I’ve lived through domestic abuse. I’ve spoken about it, written about it and supported others through their own struggles to rebuild their lives. There’s no excuse for abuse of any kind, but blanket demonising doesn’t help us to break the cycle. Here’s why I believe we need to see both sides.

ISTILL remember the scene. I’d forced my way into the smallest bedroom in the house, where I found my significant other crying like a baby, white knuckles gripping a loaded shotgun that was wedged beneath his chin.

This was the guy I’d been in a relationship with for some time. Our pairing was far from ideal. We settled too quickly and we were, arguably, too young.

To this day, I’m still convinced he didn’t understand the effect his behaviour was having on me, and I’m still sure he didn’t deliberately set out to hurt me either. I don’t believe his actions were premeditated, or that he saw his behaviour as abusive.

It was never clear cut. My abuser never hit me (though sometimes I used to pray he would, if only because that would have given me a clear reason to exit), and I’m pretty sure that some of the bedroom activities I found most damaging, those that left me silently sobbing and bleeding, were the result of some bizarre ideas he’d developed through consuming far too much dodgy porn.

The physical elements, for me, were far outweighed by the emotional abuse — the gaslighting.

The constant stream of digs about my appearance that chipped away at my confidence and sense of self.

Some of the bizarre (sometimes sexual) behaviours he displayed around my family members that resulted in me feeling hugely embarrassed and ‘less than’.

His lack of care for my feelings and emotional neglect (because expecting sex several times a day really doesn’t count — especially when I ended up feeling in fear about ‘that’ time of the month).

Regularly choosing to go out with his friends when there was rarely time for me.

Controlling my finances, leaving me with very little, while he enjoyed the high life.

On rare occasions we went out with a group of friends, insulting and bullying me in secret, giving me silent treatment, then presenting me with outlandish, impossible challenges as the ‘only way’ to win back his favour.

Threatening my work colleagues, just because they happened to be male and, in his mind, on his ‘turf’.

Imposing a strict curfew if I dared to go to a work gathering after hours.

The affairs — and the threats of affairs. I was never entirely sure which ones actually happened and which were being used as some fantastical stick to beat me with — perhaps some twisted plan to persuade me into more of his fantasy scenarios that would have, no doubt, left me feeling smaller and less attractive than I already did.

Gradually, I lost more and more of ‘me’, and became more and more withdrawn and depressed. Those of you who’ve followed my story up to now will know that I more than flirted with suicidal thoughts and, ultimately, ended up writing off my car and breaking my back, before finally escaping and rebuilding my life.

Crying like a baby

But that’s just the wallpaper in this story. It’s not what I want you to be focusing on today. It’s important, as balance for this article, but I want you to cast your mind back to the opening paragraph: “I still remember the scene. I’d forced my way into the smallest bedroom in the house, where I found my significant other crying like a baby, white knuckles gripping a loaded shotgun that was wedged beneath his chin.”

That day, my partner had been to visit his parents. His mother, knowing of his infidelities — or, at least, of his plans to cheat, this time with someone far younger than him — had given him a piece of her mind. Someone he’d trusted with all the excitement of his latest fling had reported back, and the woman who’d given birth to him was not too happy about his behaviour.

Though I’m sure she meant well, the result was not pretty. He came home, took one of his guns and, effectively, began to lose the plot. He was sobbing and rambling uncontrollably. His mother had convinced him that his actions would drive me to leave him or, at least, push me into affairs of my own.

I still don’t know how I found the strength and wherewithal to talk him down enough to get his finger away from that trigger, or how I managed to wrestle the shotgun away from his hands

I still don’t know how I found the strength and wherewithal to talk him down enough to get his finger away from that trigger, or how I managed to wrestle the shotgun away from his hands — especially in my own depleted emotional state — but that I did. I’m guessing adrenaline had a big part to play.

Fine line

There’s a really fine line to play here and, potentially, a dangerous one. So much so that I almost didn’t write this article. I’ve been thinking long and hard about sharing this for a number of years but today, for whatever reason, it felt like the right time.

Why dangerous? Because so many people (it isn’t only women who end up in abusive relationships) stay put out of a sense of duty, a sense of guilt, a sense of feeling sorry for their poor, misunderstood, ‘broken’ loved one.

In fact, I’m betting some of you reading this will be wondering whether the whole gun scene was engineered by my abuser purely to exert more control over my mind and emotions.

In all honesty, I cannot 100% tell you that wasn’t the case — it happened a very long time ago and I wasn’t entirely firing on all cylinders emotionally back then. Too much of my identity had been stripped away and, in that moment, I would have been far too much in fight or flight mode to stop and think rationally, outside of getting the 12-bore away from him.

And that’s why I feel I’m walking a bit of a tightrope even talking about this.

I want to be absolutely clear here: I am in NO WAY encouraging people to stay in abusive relationships out of a sense of guilt or obligation. In fact, I’m not encouraging anyone to stay in any kind of abusive scenario, full stop.

We, as a society, are far too quick to demonise those we deem abusers, without stopping to think about why their behaviours are such in the first place.

What I AM saying is that we, as a society, are far too quick to demonise those we deem abusers, without stopping to think about why their behaviours are such in the first place.

Emotional control

I know I stayed for too long. I know I allowed myself to be swayed not only by his emotional control, but by the opinions of others; my abuser was brilliant at being seen as a beautiful saint by those who never bore witness to the truth. Guess what, dear readers? Only two people ever knew the truth of that relationship — he and I.

There were never any bruises, so what proof did I have? I didn’t speak up about what was happening except for occasional hints, and they were usually laughed off as a lovers’ tiff, or one of those (thankfully) old-thinking stereotypical scenarios where the lady must have been calling ‘headache’ far too often. After all, this wonderful gent couldn’t possibly have been behaving in any way that might be untoward, could he?

I didn’t speak out because I didn’t know how. Gaslighting wasn’t a term in popular usage back then and I had no benchmarks.

I didn’t speak out because I didn’t know how. Gaslighting wasn’t a term in popular usage back then and I had no benchmarks.

Lost little boy

Besides, in calmer moments, or on those occasions where he allowed his emotions to show, I immediately saw a lost little boy needing support and flipped into ‘mother mode’.

I believed his outbursts and the behaviours I found distasteful (and painful) were, on some level, a result of his childhood. Maybe he’d witnessed things a child should never have seen or, perhaps, it was because he’d been told over and over that he was a ‘mistake’.

Maybe, on some level, these behaviours were all deployed to make him feel more like a man, more in control. He needed me. Nobody else would understand. I couldn’t leave.

Looking back, I can understand that I was creating excuses for him and coming up with all kinds of reasons to justify his behaviour. I’m sure many of us have done the same and kept ourselves in the danger zone for longer than necessary.

Some of us end up in a loop too, bouncing from abusive relationship to abusive relationship — I can see how that happens when our self-esteem has been systematically pushed through the floor.

I can also say, hand on heart, that I have no regrets and carry no ill feelings. I’ve done lots of work on myself and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I can also say, hand on heart, that I have no regrets and carry no ill feelings. I’ve done lots of work on myself and I wouldn’t change a thing. Those experiences have gone towards forming the person I’ve become, and I’ve been able to take those life lessons and use them to help and support others.

Back to the point…

So what’s the point here? What am I getting at?

Well, it’s all so easy for us to all leap onto the great ‘sistahood’ band wagon and join our energy in demonising every abuser in the land but, surely, that isn’t solving the problem, is it?

As much as we call for perpetrators to be locked up or worse, we need to remember that there’ll be something creating that behaviour in the first place.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we cover them in kisses and tell them to carry on abusing with our blessing, but I AM calling for us to recognise that people are rarely born abusers.

That old cycle of the abused becoming the abusers has some weight to it. I’m not a psychiatrist or doctor, so I’m not going to start citing medical conditions, but I do think we need to be careful in our own outlook and behaviours.

If we truly want to break the cycle of abuse, we need to be far more aware of what causes people to become abusers in the first place.

If we truly want to break the cycle of abuse, we need to be far more aware of what causes people to become abusers in the first place. I know some incredible work is already happening in that arena but, as someone who has been through my own experience of domestic abuse, I want to remind us all that there really are two sides to every coin.

Breaking free

We need to continue our work to help people break free from abusive relationships, to give them the support they need to not only get to a safe house and rebuild, but to rediscover their sense of self, their self worth, their confidence, their place as a valued member of society.

AND we need to have some element of compassion for those who end up perpetrating the abuse. Instead of painting a picture of cruel, iron-fisted, cloven-hooved bastards, we need to remember that they are people too and that maybe, just maybe, the actions they display are the result of a deep wounding and emotional unravelling of their own.

There may not be happy endings and roses around the door. I’m not suggesting that those who’ve been abused should throw open their arms and welcome back their abuser if they only get a bit of counselling. That’s not it at all.

There may not be happy endings and roses around the door. I’m not suggesting that those who’ve been abused should throw open their arms and welcome back their abuser if they only get a bit of counselling. That’s not it at all. Go. Be free. Get far away from that life experience that broke you and never look back. Learn to be YOU again and flourish.

I’m talking to the rest of us…

I’m not talking to the people who’ve been through the mill. I’m talking to the rest of us.

I’m talking about those of us who shake our fists and vent our spleen and see every perpetrator of abuse as the devil incarnate.

I’m reminding us all that sometimes, the best way to break a cycle is not to demonise, but to have compassion, understanding and HOPE.

Maybe that way, there’ll be more chance of all parties being able to move on to a happier, healthier, more balanced future.

Until next time,

#UnleashYourAwesome,

Taz

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Taz Thornton is the author of Awesome Sauce — a free, weekly positive life and business round-up, with good news stories, positivity tips and visibility hacks for your brand. In a few minutes each week, you get a dose of optimism and some awesome advice to get seen and stay happy.

Taz is also a best-selling author, inspirational business speaker and consultant on confidence, personal brand and visibility, award-winning coach (UK’s Best Female Coach 2018 — Best Business Woman Awards), consultant and creator of the #UnleashYourAwesome and #BrandMastery personal and business development programmes, as well as #UNLEASHED — an affordable confidence, content and cashflow building programme for coaches, healers and therapists.

She has been featured on BBC, ITV, in HuffPost, Diva and countless other newspapers, magazines and podcasts. Taz is also a regular columnist for the America Out Loud talkshow network.

Find her on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Insta.