[This post is excerpted from Lundy's new book The Joyous Recovery: A New Path to Emotional Healing and Freedom forthcoming in January 2019.]
KEY CONCEPT #1: ENTRAPMENT
One of the defining characteristics of abuse is that you can’t easily get away from it. If you could, you would.
The entrapment element is always present. Intimate partners are trapped by threats, by isolation, by lack of access to money, by not wanting to get separated from their children, by brainwashing, and by a long list of other factors. For example, when a woman has children with a man who is abusing her, leaving him means that she faces giving up a lot of her time with her kids, because the abuser will seek visitation or even primary custody.
My central message to the abused woman: Reflect on the factors that are trapping you. Don’t blame yourself for being trapped. You can find a way out, but it will take some time. The better you understand what’s holding you there, the better the chance of figuring out your path to freedom.
My central message to the support person: Women don’t get stuck in abuse because of masochism. They get stuck because the abuser — along with the society that backs that abuser up — has trapped them in a bunch of different ways, not least of which is the huge trauma he has caused. Offering her simple solutions won’t help, because there are no simple solutions. You become much more helpful when you grasp how complex it all is.
KEY CONCEPT # 2: ABUSERS TELL YOU IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT
An abuser won’t necessarily blame you for every single incident – he may even act very apologetic sometimes — but nonetheless he is determined overall to drum it into you that you’re the real cause of how he acts.
The result is that virtually every abused woman comes to feel that she is at fault. She feels that she pushed the abuser’s buttons, or that she caused him to turn mean, or that it’s her fault because she didn’t leave. All of these messages are the voice of the abuser speaking through her mind.
In reality, nothing an abused woman can do will make the abuser treat her any better. Abusive behavior comes entirely from factors that are internal to the abuser, and not at all from anything about the personality, behavior, or responses of the targeted person.
My central message to the abused person: You are doing nothing – zero – to cause the way you’re being treated. The abuser is 100% responsible for his own behavior. None of what he does is your fault, and you can’t make his behavior change by changing yours.
My central message to the support person: Blaming an abused woman for the abuser’s behavior, or for the fact that she hasn’t left, never helps. The way out comes from supporting and empowering the target of the abuse, not by blaming or criticizing her.
KEY CONCEPT #3: YES, IT IS THAT BAD
I very often hear targets of abuse saying, “I’m probably making too big a deal about this,” or, “I’m sure I’m blowing this all out of proportion, it’s not really so bad.” This is, again, the voice of the abuser speaking through her; the abuser loves to brainwash the woman to believe that she’s hysterical, that she overreacts, and that she’s unstable. Don’t buy it.
My central message to the abused person: Take your feelings seriously. When someone tells you that you’re overreacting to how they’re treating you, that in itself is a bad sign about them. Trust your own instincts.
My central message to the support person: Keep validating the person’s feelings. Keep pointing out her strengths and accomplishments. Support targets of abuse to believe in themselves.
KEY CONCEPT #4: ISOLATION IS AN ENEMY, CONNECTION IS A FRIEND
Abuse thrives where people feel alone. And abusers work hard to keep their targets isolated.
Don’t keep telling yourself, “I can handle this, I can handle this.” That message may help you be strong sometimes, but right now it’s not working; in fact, it’s keeping you vulnerable to the abuser. It’s okay to need help. In fact, it’s profoundly human to give and receive assistance.
Find someone to whom you can tell the truth about what’s happening. Take the leap to trust someone. Build your social connection in whatever way you can. It may take creativity and courage to break out of isolation, but it’s the most important step you can take to change your future.
My central message to the abused person: You don’t have to be alone and it isn’t good for you. Don’t listen to the abuser when he blames you for why you feel so alone. Keep finding ways to reach out to people and never give up.
My central message to the support person: Connect, connect, connect. Be there, be there, be there. Helping the abused woman overcome isolation is the most valuable contribution you can make. Work to govern your own frustration and impatience because those will keep you from being fully connected to her.
KEY CONCEPT #5: YOU WILL FIND YOUR WAY OUT
The abuser works hard to convince you that you’re incompetent, selfish, and messed up, and that no one cares about you. And at times what he’s saying may even start to seem true, as if he’s turning you into the bad things he says you are. Try to see through these lies and toxic dynamics; there is nothing wrong with you. You will find a way to an abuse-free life, and to heal from the harm that he’s done.
The great majority of women living with abuse get out eventually. It can feel like you’ll be there forever, but you won’t.
My central message to the abused person: You are smart, capable, and sane. You will get free, and be surrounded once again by people who love you, believe in you, and are kind to you.
My central message to the support person: Keep reflecting back to the abused person all of the positive qualities you see in her. Keep believing that she will get free.