Unicorns & Rainbows: Why Abused Women Stay

During the last week, I’ve mentally toyed with the idea of writing about domestic abuse.  Because some of the stories and comments I read were such harsh triggers for me, I would craft a message, and then shut down.  I made a committment to myself to write about it later, when I felt like I could organize the story chronologically.  Maybe then, I’d be a little stronger, and it would be easier.  I can’t do it.  But I have a few things to say.

This was actually not triggered by the Janay Palmer & Ray Rice story,itself.  It came from how the media spoke about Janay (and others like her) and what people say when they have absolutely no experiences even remotely close to this.

The video was terrible, the story is sad.  But, to be truthful, it didn’t shock anyone who has lived with an abuser longer than the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship.  Part of me wants to tell you it was shocking.  It wasn’t, for me.  I really hope it was for you, but it wasn’t for a lot of women…or men.

Inevitably, right now, every online media outlet is publishing a story about an abuse survivor.  “Experts” are being brought in to uhelp people understand why she stayed, why she married him, why he did it and why she’s defending him.

Then, tonight, I scrolled through my Facebook news feed on my smartphone, and nearly lost my shit when I saw a comment made by someone I know.  He’s not a bad guy.  He’s actually terribly sweet.  The thing is…he has no fucking idea what he’s talking about.  He was saying some shit like the first time she was a victim and the second time she allowed herself to be and then went on a rant about how “these women” should leave.  After I wrote a message, I deleted it.  Then I wrote a comment under the same story and deleted it.  I realized that all of that bullshit would have been obnoxious, and had little chance of changing  anyone’s thoughts about “these women.”

“These women” are sitting right next to you at work.  They’re not all walking around with black eyes and sunglasses.  It’s possible you had a crush on one of “these women”, and you never thought in a million years she would have been beat up. “These women” aren’t all crazy or helpless or weak. “These women” are not all after someone’s paycheck, and I’m willing to bet that many would forgo even NFL money if they could just somehow be allowed to leave, with their children, without fallout, guilt, responsibility or fear.

Why do they stay?  For every woman, there is a different reason.  Sometimes 100 reasons.

“…if she considers herself a victim in this situation…”

Uhmmmm…What?!  Whether SHE considers herself a victim?  hmm.  This is an interesting statement.  Let’s think this through.  What this is, is a society that is afraid to call someone something they don’t want to be called or associated with.  We are now in a place where news anchors are actually afraid to call A woman who was punched out a “victim” unless she identifies with it?  So, follow me here for  a minute.  I’m walking through a department store with my bag over my shoulder.  Someone comes up from behind me, grabs my pocketbook and runs off.  This is all caught on camera.  NOBODY is going to refrain from calling me a victim, just incase I don’t identify with it.   Why the fuck are they so scared to do it in this case.  She was fucking knocked out.  She’s a fucking victim.  I don’t care what she calls herself.  Stop talking nonsense.


“She should just leave.”

No shit, huh?  You think?  That’s an incredibly intelligent solution.  Maye she should get on her unicorn and ride right out on a rainbow.  I’m sure that’s not what people really mean, but leaving is not so easy.  Unfortunately for us, there’s about 85 million other problems and things to consider with that solution.  You see, when you’re getting smacked around at home, there’s a very high likelihood that this is not the only fucked up thing you’re dealing with.  Alcoholism and drug addiction would be a good first guess.  It’s possible the place she has to go back to is actually worse than this.  And, when you’re having your ribs bruised at home, leaving takes a back seat to pretending everything is okay for everyone else.  Mental abuse, isolation, stalking, depression, fear shame and guilt are some other things we’re probably struggling with.  I can’t imagine the thought of having any of those moments video tapped and shared publically.  I was 17, far away from normal.  I didn’t even have  a car to get into.  As far as I was concerned this was a choice I made and I had to figure it out by myself.  There was no place to go and no way to get there.  I wish I had a unicorn.

“She was hitting him, too.”

This one is tricky.  I can see why you’d say that.  I’m going to respond to this one by sharing my own experience, because it’s the only one I know.  You see, when he first started hitting m, I was so shocked (or hurt, or stunned) that I couldn’t respond.  And, in the beginning it was never very violent, compared to how I grew up.  I was snatched up, maybe smacked, pushed or thrown.  These were usually quick, and before my mind could fully grasp what happened, he was immediately “fixing” it.  Usually he cried, apologized and in some twisted way made me “understand” why he did it.  I felt sorry for him.  I did call the police the first time I got hurt.  After getting thrown across a room and smacked, I can guarantee you that the last thing you’re ready to deal with is police lights on your street, officers in your house, and writing statements.  I felt like a loser for being involved.  Then, I felt bad for getting him in trouble.  Plus I was sore, cried out, and tired.  That would be the last time I called the police.  Fast forward three years…he’s a little more comfortable now, and I know it.  When the striking gets stronger, and I know what’s coming, I could respond in kind.  I’ve hit back, pushed, and thrown things.  Sometimes I cowered, if I thought it would be quick and quiet.  Other times I hit back, because I was afraid it wouldn’t be.  The longer it goes on, the worse it gets.  Just because she is hitting back doesn’t mean she wants, or provoked it.  She’s actually in survival mode.  Every day.  Even when she’s not being hit, she is tapping into whatever she has for coping skills, and she doesn’t even know it.

“She knows he hits her and she stays.  At this point she’s just asking for it.”

Oh, boy.  Dumb ass alert.  Actually, what we’re trying to do is keep the situation under control.  It sounds ridicuous..control someone who is out of control, I know.  But, there’s a need to try to limit the damage, not make him upset, sad, jealous or angry.  The last thing we want him to feel is threatened or jealous, and he’s likely very controlling.  If he thinks I’m planning to leave, or that I have someplace to go, it will likely get worse.  Keeping him happy becomes a priority.  No one asks for this.  In fact, I asked for something quite different.  It wasn’t a unicorn, or a rainbow.  If someone had sent me one, I probably wouldn’t have gotten on anyway.


My shit…It wasn’t always bad, we had a lot of great times.   I loved him like crazy.  When it was good it was good, when it was bad it was bad.  I could have told someone.  I could have asked for help.  I didn’t want to be a burden.  I lied about it.   I was ashamed.   I felt responsible.  I was embarrassed.  I was used to being hit by people who loved me.  I thought I provoked it.  I talked back a lot.  I didn’t think I deserved any better.  I believe he loved me.  I loved him a lot.  I was scared he would kill himself if I left.  On more than one occasion I left, and he attempted just that.  He was worthy of love, but needed help.  He did try counseling.  He tried not to drink, sometimes.  I stayed for five years.  Three days after I ended it for the last time, he died of a heart attack.  His family blamed me.  It’s been 16 years and I’m still not over it.

In my own opinion it’s ridiculous to try to use one couple’s story to understand the dynamics of all abusive relationships.  Every one of us has a background, upbringing and story that’s so unique.  These stories have so many knots they’re impossible to untangle. Don’t assume to know, or work too hard to uncover secrets.  Maybe a woman will share her story someday.  And, if she doesn’t, it’s her story to keep not yours to understand.  If you suspect someone you know is being abused at home, ask and listen.  Don’t judge.  Don’t judge even a little.  And, if she talks be prepared to be uncomfortable.  Help her be social, because her “normal” is  probably off a bit.  Remember that you can’t fix it for her.





8 thoughts on “Unicorns & Rainbows: Why Abused Women Stay

  1. It is tedious all the victim blaming, I doubt truly that your male acquaintance is truly all that nice given his reaction. He is simply attempting to mask the belief that she deserves it and he condones it in that case. How about why does someone beat someone who loves them and then drag them like they are a sack of rice without remorse? No one seems interested in that, no one seems brave enough to face the abuser and why he (yes in same cases a she) does what they do, or maybe they don’t face that because there are WAY more abusive men out there than the world wants to admit, men like your friends who cannot hide the fact that they think that at a certain point behavior like Mr. Rice’s is warranted and the fault of the victim. And you phrased it so well, we are trying to keep an out of control person and the mayhem they generate, “under control” – it is a losing battle. It wasn’t until I left that I realized I was the one being controlled. Good luck to you and I wish you happiness and some joy here and there.

    1. Thank you or taking the time to read, and to comment. I appreciate your point of view. I believe and I know that some of us are strong enough to face our abuser. Facing him (or her) looks different to each of us. And, why do some people hurt the ones they love? I’m sure there’s as many reasons as abusers in this case too.

      Some people believe that if he hits you he doesn’t love you. I don’t actually believe that. I believe that most abusers do love. I also believe they need help, though. He is probably hurting. I don’t excuse or condone this kind of behavior. I understand a tiny tiny small part of it though.

  2. Beautifully honest, emotional and stopped me in my tracks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, feelings and experience because I’m not sure anything, combined, is more powerful.

    This entire paragraph:
    My shit…It wasn’t always bad, we had a lot of great times. I loved him like crazy. When it was good it was good, when it was bad it was bad. I could have told someone. I could have asked for help. I didn’t want to be a burden. I lied about it. I was ashamed. I felt responsible. I was embarrassed. I was used to being hit by people who loved me. I thought I provoked it. I talked back a lot. I didn’t think I deserved any better. I believe he loved me. I loved him a lot. I was scared he would kill himself if I left. On more than one occasion I left, and he attempted just that. He was worthy of love, but needed help. He did try counseling. He tried not to drink, sometimes. I stayed for five years. Three days after I ended it for the last time, he died of a heart attack. His family blamed me. It’s been 16 years and I’m still not over it.

    It captures grief, loss, shame, love and confusion which doesn’t always fit in a headline but fits perfectly in a heart and in a life because it’s really what really happened in context and not just in the parts caught on camera or judged by others.

  3. Thank you Heidi. Sometimes, when I read writing that is this honest, I feel humbled to have been let into the writer’s sacred space. Women telling their truth, without shame, without apology, is an act of revolution, that makes me want to applaud. People who “think” they understand the “problem” will never trump people who have lived with, along side of, through the experiences. Keep writing. It’s gorgeous stuff.

  4. I read your words twice now. I feel so blessed to know you and so proud to be your friend. I didn’t know what to say the first time I read it and still don’t. I am a fixer and I want to solve everything. I know that these things are not solved; they’re shared – – with only an expectation of listening. You can find unconditional support and love
    in your friends. If you want to share; I want to listen. – much love.

    1. Awh Shucks (kicks dirt). Thank you. Nothing to fix, here. Like I said, it was not all bad. Besides…without the dirt there are no flowers, right?! I’m so grateful for your friendship too (and your red/virtual pen). I can’t wait to read YOUR book!

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