In my last blog, I discussed denial as the most common reason for accepting abuse. In this blog, I will talk about fear as another reason why a woman might stay in an abusive relationship.
Let’s start by looking at what fear does to the body. Fear activates our body’s alarm systems, just like denial. Unlike denial, which blocks us from experiencing the emotions, fear keeps us stuck in “fight or flight” mode. It allows us to live in a frightful state. As a result, we find ourselves trapped with no relief.
Fear robs us of the energy that we need to function. This lack of energy impacts all areas of our lives, such as taking care of our children or doing our job. The strength needed for these tasks is shifted to thoughts of how to stop the violence and be safe. We become preoccupied with seeking ways to protect ourselves and our children.
I remembered being preoccupied with what was happening at home. I spent many hours trying to make sense of my husband’s abusive behavior towards me and to find ways to escape it. His unpredictable moods kept me in a state of anxiety because I didn’t know when to expect an explosion of verbal threats and intimidation. As a result, I found myself physically and mentally exhausted both on the job and while caring for my three children at home.
Fear stops us from seeking help. We feel helpless and believe that we can’t break free. We fear we cannot change our lives, so we stay. This is where your abuser wants you! He wants you to be in a place where you are afraid to seek accountability for his actions and, consequently, where he can have control over you.
There are many types of fears experienced by the abused woman. A common fear is being blamed for the failure of the relationship. The role of the woman, according to society, is to make the relationship work. Because of this assigned role, we blame ourselves for not doing everything we can to create a happy family. This way of thinking is especially true for the religious woman who has a spiritual component that supports this belief. (I will discuss this aspect in future blogs).
Other types of fears are rejection from family, friends, the community, and, especially for those who are religious, their faith community.
For me, the fear of rejection from Xavier’s family kept me staying in the relationship. My mother died when I was nine years old. My mother-in-law had no daughters, and she treated me like her biological daughter. I was afraid that I would lose her and the relationships I had developed within his extended family.
I know of survivors who lost relationships within their own families. The abuser was successful in manipulating family members to believe his version of what was happening in the home. And when they finally parted, friendships that had formed during the marriage were sometimes sundered as a result of his manipulations.
Fear of rejection and judgment from the faith community is enormous, especially for the Christian woman. She fears that the church will condemn her for wanting to leave her husband. She fears that she will lose her membership in the church and the friends within it. I know of women who had to leave the church when they finally decided to end their abusive marriage. Others stayed because they were afraid to lose their church family. A Christian woman might even fear that she will be punished by God if she leaves the relationship.
For the woman with children, there is the fear that they will lose their father if she leaves, and so to become failures in life. Society has doomed children from abusive relationships to failure. According to statistics, children from abusive relationships also become abusers or victims, or have high potential to use drugs and alcohol. This prognostication reinforces the fear of failure and robs the woman of hope for her children.
I grieve the fact that my children will not have a father who is actively involved in their lives. I made every effort to smooth relations between my children and their father. Only when I realized that it was also his responsibility to nurture his relationship with them, was I able to grieve and let go.
Fear of losing her children keeps the woman in the relationship. Any normal woman cares about her children’s safety and wellbeing. This fear gives the abuser another means of control: he can threaten to harm the children if she leaves him. She might also fear losing custody because she is unable to physically and financially care for them.
Some women rely solely on their partners for financial support. Even those who have jobs and contribute to the household might not have any input into how the money is managed. With few financial resources, it can be difficult to leave the relationship.
But the most important fear is the fear for her life. According to research, seventy-five percent of women who are murdered are killed after they leave their partners. In many cases, her attempt to leave is followed by increased threats to stop her.
These are all legitimate fears. But when we let these fears control our lives, it hinders us from seeking change. It also obstructs our ability to see God working in our situation.
It was difficult to accept that I had allowed my fears to stop me from seeking help and taking responsibility for my situation. I had to admit that I made a choice to take no action due to fear. Then I had to go through the painful process of learning to overcome those fears and move forward.
To move forward, you must acknowledge that you made many decisions based on fear. You must evaluate your fears to determine if they are rational or irrational, real or unfounded. Overcoming fears will require identifying them and seeking help. The domestic violence center in your area is an excellent place to seek help. Find resources in your community to help with financial support, childcare, and other tangible fears.
You can check out my website, rosesaad.com/abuse-information/ for contact to resources for assistance.
Safety will always take priority. Please ask for help to develop a safety plan! Be cautious how you deal with your abuser, especially if you decide to leave. Know your abuser and his potential for harm. There are different types of abusers. Some are volatile, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. The potential for harm increases when the abuser has a violent history.
Even when there is no history of physical violence, trust your intuition. If you feel that he has the potential to hurt you, develop a safety plan. I disregarded my intuition as I struggled to answer the question, “How can I believe he loves me when I can’t trust him with my emotional and physical self?” Due to the fear of being belittled and degraded, along with the real possibility of physical harm, I couldn’t be honest with myself. I wish I knew then what I know now, that instilling fear to control others is never an act of love. (I will address love in my next blog.)
Most of my fears were unfounded. My fear of losing my new family did not pan out. I still have a great relationship with my ex-mother-in-law and the rest of her family. My worries about being unable to support myself or the children also weren’t borne out. I was very blessed to have physical and emotional support from my church family and my ex’s family. My college-educated children are pursuing their various professions, and have the incredible hearts to serve others.
As Christians, fear stops us from living the lives that God intended for us. As told in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God wants us to overcome our fears and will be there for us when we do.
As I stated earlier, examine your fears and seek help for the ones that are tangible. Remember that God is on your side as you seek help to overcome your fears. Hold on to his truths because they have the power to set you free.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Next blog: Understanding Abuse: Love