What You Should Know About Victim Shaming

Mallory Musante :: What You Should Know About Victim Shaming

Talking about abuse is uncomfortable. Uncomfortable for the person sharing their experience and uncomfortable for the person listening. And when it comes to emotional or psychological abuse it often is even harder to comprehend because there aren't any physical scars. But that doesn't mean they aren't there. 

When I shared my 8 signs you maybe be in an emotionally abusive relationship post, my main concern was people not believing me and just brushing it off. Luckily that wasn't the case and I was shown an outpouring of love and support but I did engage in a few discussions with people that surprised me. Mainly on the topics of 1. what they would do if they knew someone in an abusive relationship and 2. why wouldn't someone just leave?

This last question is particularly offensive, whether you mean it to be or not, because you're putting the blame of the victim. You think you're asking a common sense question but a victim hears their abuser's voice in their head saying, No one will love you like I do. It's your fault. If you leave me, you'll be alone forever. And so on. You are unintentionally shaming them for not leaving... whether you say this directly to them or to someone else. You are discrediting their experience and the complexity of such a systematic process of abuse, most likely without even knowing you are doing it. 

So I want to clear something up, a person's self-esteem, confidence, socio-economic status, age, weight, or anything else doesn't prevent them from falling into an abusive relationship. Abuse doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter who you are. Doesn't matter what you do for a living. Or what you look like. None of that matters. 

Abusers are manipulative. They very rarely show their true colors right away. It's not like you go on a first date and they treat you like garbage. Because they know if they did, you would most likely kick them to the curb immediately. It's a systematic process of making someone fall in love with them while simultaneously distorting their reality and sense of self so only then does the person feel trapped and unsure of what to do. All so the abuser can control them.

Many abusers deploy what is called love bombing in the beginning of the relationship. This is an excessive display of attention and affection in an attempt to influence/control you. These displays of affection can be anything from gifts to really nice dates. Seemingly normal things you wouldn't necessarily suspect as given with ill-intent. You solely think to yourself, Wow! This person is amazing! You're not thinking another human being is trying to manipulate you by showering you with affection. You just think they're interested in you. And as you can imagine, you easily fall in love with someone like this. That's when you're hooked... and they know you're hooked. 

Abuse goes a little something like this: 

  1. Seduce, charm, and study. 

  2. Alternate kind and cruel. 

  3. Mock, abuse, and discredit. 

  4. Devalue. 

  5. Repeat.

They then alternate between being credible kind and critical (or even outright cruel). It can be as simple as telling you that you're too sensitive or crazy during a disagreement. Mix that with being kind and this severely distorts your perception of your relationship. The good outweighs the bad. It was just a bad day or a disagreement, right? He/She is not always like that. This is where the more severe abuse starts to creep in. Isolation, controlling behavior, withholding affection and more. This entire process is meant to chip away at your confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. 

I know this because this is exactly what happened to me. Prior to my relationship, I was a very happy, confident young woman. I had absolutely no problem standing up for myself or for others if needed. Fast forward to when I met a charming young man. He took me on amazing dates. Trips to NYC. Bought me expensive gifts. It was a dream... Until it wasn't. 

If you're in love at this very moment (or if you've ever been in love), just think to yourself, what if this person starting doing little things here and there? Started putting me down ever so subtly? Started to want all your time and attention? Would you be able to identify if it was abuse? If it didn’t feel right, would you just up and leave them? Probably not because you’re in love with this person. You don’t want to just give up as the “first sign of trouble.” You can work things out.

I know what you're saying, they're not like that. And you're right. But your feelings towards that person is how someone feels towards their abuser before the abuse starts. It's a slow and gradual process. They get you to fall head over heels and then slowly start to chip away at your self-worth. It can start with a comment as small as you're going to wear that? You brush it off, likely annoyed but it's not a deal breaker. These things keep happening until you are in so far over your head that you don't know which way is up. 

I get that not everyone will look at this from an objective point-of-view. There will always be people that ask, Why didn't you just leave? But my hope is to shed some light on the fact that this is a systematic, slow, subtle process that anyone can fall victim too. 

If you suspect you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, first check some of the warning signs and please call 1-800-621-4673 or feel free to reach out to me if you need help.