You’ve probably seen an incident of domestic abuse involving two public figures featured heavily in the news this week. I’m not going to name either of them, or comment on them directly – that’s already been done well enough (and badly) elsewhere, and her silence indicates she doesn’t want it dissected everywhere in public. What I’m interested in is the wider issue, and the perennial question that gets asked of anyone (invariably female) in this situation: “Why put up with it?”
This blog post answers that question brilliantly from an (American) hospital worker’s perspective. I’m going to answer it from the only perspective I can: as an ordinary woman. Ordinary in the sense of not legally or medically qualified, and not an expert at anything much other than writing and learning hard lessons. I have interviewed a couple of domestic abuse survivors for work, but the abuse was mainly an aside to the wider problem (a condition I share with them) that affected their self-esteem and made them vulnerable, so we didn’t talk about it in detail.
So, “Why put up with it?” It seems easy enough for me to pose the question, as someone who has had it ingrained in me from a young age – through the media, family and peers – that the moment someone lays one finger on you, or even starts to frighten you, you get the eff away from them as fast as you can go: No analysis, no excuses, no anything. But then, I think about it a bit more and I start to understand. I’ve – thankfully – never experienced an abusive, aggressive relationship. What I have experienced, from near enough everyone I’ve been at all involved with, is passive-aggression at levels which have made outsiders’ jaws clang open in disbelief: Evasiveness. Excuses. Lies. Being ‘managed’ at a distance using silence, or electronic communication. I’ve known all ends of arseclownery, from record-breakingly long games of post-sex hide and seek, to a friend years ago refusing to read anything I wrote ever again after I said things on a blog that discomfited him (despite my repeated apology and assurance it wouldn’t happen again), to suddenly disappearing months into a relationship with no inkling, announcement, or explanation whatsoever, worrying me to the point I nearly rang the police (Tip: Not a lovely thing to do to someone who’s had a friend take their own life less than two years previously…)
I put up with it all. Put up with it in the sense it took me far too long to realise the pattern where there was one, that I didn’t express my displeasure enough, and that I haven’t blocked either of the worst offenders from contacting me (one is effectively off the radar but only by dent of the fact he stopped using all social media and deleted his account eighteen months or so ago; he still has my current mobile number). The other day I asked one of my nearest and dearest whether I should block The Disappearer, who still follows my professional Twitter account, and received the reaction I could paraphrase as: “WHAAAAT, ARE YOU KIDDING??!!! BLOCK. HIS. ARSE. RIGHT. NOW. Why the blinking frig haven’t you already??!!” The truth is, I can’t bring myself to do it. I want to. I want to block him into the middle of next week. But I can’t.
Throughout life, the reasons I (and probably you) haven’t flushed someone who should long have been flushed boil down to these: Not wanting to be immature (to a man who didn’t show up for a planned meeting, then later said “If I’d known you were upset about that I wouldn’t have come…”) or aggressive (to someone who has stopped all communication with me and never told me why). Because of feeling that there had to be an explanation: that they must be traumatised, or ill, and that the person I liked or loved at the start was still in there underneath (“Why would an emotionally intelligent-seeming man think it’s OK to treat people this way?” I once asked a friend, after a particularly below-the-belt episode. “I think ‘seeming’ is the operative word here,” came the blunt reply). Because I believe in redemption. And because, yes, a tiny part of me thinks I’m fortunate to be liked, even by those who’ve made me five parts miserable to one part happy.
We tend of think of domestic abuse as a unique category rather than the extreme end of a continuum of unreasonableness everyone sits somewhere on. Some abusers control with fists and shouting, others with distance and silence. Some are more cowards than abusers. The first nowhere near equates to the other two in terms of effect on your heath and wellbeing, or the fear and coercion involved, but the classic reasons we let it go on happening do. So the most succinct answer to: “Why put up with it?” in domestic abuse cases is, for magnified versions of the same reason anyone puts up with anyone treating them like shit: believing in them too much and ourselves too little.
If you’re affected by domestic abuse, please phone the Refuge helpline on 0808 2000 247. Broken Rainbow (0300 999 5428) offers specific support for LGBT people. For help in supporting a friend or relative, please download this guide.