This is a question that people often ask me, as a survivor of abuse. There is a common narrative that if a victim doesn't leave his or her abuser, it's his/her own fault he/she is getting abused. And that is just not true. In fact, it often takes 7 tries before a woman can leave her abusive partner. I haven't seen similar statistics for men, but I'm sure the same is true.
This probably isn't news to any of you here. But it's something that might not be common knowledge to others in your life. I wrote the following list and gave it to my mom earlier this year because she asked me, in despair, why she was so weak and couldn't seem to leave. I consult it often, whenever I feel frustrated that she hasn't left, and whenever I encounter others who are struggling from the mindsets abuse engenders. It's a good reminder.
Here are some of the reasons victims stay:
- Stockholm syndrome. Victims bond with their abuser over the abuse; they see the abuser as a fellow victim.
- Real love for their abuser. This is often mixed in with feelings that come from Stockholm syndrome, but it’s hard to see that when you're being abused.
- Children. The victim might think it’s better for his or her children to stay.
- Finances. Abuse often extends to money. The abused man or woman may not have enough money or enough access to his or her money to leave.
- Fear. Abusers are terrifying, especially to their victims. They take on god-like proportions. Sometimes they are actually worthy of that fear, sometimes it's just part of the manipulation.
- Guilt. Victims are often made to carry all the guilt for their own victimization. They often have the mindset that they will be abandoning someone who needs them desperately if they leave their abuser.
- Familiarity. Often people who are abused have been abused by one person or another for their whole lives. They can’t imagine not being abused, so they can’t find the will to leave.
- Manipulation. The abuser is very good at excusing the abuse, gaslighting and blaming the victim, and sometimes making the victim feel as though he really cares about her. This is confusing and disorienting to the victim. Even when the victim leaves, the manipulation will usually continue.
- Self-hatred. Victims think they deserve to be treated badly because they are worthless.
- Isolation. (suggested by VioletBaudelaire). Abusers will often destroy victims' connections with family and friends, leaving them alone with no emotional support and no one to help them with the logistics of leaving. Even when abusers don't run off friends and family, victims will feel vulnerable and defensive whenever anyone sees the abuse they are subjected to and will try to hide it, often by avoiding people they used to be close to.
- Embarrassment. (suggested by MissyPants). You were supposed to be smarter than this! You knew all the signs! How did this happen to you? No one can know, or they will blame you for staying and for being so stupid in the first place.