This morning I read Prego and the Loon’s post, TOP 10 Reasons People Stay in and Abusive Relationship.
The first reason Prego lists is low self-esteem. The very first comment on her entry was that claiming low self-esteem is really just a form of victim blaming (gross paraphrasing here, please read the post and the comments for the whole picture). All in all, I was a little upset by this and I started commenting on the post. I decided to turn my comment into my own post because it was getting a little long and my emotions started running high…
I completely agree with Prego that low self-esteem is the number one reason why people stay in abusive relationships. And, I completely disagree that it is a form of victim blaming. I would say that the majority of the time (if not ALL the time), people know they are in an abusive relationship, and they know they should get out. But they don’t.
My own experience, which I blogged about here, was not an initial incident. Albeit, it was the first legitimate “rape” that took place. I knew before that moment that he was not good for me and that what he did to me was wrong. We weren’t married, we weren’t financially tied to each other, we had no kids together, I’m not even sure if I still loved him… but I didn’t think I could do any better than him. I stayed with him because it was better than being alone, and at least someone loved me, right? It’ all about self-esteem, if you ask me.
Does that mean I deserved what happened to me? Because I didn’t believe enough in myself and that I deserved someone better, was I asking to be treated that way? No. Because I made excuses for him and didn’t stand up for myself, is it my own fault that it happened again? No.
And even after that incident, I didn’t leave right away and it happened again. It becomes a cycle: self-esteem gets worse and it gets harder to make the decision to leave. I was in that relationship for 4 years and I didn’t really understand how awful it was until I was out. Throughout the relationship, I knew what was happening was wrong, but I always went back to that idea: I probably can’t do better than this anyway. Plus, I’ve already been violated and broken, so does it matter if it happens again? See, low self-esteem. Lower than ever.
I would even argue that my self-esteem got worse after it ended, before it started getting better… One day, I finally told my husband (we were either seriously dating, or engaged when I finally told him) about the abuse and even he looked at me differently for a while: He even told me that he can’t believe I “let that happen.” This comment was not in the context of victim blaming, but more in the context of, you are so strong and beautiful and I love you, and i can’t imagine you ever being in such a situation. I was so afraid and I thought he was going to leave me because I told him.
The abusive relationship ended 7 years ago, and there is a reason that I’ve never told anyone else about it until now… on this blog… where no one knows me. It’s because of self-esteem. What would people think of me if I told them that I “let myself” stay in an abusive relationship?
Me, a med student, a mother of two beautiful boys, with a loving, *non-abusive* husband, and that “perfect life” that most people think I have… Well, guess what, I was stupid enough to let a man rape me, in my own house, and I didn’t stop it. And, to make it even worse, I let it happen again, and again, and again. I’m sure my image would change fast… And it’s all because of low self-esteem. Low self-worth. So I keep it to myself. And, every time I hear someone claim “victim blaming,” I am thankful I keep it to myself. I was a victim, yes. And no, I didn’t put a stop to it. I regret it almost every day, but only because you remind me that maybe I should… even though I *know* I shouldn’t.
In this situation, A+B DOES NOT =C. And it’s ironic, I know, that the whole reason we talk about victim blaming is because we want to stop it from happening. But the reality is, even mentioning the term causes it to happen. Stop talking about victim blaming. We blame ourselves enough for it, every day. If we’ve managed to get far enough away from it to know, to really know, that it’s not our fault, we don’t need some “victim blaming” advocates to remind us that there are still people pointing fingers at us.
Take the victim out of it. Abuse is wrong. Physical abuse is wrong, Emotional abuse is wrong. Sexual abuse is wrong. Child abuse is wrong. That’s all you have to say.