In the wake of the “Me Too” movement, I have received a lot more calls from people who have been subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse. It’s heartbreaking to know how common these experiences are, but I am inspired by the courage and strength of everyone coming forward.
A question that frequently comes up is, “Why did I stay?” That abandonment of oneself can be hardest thing to reckon with. Below are the most common reasons. As you’ll see, they actually make sense.
No one stays so they can receive more abuse. You stay because you love this person and when they aren’t being abusive, there is a genuine connection there. In fact, after an abusive incident, the abuser’s parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and they are flooded with feel good hormones. They may be extra loving and make all kinds of promises about the future.
Which brings me to incredulousness. You just can’t believe that the person you love would do this. Maybe you can from a family in which abuse happened and swore it would never happen to you. Or maybe you have no experience of people acting this way and this is a complete surprise. In either case, abuse doesn’t fit with your world-view. So you try to explain it in a way that makes sense.. “They were having a bad day.” “They’ve been under so much stress.” “They’ve had such a hard week/year/life.”
Unfortunately, over time you may internalize the negative messages from your partner. This is what keeps people stuck. You start to think that you deserve to be treated the way you do. Or that if you just ________ maybe you could prevent the next incident. You start to wonder if maybe this is just how life is and it wouldn’t be better anywhere else. Even when you have a chance to save yourself, you don’t see it, or can’t act on it. You’ve learned to feel powerless.
You can debate the merits of forgiving the abuser, but the person you absolutely must forgive is yourself.