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Forget Me Not: A Letter to the Family and Friends of Victims
You are the people that represent stability in a victim’s life, or at least you should. You are their parents, their siblings, their extended family, and their friends. Perhaps you are the friend or family of the abuser. Or, maybe you are the neighbor next door, across the hall, or down the street. You are the bi-stander that will witness the changes taking place in the individual you love. You are the acquaintance who works in the same office. You are someone to a person who has no one at home. This letter is for you.
Today something happened to me that reminded me how important it is that someone writes to “you.” Today I was scolded for not telling a family member what was happening in my marriage. I was told that I should have told them before, with implication that I owed them that. You see, I broke my silence and now everyone is learning the truth of my life. A truth they were unaware of for years.
This experience sparked in me the idea to write to those who may not understand, and those who do not want to understand. I speak for myself, but I guess I speak for the silent too. The silent still live in fear, share custody, or are still with their abusers. The silent cannot speak for themselves.
The victims of abuse rarely share their secrets. They may lie, rearrange their lives, cover up, and make excuses, but they will not tell you what is really happening in their world. There are very profound reasons for this that you may not be able to understand. I protected my husband because I didn’t want his reputation ruined. I had no plans to leave him, so I didn’t want my family to think poorly of him. I was going to change and fix everything. You see, I was the problem. He told me as much almost every, single day. I didn’t want my family and friends to know what a failure I was, so I just worked to make it all better.
Victims also live in fear. When I did tell someone that I fought with my husband, or simply that we had a disagreement on something, I paid for that. I was not permitted to discuss our family issues outside the home. They were no one’s business. I was expected to smile when in the company of others and never let on that anything bad was going on. If I messed up, he messed me up. He reacted with emotional abuse or battery, depending on how upset my actions made him. Fear is an amazing motivator to remain silent.
Oh, and I loved him. He was my husband. Don’t forget the strength that holds on one’s willingness to speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true.
There are a myriad of reasons that victims are silent, but my experience has taught me that fear—of physical attacks, of death, of financial insecurities, of losing children—and shame are somewhere near the top of that list.
This may sound harsh, but “you” need to hear it, and so does the victim. A victim does not owe anyone an explanation. No one. They did not do anything to deserve this life. They did not ask to be in this situation. They are not leaving because they feel that they cannot. And “you” may or may not understand where they are coming from.
It is difficult to understand why victims to what they do, or what they are going through, if you have not been in that situation. I can look back on my life and still struggle to explain why I didn’t leave sooner, why I let him do those things to me, and why I allowed him to torment me. It all has to do with where the victim is mentally at that time in their life.
I was not in a good place. My world was seen through lenses that he had painted for me. He had skewed my thinking so much that I didn’t trust my own thoughts and instincts. I was very broken. And it took years to get to a place where I can talk about it. It took seven years, a lot of therapy, a lot of support, and a lot of love to get to where I am right now. My own parents, who have supported me 100% throughout this process, are still learning things about my experiences through my writing.
A victim will not come to you because they owe you something. A victim will not come to you until they are ready to leave, and even then it will be a select few people whom they confide in. Don’t take it personally. Don’t press them for details. Don’t expect to learn everything about them overnight.
Instead, support them, listen when they want to talk, do not reprimand them, and do not worry if you do not understand. Tell them as much. Perhaps you say, “I know I cannot relate to what you went through, but I will help you in any way I can.” Be a shoulder to cry on and the stability they need at that time.
Know that they may return to their abuser. Know that they may yell at you. Know that they may seem certifiably insane. But, be a rock and know that it is not because of you. It has nothing to do with you. You are safe, or they would not be talking to you or yelling at you. Read up on what domestic violence looks like. Educate yourself on the signs and risks. You are their stability and they need you more than ever.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this topic or are looking for information on how to help someone you love who is a victim of domestic violence. I am here to help.