This article is reprinted from Challenges


A woman who has been abused over a long period of time is afraid. Not only is she afraid that she, herself, will be seriously hurt, but if she has children, she fears for their safety also. Her feelings of fear link her to all other women, from all classes of society, in similar situations. Fear might be a woman’s first and most immediate feeling during or after a beating, but other negative feelings may surface when she is not in physical danger. The abused woman is apt t develop doubts about herself. She might wonder if she is justified in fearing for her life and calling herself an “abused wife.” Most likely, however, a woman who thinks or feels she is being abused, probably is. Or, she may feel guilty, even though she’s done nothing wrong. An abused wife may feel responsible for her husband’s violence because in some way she may have provoked him. This has her placing the shame and blame on herself--instead of her abuser. The longer she puts up with the abuse and does nothing to avoid or prevent it, the less she likes herself. Along with the feeling of being a failure, both as a woman and in her marriage, may come a real feeling of being trapped and powerless, with no way out.

Why do women stay?
Women have learned that it may be their own feelings of fear, guilt, or shame that keep them in a relationship that is physically abusive. Often, social and economic pressures compel a woman to stay. Or she stays for lack of somewhere to go for shelter and advice or because she feels that she loves her husband and lives with the hope that he might change, if only she can “hang in there.” Tragically, in most cases, the abuse continues, for in fact her husband’s behavior has nothing to do with her actions.

The reasons for staying with him may seem as compelling. A woman may feel that a divorce is wrong and that she should keep her marriage together at all costs. Perhaps she feels her children need a father. She may be isolated with no outside job and few friends. The friends and relatives she does talk to may give her little support, perhaps because her situation frightens them and they don’t want to admit to themselves that such violence could occur. If she confides in a counselor, she may also be encouraged to “save the marriage.” And, along with her emotional dependence, she may worry about being able to find a job to support herself and her children. If she has her husband arrested, he may not be able to support her. If she doesn’t have him arrested, he may bat her even more severely for trying to leave him. Is there a way out? Most women suffer these attacks for years before they finally find the courage and determination to take steps to keep from being victims of further abuse.

What can a battered woman do?
The first step is to admit to herself that she is being abused and that she is not being treated fairly. She has the right to feel safe from physical harm, especially in her own home.

Long-range plans
A woman needs to talk to people who can help. Good friends can lend support and guidance. Organizations devoted to women’s concerns and not bound by society’s traditions can assist her. Emergency shelters for women, hotline, women’s organizations, social service agencies, community mental health centers, and hospital emergency rooms are all possible sources of support.

Above all, a woman has to determine her own best course of action. With the help of informal and formal help sources, including individual counseling for the husband as well as herself, a woman may be able to bring an end to the problem.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health.

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