What to do When You're Being Abused

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I'm crying as I write this post. Which is saying something, cause I'm not really a crier. But I've had a strong feeling that I need to share for weeks, and I cannot deny that impulse any longer.

In the past two years, I've helped numerous close friends get out of abusive relationships. I've sat in emergency rooms. I've driven them to CAPSA. I've missed deadlines and sleep. And I will probably do it again (somehow, I've acquired a reputation-one I'm rather proud of). The damage done to tender hearts and sweet children is gut wrenching to witness.

The abuse has ranged from one friend whose abuse was severe (sexual, physical, and emotional), to the more common and insidious emotional abuse.

And what kills me most is that I didn't know. Three of the four women all had one thing in common: they did not think of themselves as abused women. Instead, they thought of themselves as being in love with a very troubled person. All four lived very isolated lives. They didn't have close friends. They'd drifted apart from their families. In an attempt at protecting that person, they'd isolated themselves.

I only saw the smallest glimpse of their true selves. Only the part they were willing to let me see. One friend was being brutally raped by her husband after the kids were safely tucked into bed. She finally found the courage to tell her mother. Who told her to suck it up. It's just sex. She told her ecclesiastical leader, who told her the solution was to give him more sex. She went to the police, who told her to go to the hospital. The hospital told her marital rape can't be proven with a rape kit. She went to a lawyer, who told her that because her medical condition was considered "fatal" she wouldn't get custody of her children.

So she stopped telling people all together. For ten years.

She heard me vent one night about another friend and her abuse. How I didn't believe there was any reason to stay in a continually abusive relationship. And somehow that made her trust me enough (with the prompting of another close friend) to tell me in bits and pieces that got progressively worse over the weeks, and all as something that happened in the past, which I later found out wasn't true. The abuse was still ongoing. And he is a sunday-school teacher and a respected member of the medical community.

Victims are slow to trust. And rightfully so.

Eventually, we took her to CAPSA. We found a free app for her phone that records voices when sounds start (proof). We started the process for a 20 day protective order (which you don't need proof for in Utah). Another friend took her to a different lawyer, who went through the paperwork to prove her condition is stable. We created a plan. That plan didn't exactly go as . . . well, planned. But we're getting there. I still worry about her safety everyday.

And I have to believe being prompted to write this because there's someone who needs to read it. If this person is you, please listen to what I'm going to say next, because it's very important. 

You must be very brave.  Because you're the only one who can change your life.

You are going to need to be brave and you cannot do this alone. You need a team.

First, a lesson I learned after the disastrous delivery of my first child:  go straight to the specialists. That's not necessarily the police or the church or a lawyer. It's an abuse specialist. Start here. Just be careful, as your computer usage might be monitored. Safest bet is to head to your library and use a public computer (while you're there, check out the nonfiction abuse section for additional resources. If you need help, tell the librarian you have a good friend who's being abused ((that's not a lie. You are you're own best friend)) and you need resources to help her).

You must be brave. You cannot do this alone. Your need a team. And that team should consist of some trusted friends/family/medical providers. People you can call when you're sad or lonely or need to vent. Look after your spiritual side, your emotional side (you're going to need some counseling), and your physical side (it never ceases to amaze me how a strong body and mind are reliant upon each other).

I've found that five friends is a good number. Enough to bear you up without becoming overwhelmed themselves or letting the whole world in on your business. If you're not sure who to trust, ask them how they feel about abuse (ie: I know a woman who is being abused by her husband. He does *what your significant other does to you*. If you feel safe, tell them that friend is you and you need their help. If not, ask someone else.)  Also, make sure it's people who can keep secrets. *note: secrets are the breeding ground of abuse. But this can be a very dangerous situation, one that calls for discretion.
If you've asked for help and it's blow up in your face, it's because you asked the wrong person-just like my friend above. They're not meant for your team. Don't give up!

And now a quick note on emotional abuse. Honestly, most emotionally abused women don't even realize they're being abused. They just know they're desperately unhappy and feel completely alone. Here's some things to look for.

Characteristics of the abuser:

  • Using economic power to control you
  • Threatening to leave
  • Making you afraid by using looks, gestures or actions
  • Smashing things
  • Controlling you through minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Making light of the abuse and not taking your concerns about it seriously
  • Continually criticizing you, calling you names, shouting at you
  • Emotionally degrading you in private, but acting charming in public
  • Humiliating you in private or public
  • Withholding approval, appreciation or affection as punishment

Characteristics of the abused:
  • A distrust of her spontaneity
  • A loss of enthusiasm
  • An uncertainty about how she is coming across
  • A concern that something is wrong with her
  • An inclination to reviewing incidents with the hopes of determining what went wrong
  • A loss of self-confidence
  • A growing self-doubt
  • An internalized critical voice
  • A concern that she isn't happier and ought to be
  • An anxiety or fear of being crazy
  • A sense that time is passing and she's missing something
  • A desire not to be the way she is, e.g. "too sensitive," etc.
  • A hesitancy to accept her perceptions
  • A reluctance to come to conclusions
  • A tendency to live in the future, e.g. "Everything will be great when/after ..."
  • A desire to escape or run away
  • A distrust of future relationships 

There are certain flowers that close up during inclement weather; they curl up to protect themselves. But after the sun comes out, they slowly unfurl, turning their centers toward the sun. I've watched these women do this. Watched them open up and realize that somehow, they lost who they used to be, becoming a shadow of their former selves. And they're so much happier to see the sun again. 

I might not know you, and therefore might not be able to be on your team, as I was for them. Regardless, I want you to know that I'm sending my love.  

*men are abused too. My experience has simply been with women . No prejudice intended. 


  1. Unknown said...:

    you are such a good friend! keep it up!

  1. Great post! Must share . . .

  1. Unknown said...:

    This is a very, VERY important post for people to read. Thank you for sharing this information, and I pray that the person who needs to read it will read it and feel empowered to do something about their situation.

  1. Pili said...:

    A great post that I will be sharing for sure! It is so important for women (and people in general) that are suffering from abuse to know that they won't be judged and blamed and instead will be helped!

  1. Thanks, Katie!
    Bethany: Please do. I want people to know they aren't alone.
    Rachel: Me too.
    Pili: Yes! Even the abusers, if they're willing, need understanding to get better.

  1. diana said...:

    SUPERB, Amber! Right on, exactly!

  1. Unknown said...:

    Excellent post on a gut-wrenching issue. I'm so happy that there are people like you in the world, helping abuse victims.

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