abuse of women has grown to near epidemic levels. Some professionals think this may be because women are finally reporting the abuse that has always been. Abuse can start out as actions as seemingly harmless as name-calling or pushing, but over time may turn into something far more dangerous. There are many emotional dynamics at play in an abusive relationship. These emotions propel the abused toward staying in a relationship that she knows is unhealthy. In her heart, however, the abused feels it almost impossible to break free. Over time she forgets about her wants and needs, and learns only to react to the abuser's feelings and emotions. Her very survival may depend on how well she reacts to the demands of her abuser. Abused women often learn at a very early age how to feel normal and adjust to an abusive environment. They stay with their abuser because it is what they have always known, and their self-esteem has been torn down by years of abuse. If one does leave an abusive relationship, she often leaves not out of love and nurturing of herself, but out of care and concern for another - such as a child.
What are the emotional dynamics involved in an abusive relationship?
A woman involved in an abusive relationship often grew up being abused. Therefore, she has learned how to cope with the abuse - even seeing the abuse as almost "normal" or an "acceptable" part of everyday life. In Anna Quindlen's book Black and Blue, the main character, Frannie Flynn Benedetto, states, "There are ways and ways of dying, and some of them leave you walking around. I'd learned that from watching my father, and my husband, too" (Quindlen, p. 13). Frannie Flynn Benedetto makes a comparison between the behavior of her father and her abusive husband. One may infer by her statement that while growing up with her father, she learned how to live and get along in an abusive family situation.
In an abusive situation, there is an acute awareness of the abuser's feelings and demands. Fran Benedetto, also states, "It was funny, after a while: I could tell you what Bobby liked and didn't like, what might set him off and how much. But I couldn't have told you as much about myself. I was mostly reaction to Bobby's actions, at least by the end" (Quindlen, p. 12). An abuser is often extremely critical of his spouse. This does even greater damage to the woman's self-esteem, making her feel less capable of severing the relationship. This was the case with Fran Benedetto. She states in the novel,
It had taken me a while, that morning, to decide what to wear, but I was accustomed to being concerned with my own clothes, even though I didn't care about them much...Although it was always hard to tell exactly what would offend until the moment when he put his head to one side and looked me up and down until my pale skin flushed. "Jesus Christ," he'd say in that voice. "You wearing that?" And I would feel like a whore, me, plain Frannie Benedetto... who had never been with a man other than her husband...wear a blouse whose fabric suggested the faintest hint of slip strap, and all of a sudden she was a slut...if I wore a skirt and didn't wear a full slip, the way Bobby's mother always had, there was no telling what Bobby might do (Quindlen, p. 12).
Why do women love and stay with their abuser?
There are many reasons why woman stay with their abuser. The common thread that seems to run in most of their accounts, however, is that there was a time - however brief - of happiness and contentment. Perhaps the spouse did not abuse at all, or the abuse was relatively mild compared to what she is experiencing now. As mentioned previously, many abused women have grown up in an abusive environment. The abused woman grows up, meets a man, and falls in love. The attraction may be especially strong because she feels like she is finally out of the grip of abuse. She finally feels loved and thinks it is just what she has been seeking. However, the man who an abused woman often meets and falls in love with, is an abuser himself. After an initial period of feeling madly in love, the man's true colors begin to show through. He begins to abuse her, but by then she loves him too much to let go.
Paula Spencer had just that kind of initial attraction to her husband, Charlo. The attraction was so strong, as if something she had never felt before. It seems that both Paula Spencer and Frannie Flynn both felt as if they had found the "missing puzzle piece" to their life - so to speak. Paula Spencer says, " I swooned the first time I saw Charlo. I actually did. I didn't faint or fall on the floor but my legs went rubbery on me and I giggled. I suddenly knew that I had lungs because they were empty and collapsing" (Doyle, p. 14).
Frannie Flynn Benedetto states it this way,
That was a good day, that day. We played miniature golf at a course owned by a retired narcotics guy in Westchester, had dinner at that Italian place in Pelham, made out in the car at a rest stop on the Saw Mill River Parkway...The first time we had sex...It didn't hurt, I didn't bleed. I loved it. I loved how helpless it made him, big bad tanned muscled Bobby Benedetto, his mouth open, the whites of his eyes showing. It made me want to sit on his lap the rest of my life. He talked about getting a tattoo on his shoulder, a rose and the word Frances" (Quindlen, p. 15).
In Roddy Doyle's The Women Who Walked into Doors, the abused woman, Paula Spencer, paints a completely different picture of the relationship that she had with her husband, Charlo after that initial "honeymoon" period. It appears that after that initial encounter with Charlo, when he sweeps her off her feet, that the quality of the relationship deteriorated quickly. "There were no good times," Paula says. "I can never settle into a nice memory, lie back and smile. They're all polluted, all ruined. Nothing to look back at that isn't painful or sick" (Doyle, p. 55). Both women share the painful experiences of abuse, fear, neglect, and turmoil, but it seems that Paula Spencer, unlike Frannie Benedetto, has not much of anything to look back on and remember the good times. Paula Spencer's life was also riddled with poverty and despair in other areas of her life, other than with her husband Charlo. She says, "The killings are the culmination of a life of horror that includes beatings, poverty and drink" (Doyle, p. 102). Both women share the fact that their relationships with their husbands, at least in the very beginning, were wonderful. They both felt loved in a way they had never been before.
The woman sometimes stays with an abusive husband because he has convinced her that it is her fault. She feels that if she could just be good enough, or smart enough, or dress just right, or act just a certain way that things would be like they used to be, and that they would be happy again. In Black and Blue, the main character lends credence to this idea when the author states,
Sometimes Bobby even made me believe that I was guilty of something, that I was sleeping with every doctor at the hospital, that I made him slip and bang his bad knee. That I made him beat me up, that it was me who made the fist, angled the foot, brought down a hand hard. Hard (Quindlen, p. 17).
Another reason that women stay is that after suffering years of abuse from the husband or significant other, they are afraid of what might happen if they leave. Will he come and find them, and will the abuse then be even worse? Would he even lash out in anger and kill them? The character in Blue and Black was afraid of just that. In a conversation with a worker who helps to save battered women, Frannie Benedetto says, "What will happen if you leave and then your husband finds you? Patty Bancroft had said. He'll kill me" (Quindlen, p. 19).
Perhaps the fact that women deny the abuse, or discount the abuse as not really that bad, helps them to keep up the front of normalcy. Paula Spencer states, "What did I do in the '80s? I walked into doors" (Doyle, p. 81). "Walked into a door" is Paula's explanation for the black eyes and bloody noses, and other more devastating forms of abuse. Similarly, Frannie Benedetto makes excuses and tells her son that she had an "accident" and fell down. The two characters cannot…