We've all come across it. Either someone we love has been taken in the grip of it, or perhaps we have been there ourselves. And while every situation is unique, one question is always uttered time and time again, by those nearest to us, or indeed by the voice in our head "How can such a smart woman be so stupid?"
This is not another article telling you that no man ever has a right to lay a hand on a woman. That no woman (or indeed person) should ever stay involved with someone who mentally, physically and / or emotionally abuses them and makes them feel worthless and afraid. And it is not another article telling those friends and family helplessly looking on how they should be supportive and allow a safe harbour for when the abused loved one finally sees the light.
No. This is the Uncommon Sense. Where I will tell it straight. Political correctness be damned, the cycle of dysfunction and damage stops here.
Let's say that your loved one is addicted to heroin. Or any drug. Or alcohol. Or gambling. Do you wait for that person to recognise that their depression, anxiety, self medication, self-destruction and addictive disease is out of hand? Or, do you hold an intervention? Do you present them with a mirror to the life they are running so desperately to hide from, and cut off the oxygen to their downward spiral? Tough love. Because sometimes we all need someone to step in front of us and say "Enough now."
So why, when the addiction presents itself as a woman addicted to a toxic relationship, do we stand by and wait? Why do we watch our beautiful sister, daughter, colleague, friend shrivel and die bit by bit before our eyes? Why do we not step in, stand in front of her and say "Enough. Enough now."
Because we as a whole do not understand it. We are baffled by how our intelligent, capable, beautiful, charismatic friend can not see the damage she is inflicting on herself. Yes, herself. It is undeniably abuse when the man in her life exerts any form of control over her from coercion, to guilt tactics, to manipulation, to abuse (both verbal and physical). But the bigger abuse here is the fact - she is choosing this. Every time she is physically bruised at his hand, and stays, - she is as much to blame for the situation. Every time she cancels plans because he's found a way to ruin something he knew she would enjoy, and she stays - she is equally to blame. And every time we as her friend see this, and make the decision of "well, I've said my piece but it's her life, what more can I do?" - we too are to blame.
So why do we do it? Because we don't understand the dynamics of what is going on.
So why does she do it? Because - the Uncommon Sense fact is - she is getting something from it.
Why does he do it? Well we could list a multitude of personality disorders here from Narcissistic Personality Disorders, Bipolar... but whats the point? Bottom line is that someone is either able to function in society or they are not. Let's leave the diagnosis to the hopefully eventual professionals that may treat them. And let's just agree that abusive people have one aim - control. Their insecurity will never allow them to accept they have this loving woman, so they will tell themselves everything from "she can't be trusted", to "she is a fool" and will then set out to prove this (to themselves predominantly, but if they can convince others all the better). Any way they can exert power over her, will make them feel temporarily sated, because for that brief moment, she isn't a better (read: stronger) person than him, and by bringing her down, he feels momentarily taller. Then, he loses respect for her, which again elevates him to a higher position.
So why does she do it? Because she deserves it. She is not worth better treatment than this. He has seen the real her, the one under all that effort of her day to day life trying to cover up the fact that really she is not a great person. But he sees it. And in some strange way, it's a relief. Because she can try and defend herself to prove that she isn't as rotten as he'd have her believe. Because it makes for a refreshing change to hear that dialogue externally, versus what her inner voice is always berating her for.
She also does it because she sees through his aggression to the broken man behind it. The insecure man terrified of losing her. The damaged soul struggling desperately to experience love that eludes him. And she wants to prove to him that she won't abandon him. She's different. He can trust her. She won't hurt him.
She will make him better.
It is important to understand this. In the same way we need to understand we can't just tell the alcoholic "well, just stop drinking", we can't tell the abused woman "you deserve better, leave him". Because he is not the only sick one in this relationship. Oh we can clearly see that he needs to get help. That he is a violent and controlling person. That he most likely has a multitude of impulse control issues from alcohol, drugs, gambling, women. His sickness is easy to see. Her's, is deeper. And silent. But equally needs help.
The co-dependency she has on him is not due to finances, children, family, mutual friends or all those things you assume she is talking about when she presents you with a list of reasons why she can't just walk away from him. It is due to a combination of the responsibility she feels for his illness, combined with the fear of relinquishing the minuscule ground she feels she has made with him, the shared shame of their relationship (for every abuse you know of, there will be dozens hidden), and most importantly - she has kept such a tenuous grip on simply surviving him - that she has no resources left for starting over again. She is emotionally spent. And she doesn't know that she can let him go, to self destruct, to move on to someone else, to continue on without her and have her not matter. Because while all his actions look to you as though he doesn't love her, in her eyes the paranoia, the jealousy, the passionate arguments are all proof to her of how strongly he feels for her.
She needs to understand that his best chance of ever healing is to lose her. To hit rock bottom. And that his heartfelt apologies are mere words unless his apology is followed by him telling her that he loves her too much to allow her to stay with him until he gets the help he needs. Anything short of that is just more manipulation, and the cycle continues.
So let me present you with two Uncommon Sense facts.
1) verbal abuse and control WILL ALWAYS ESCALATE.
2) your friend is powerless to exit a toxic relationship without intervention.
So, the choice is your's. You can wait until the intervention is applied for on her behalf by the police when he finally escalates too far. And you can be the friend who visits her in hospital, sits by her side throughout traumatic court hearings, or worse, gives her eulogy.
Or you can be the friend that turns up with a van, packs up her things, helps her change her number, books her in for therapy, and says "Enough now." And be someone who shows her the respect and effort she deserves, instead of mumbling about what she doesn't.