WHYdo victims find it necessary to cover up or make allowances for the actions of their abusers—excuses for treatment they do not deserve?
A victim rarely speaks out immediately upon their first incident of domestic/intimate partner violence. That is probably because it innocuously worked its way to such a level, with intimidating words, glances or suggestions made over a period of time. Domestic violence has a way of sneaking up on its prey, morphing from emotional and verbal abuse. So, a victim’s practice of hiding evidence begins early in the relationship. You see, it’s rather simple to obscure verbal or emotional abuse—simply don’t say anything to anyone. It’s your safe little secret.
At times, you actually find yourself covering up for the perpetrator. Flashbacks are common for those of us who were past victims of domestic violence. Maybe we have advanced to become a survivor, but at any given time a button will be pushed and something we considered to be entirely blotted from our memory emerges from the depths of the past. As I say often, “Forgiving is not forgetting… wounds heal scars remain…” The key is to recall these events without retraumatization taking place.
While I was watching television recently, from out of left field something triggered a flashback. Strangely, I had completely forgotten it ever took place. Why did this pop up? During my first pregnancy my aunt loaned me a beautiful wardrobe to use in the nursery. When my son outgrew its use, rather than to be bothered with returning it, my abuser chose to haul it into the backyard, where it was destroyed by the Florida rains. Once it dried out, he burned it with other “garbage” of mine. When the time came to return it to its rightful owner, I fashioned some ridiculous lie to my aunt as to why I no longer had possession of the furniture, covering up for my abuser.
There are other types of domestic violence that are hidden on a daily basis, as well. The old “I ran into a doorknob,” explaining away the black eye, or caking on make-up to cover it. I’ve heard everything from slipping in the shower to slamming a hand in the car door. Then there is “Oh, it was just an accident, he didn’t mean to hurt me.” And worst of all, “Well, I’m sure I had it coming. If I had only kept my mouth shut, he wouldn’t have had a reason to hit me. I brought it all on myself.”
So, here we are, back at the original question: Why do victims find it necessary to cover up and excuse the actions they in no way deserve? Well, I can think of a few reasons:
Embarrassment. Who wants others to know, when it’s that humiliating? And what would my friends think if they knew what a foolish choice I made in marriage? So, embarrassment also draws shame and guilt.
Job security. A victim realizes that if she “comes out” with details of her situation, there is a possibility the abuser might make harassing phone calls at work, or perhaps even show up and cause a scene. Many women have lost their jobs because employers were fearful for the safety of all the other employees.
Protecting others. Time and again an abuser will threaten to take the children, and a mother’s instinct is to protect her children at all costs. An abuser often endangers the family pet. Silence may serve to pacify the abuser so he is less of a threat, and his actions are well hidden from friends, family and the public.
We are strong. In some manner, a victim sees herself as a strong woman. I believed I was strong, in that following each encounter of abuse, my self-talk was this: “Well, I was strong enough to make it through that, so that means I have enough strength to endure. I’m sure I can make it through until the next time.” You know, that “next time” we spend every waking hour trying to avoid?
Threats of further harm. There’s always “Next time will be worse.” As a victim, following each violent encounter I constantly thought, “If he did this, what will he do next time?” I did anything and everything I could to avoid “the next time.”
Then the silence, the placation, the expending of all mental and emotional strength and ability follow, as we struggle to keep our dirty little secrets well hidden from the outside world.
For more information, visit Victim Support Page at Carolyn’s website.
- Victims of Domestic Violence – Do You Have a Safety Code? (cshennecy.wordpress.com)
- Children Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet (volunteermanual.wordpress.com)