When you are between a rock and a hard place

by Annie Kaszina on October 19, 2007

Have you ever told yourself – and quite possibly friends
and family also – that you know your abusive partner better than anyone else
does?

In some ways you would be right; you would know far more
about his quirks and habits and frailties than anyone else. And in some ways you would be wrong;  

because
the temptation is to assume that knowing as much about him as you do, somehow
means that he really feels and will ultimately behave the way you hope
he will. 

How does that work? Obviously it doesn’t. Yet we
have all been there at some point. You
launch into the abused woman’s anthem: “No, no, it’s not like that. You don’t understand. He wouldn’t…” and people look at you
open-mouthed in utter disbelief. But
you are convinced you know better. 

How do you know better? Therein lies a mystery, the potentially fatal mystery of denial.

This week an abused woman wrote about her partner: “I know
him better than anyone and I don’t believe he’d go that far.” In her case ‘that far’ meant murdering
her. He has a gun, he has threatened
her repeatedly and he has behaved violently towards her and people connected to
her. 

Viewed from the outside she is tragically misguided.
Unfortunately for her she has spent more time with him than anyone else has and
she chooses to disregard his threats and past behaviours, because of what she thinks
he won’t do. Why? Because she can’t bear to face the enormity
of the situation. 

It’s agonizing to have to face the fact that someone in
whom you have invested your whole life is hell bent on destroying you, in order
to get their own needs met. It’s
devastating to think that you couldn’t make yourself truly matter to them. 

Anyone who has lived with an abuser knows how hard it is
to face that ultimate ugly truth. It is
far easier to slip into the kind of misguided thinking that minimizes the
threat to your wellbeing, whether that threat to is physical and immediate or
emotional. The awfulness of the reality
is too difficult to acknowledge. Addressing it requires a degree of energy that may seem impossibly hard
to find.

It may seem easier to give up the struggle and put your
trust in – of all people – the abusive partner, or maybe just give up caring
whether you live or die. 

How tragic is that?

How tragic is it when you stop envisaging a worthwhile
future for yourself? When you feel you
will never be more than a beggar at the feast of life? When you are so drained that you feel almost
ready to consign your children also to emotional beggary? 

We’ve all been there.

It is the hardest time to do anything at all to change
your situation, the time when you feel absolutely crushed by life. A woman I know told me that she once spent a
whole day spreadeagled on the floor, too terrified by the thought of having to
manage without her partner even to lift her head. Whether or not we have actually done that, most of us who have
left an abusive relationship have certainly felt like it, and not just for one
day either.

Still it is the time when whatever tiny steps you can take
will bear the most fruit. 

Sadly, those tiny steps probably won’t produce instant
results. Wouldn’t it be great if you
only had to take one tiny step and guardian angels or banners of support would
appear right in front of your nose? But
you know that that is most unlikely to happen. 

The pace of recovery is way too slow at the start. Besides, you feel too weary to work through
the process; you just want to hurtle through the recovery tunnel, like some kind
of emotional time traveller, and arrive instantly at the other end. Healed. Whole. Of course it doesn’t
happen.

But let’s look for a moment at what does. You take the first few small steps towards
emotional healing and you feel like you are neck deep in molasses (UK treacle),
trying hopelessly to wade through it. You focus on the molasses (treacle) and the sheer difficulty of the
thing. That’s only human nature. 

You are not aware of the chain of change you set in
motion. Nor are you programmed to look
for tiny shifts and changes. Having
lived with misery and negativity of epic proportions, it’s hard to grasp how
focusing on micro-shifts will speed the arrival of massive results. Yet that is what happens.

As regards the woman who wrote to me, she is clearly
between a rock and a very hard place. There are no easy solutions for her. She barely has the strength to stay away from her violent partner. (Not that she will be much safer, over time,
if she goes back to him, than if she keeps away from him. Either way, the very real threat to her
safety, must be managed with great care.) But she has taken a few steps, one of which is contacting me. 

I cannot always do this, but on this occasion I am able to
offer her an hour of my time. Will this
magically solve her problems? Of course
not. What I am hoping – and believe –
it will do, is speed up the chain reaction that will result in her healing. What she does not yet see is that she has
almost nothing more to lose.

She has everything to gain.

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