The Regrets of Domestic Violence
RIP Patricia Nieto January 17, 1984 – July 16, 2012
There are moments in our lives that seem to happen in slow motion. The phone rings, I answer it. I hear a struggle for words from the caller, and then the faint voice whispers, “Fernie killed Patty”. Although I heard the words clearly, I asked, “What did you just say?” Again I hear the words, “Fernie killed Patty. He fucking killed her.” In the hopes that “kill” could possibly mean anything other than my understanding of that word, I asked, “What do you mean he killed her?”
The reel kept rolling in slow motion.
I hung up the phone and sat with my head in my hands and gently wept. My husband asking, “What’s going on? What happened?” And I struggled to repeat the words that I’d just heard. “My friend Patty, was just brutally murdered by her fiancé.” The details are too gruesome to share.
The next feeling that came over me was anger . How could he do this? Then, sadness. I can’t believe she’s gone. Then, horror. I pray and pray and pray that she was gone with the first injury, but I know that’s simply not true. Then, regret. Could I have done something to save her from this relationship?
I’d never before experienced the sudden death of a young person for whom I cared. One moment they are here and the next, they aren’t. There was no hoping, no wishing, and no praying that she would recover from the injuries. She simply vanished from life. It was a struggle to find peace and I accept that an understanding will never come.
What remains is the sinking feeling of regret.
In the news this week, we hear the story of 28 year old, Tanya Gonzalez, living in Miami and murdered by her boyfriend of six years who then turned and killed himself. The stories are too similar and the sadness takes me back to the Summer of 2012. Added to this, I’m still reeling from the media coverage over the last couple of weeks over the Ray Rice incident and the obsession with placing blame on the NFL and Roger Goodell, specifically.
No one but Ray Rice is responsible for the actions that took place in that elevator and the subsequent denigration that ensued as he exited the elevator.
Roger Goodell did not commit a crime punishable by law. I wish we’d stop redirecting the noise to the NFL, and instead focus on where we can positively impact awareness of this all too common issue. Certainly, the NFL can educate its members and provide outreach to its community.
Where does abuse begin?
It begins with an obsession that is mistaken as love and a desire becoming a need. When is hunger and thirst irrational? I don’t know. But, I do know that love is freedom between two people.
An abuser starts his quest for domination by withholding communication, compassion, warmth and love. It is typically a response to your trying to stand up for yourself, to an assertion of your rights within a relationship. Because he dominates your existence, and uses disengagement as punishment, this triggers shame and your greatest fears – the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. You crawl back because you are desperate for his affection and it’s all good for a little while and then it happens again. Only this time, it isn’t just disengagement, this time it’s coupled with physical harm. And you’ll believe you deserve the punishment because he had already told you the rules so you begin to search for an excuse, a reason, a justification, a rationale, an explanation to accept the violence as a “mistake” or an “accident”.
What is our responsibility, as a society in general, when we bear witness to the signs of domestic abuse?
When we begin to notice the behaviors that aren’t normal, some criticize and belittle the victim, “Leave him! Are you stupid? Why are you putting up with his shit? I would never let anyone do that to me. Get out.” And what does the victim do? She withdraws in embarrassment.
What happens in the lunchroom by the water cooler? The men don’t speak about it unless it ruins their Fantasy Football lineups. We women say the victim is weak, that she has low self-esteem, that she should go earn her own money, that she needs the status of the relationship to make herself feel better, that she should get a job and buy her own clothes, and pay her own bills. We say all these things with disgust and contempt, as if the victim is somehow, less than us – as if we ourselves would never submit to a relationship like that.
We feel that if the victim doesn’t take our advice, shame on her. We tried. Maybe we’ll try one more time, and then we don’t try anymore. We give up. We say, “Not our monkey, not our circus”.
But this isn’t what we should be doing.
We must lend a hand, give a warm embrace, show tenderness and compassion, provide a safe place for communication without judgment and do anything and everything that is within our power to support the victim. If we are overreaching with the best intentions, they will later see the value of what we did and be grateful.
What I’ve learned is that when we humilate the victim, she has three choices – to run, to hide or to swing at us. Never will she turn to us for help if she is ashamed of having stayed passed the first assault. So she lies and she begins to withdraw from social connections. She lies about the bruises, about the incessant telephone calls, about where she’s going, about why she’s choosing to not work anymore, about whether or not he’s taking his med’s. Men have serious issues with staying on their medications. If you’re in a relationship with a person who does not take care of their mental well-being, end the relationship. It’s as simple as that. Your part in their story is over. If he gets his shit together, let him go off and begin a new relationship with another person. Not you.
If you are in an unhealthy relationship, know these things to be true:
- You are worthy of love
- You are not alone
- You must have and set boundaries
- There is always a way out
- The shame is not on you, it is on him
- Focus on yourself and not on fixing him
- You are not responsible for him
- There is a better way
- The toxicity of the person you’re with affects your emotional well-being
- Obsession does not equal love
- Love does not fear – its easy to confuse love with fear, as both give you a queezy feeling in your stomach
- Loneliness does hurt, but being alone makes you available for someone amazing
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why you are holding on to this person?
- What do they fulfill in your ego?
- What are they giving you that is of value?
Steps you can take:
- On the first assault, walk away, shut the door, delete his number, block his emails, unfriend him on Facebook, unfollow him on Twitter & Instagram. It’s over. The end.
- If you feel you are knee deep, figure out how you can make yourself independent of what he provides.
- If you fear for your immediate well-being, stay calm, don’t provoke, speak softly, and control your reactions.
- When you can distance yourself, seek swift protection and shelter.
- There are people all around you who would be willing to help you get the professional attention you need. Simply ask for their help.
Each of us knows of someone who feels devalued. They need our support, our encouragement, our kindness and affection, and oftentimes, professional counseling. Don’t give up on their plight.
9/23 Edit to post
I’d like to take a moment and thank the many of you who have shared this article with your communities and I’d especially like to thank the many friends and colleagues who have contacted me these last few days to share their own personal stories of abuse, both suffered and witnessed that don’t end as tragically as Patty’s, but are endured every day. The two things that I keep hearing are that abuse starts with jealousy and that the victim is always afraid to get professional counseling for fear of being discovered.
Fear is not present in a healthy relationship.
If one fears their partner will stop loving them, codependency is a seperate concern.
Either way, the National Domestic Violence Website tells us below what an abusive relationship looks like. If you answer ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you or someone you know may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Don’t hesitate to call the hotline for assistance at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.thehotline.org/help/.
Does your partner ever….
- Embarrass you with put-downs?
- Control what you do, who you see or talk to or where you go?
- Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
- Push you, slap you, choke you or hit you?
- Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?
- Control the money in the relationship? Take your money or Social Security check, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
- Make all of the decisions?
- Tell you that you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away your children?
- Prevent you from working or attending school?
- Act like the abuse is no big deal, deny the abuse or tell you it’s your own fault?
- Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets?
- Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons?
- Attempt to force you to drop criminal charges?
- Threaten to commit suicide, or threaten to kill you?
For additional ways to spread awareness in your community, visit NoMore.org.