me about the relationship. Was it abusive?”
Oh, that word sounded so horrible. I felt the lump in my throat. “I don’t know. I don’t have any permanent injuries.”
For the next thirty minutes she walked through a checklist of items. “Has he hit you, choked you, slapped you, kicked you? …” The words sounded stark and ripped at me, but with each acknowledgement, I began to realize the dangerous life I was living. Only two items on the list remained unchecked. He had not killed a pet, and he had not threatened me with a gun. Thankfully, we didn’t own either of those.
We sat in silence. Tears streamed down the faces of my parents. Neither of them were prepared for this information. I saw their tears and the advocate’s concern, yet all I felt was emptiness. Not only had I lived in silence, I had lived in denial. Now staring back at me from this checklist was the stark reality. The abuse affected me at a very deep emotional level, but I disconnected in order to endure the fear and pain.
Stopping the Ride
Some of you have read this series and thought I could see through the walls of your home. And now you want to know how can I stop the ride? I want to get off. The first thing I want to say to you is “You can do it.” I suggest three tasks to help you take the first step from acknowledgment to action.
- Find one person you can trust with the details of what you are experiencing. You need support. Share honestly with them so they can assist you in finding safety. Share these articles with them so they can become educated.
- Visit a shelter, advocate, or counselor. They can answer questions pertaining directly to your area and what options are available to you. They will also help you get some clarity of the situation.
- Make a safety plan. You know what the tone of your relationship is and where in the cycle you might be. Plan who you will contact for help and have your essential items (keys, money, information, etc.) in a location that can be accessed quickly when you need to leave.
Others reading this might know of someone who has expressed this sentiment and want to know where to begin in helping them. It’s vital for those in the helping professions to understand domestic violence. Nothing a woman does will stop the violence. It’s not about submission. It is about anger, rage, and control. Well-meaning pastors often advise women to try again, stick it out, start dating again -- no such advice considers the safety of the woman involved. They must hear and see that others value their safety to begin to value it themselves.
Knowing and understanding the information in part one and two of this series is the first step to helping others who might be experiencing violence in their home. The following are some practical things you can do to help.
Be a listening ear and withhold judgment.
An abused woman agonizes over whether she should talk to someone or not. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that nearly 90 percent of women never report being battered. If she’s taking the risk to talk with you, be the listener she needs. She’ll be hyper-sensitive to judgment of her and even the abuser. Initially, she may need the freedom to be angry, but not have you be angry. One of the many reasons a victim hesitates to talk is because she doesn’t want everyone to hate the person she’s with, especially if she remains with him. Realize at this point she may not see herself apart from the relationship.
Keep her confidence and don’t confront the abuser.
While your intentions may be to protect and defend, your confrontation may very well make the situation worse. If she’s sharing information and asking you to keep it to yourself, take that seriously. Her safety may well depend on that.
Help her establish a safety plan.
Realize the victim is the one with an inside view of the relationship and what she feels she is able to do. Help her think through a plan about what to do when things escalate. Suggest that she keep copies of important documents, extra sets of keys, phone numbers, and cash where she can access them in an emergency. Help her identify local resources for professional help. Orient her to a local shelter in case that becomes necessary.
Avoid pressuring her to leave.
This may be your biggest challenge of all. Try to understand she may have the best sense of when it’s safest to leave. Once the abuser feels exposed, he will become even more controlling and angry. Until she’s ready to leave the relationship, her chances of returning are even greater. Statistics reveal that women return an average of 7 times to an abusive relationship before they leave for good. Likewise, the statistics reveal that 75 percent of police calls for domestic violence occur after separation. The greatest risk for serious injury or death is when a victim attempts to leave.
Offer to go with her to find assistance.
Typically, the victim will doubt herself, the situation, and maybe even the validity of what she reports. It may take time for her to see the situation as it is. Offer your support and presence as she seeks answers. Visiting a women’s shelter may be the most helpful thing she can do. They’ll offer resources, professional counseling, or other connections she’ll benefit from. Taking that step will be extremely difficult after living in denial of reality. She will most likely only do this if you go along.
Let her know your love, acceptance, and presence.
By this time, her sense of worth and value are gone. She sees herself responsible for making others happy and may feel a great sense of failure. She’ll need to be reminded she is capable and loveable. Even though her life has taken a difficult turn, she needs to know she can survive this. She will benefit from your support as she questions whether she can make it on her own. These women often fear the possibility of being alone and question if being abused would actually be better than being all alone. She needs hope for better and safer days ahead.
Pray for her diligently.
Pray for her that she’ll be safe and protected. Also pray she’ll have clarity of mind and be able to make a plan that’s in line with God’s plan for her. Pray God will give you the right words and that He will use you to show her His love.
This is a simplistic look at a rather complex cycle. While this serves to give you a glimpse into the inside situation, everyone’s experience will be unique. Don’t underestimate the value of your care. Support and friendship will be a critical lifeline as you help these women move toward safety.
Part One: Behind Closed Doors
Part Two: 'Round and 'Round We Go
Berry, Dawn B. (1995) The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House.
Wilson, K.J. (1997) When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse. Alameda, CA: Hunter House.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, www.nrcdv.org
Jami's complete list of domestic violence resources
Jami Kirkbride has a Master’s degree in counseling and is also a freelance writer, speaker, and personality trainer. She has remarried and now enjoys a safe and peaceful life on a ranch in Wyoming with her loving husband, Jeff, and their four children. Her other works can be found in The Mommy Diaries, Laundry Tales, When God Steps In, and Daily Devotions for Writers. For more information, visit www.JamiKirkbride.com.
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