Q: My ex-boyfriend was put in jail because he missed his court date regarding criminal charges he was facing for domestic violence. My family thinks this is a win for me because he has caused me such grief and heartache but I can’t help feeling so much guilt that he is in there. I know I didn’t force him to beat me or to miss his court case but, I just can’t help feeling sad for him. He tried to kill me but still, I feel sorry for him. –AV
Listen, tough love time. I think you need to re-read your letter to me, specifically the last sentence: “He tried to kill me.” (In journalism, we call this “burying the lead.”) This man didn’t just get angry one night and throw his dinner plate dramatically into a wall—though that type of temper is more than enough reason to kick him to the curb—he tried to end your life. He tried to murder you. It might help to say that aloud—my boyfriend wanted me to die.
Trauma-related guilt is a very real thing that survivors can experience. Trauma-related guilt is also a liar. It will tell you that you played some part in his abuse and just as you somehow caused it, you could have somehow stopped it. Let me make this very clear: THIS IS NOT TRUE.
How do I know it’s not true? Because at one point or another, most survivors have asked their partner who is abusing them to stop abusing them. And you know what? The abuser doesn’t stop. In fact, in many cases, the abuser escalates the abuse from control to intimidation to threats of violence to violence outright to, in some cases, homicide. Now, if survivors truly had some measure of control to stop it, wouldn’t the abuser have listened to their request?
Except abusers don’t. Abusers choose to abuse. No outside influence forces them to abuse. Drugs and alcohol don’t make them abuse. Previous trauma doesn’t force their hand to strike you. It’s an abuser’s choice each and every time.
This could make sense logically and still your heart can ache and tell you that you feel bad for this person. Maybe your brain is only reminding you of the good times the two of you had—and wouldn’t it be nice to get back to that?
Here’s something to keep in mind: those feelings may be the direct result of manipulation from your partner. According to Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, abusers have been known to turn on the charm after abusive and violent incidents in order to confuse their victims.
Abusive partners purposely spin a complicated web of cruelty and violence interspersed with loving acts. This manipulative pattern entraps their partners who think that if they can only ‘do better,’ they will be treated lovingly once again.”
Even locked up, your ex-boyfriend might be manipulating you into thinking this was somehow your fault. If only you hadn’t made him so mad. If only you hadn’t told someone, he could be “getting better” now. Your relationship could have a chance.
These kinds of accusations are a type of coercive control. According to Fontes, the side effects of this type of psychological control are a plummeting of self-esteem in the survivor, an increase in anxiety over keeping the abuser happy and a hefty dose of self-blame when abuse occurs. This may be where your feelings of guilt and sadness are coming from, and why it’s hard for your family to understand.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is anything that sets off upsetting memories and fear. Hearing a sudden loud noise, sad music, or smelling certain smells can all bring back strong feelings. Just about anything can be a trigger, but you can learn to actively avoid and fight triggers.
You can get a safety by changing who, what and where.
WHO – DETACH FROM UNSAFE PEOPLE. MOVE TOWARD SAFE, POSITIVE PEOPLE. CALL A SAFE FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER. TALK ABOUT HOW YOU’RE FEELING OR JUST STICK TO LIGHT TOPICS, IF THAT IS MORE HELPFUL.
WHAT – SWITCH TO SAFE ACTIVITIES. TRY READING, TV, CALMING MUSIC, A WALK – ANYTHING THAT FOCUSES YOUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE TRIGGER.
WHERE – LEAVE THE ROOM, GO OUTSIDE FOR A MOMENT. CREATE A SAFETY ZONE FOR YOURSELF.
If you are reading this, chances are life has not been easy for you lately. Or maybe for quite a while.
You may be staying in a shelter right now or you may be getting help from a domestic violence advocate in a community program.
This blog is not meant to be a substitute for domestic violence, mental health, or substance use services.
It is meant to be used along with those important ways of getting help. You can use it to track your progress, practice ways to calm yourself, and remind yourself to take care of the basics as you move forward and heal.
It is the hope of Your Safe Haven, Inc. that you find practical assistance, inspiration, hope, and healing from the resources.
Please feel free to reproduce and share any of these materials.
January 2020 marks the sixteenth annual National Stalking Awareness Month, an annual call to action to recognize and respond to the serious crime of stalking.
This annual event has been recognized since January 2010 to bring attention to the epidemic of human trafficking in this county. Join us on January 16, 2020 for our Podcast – Human Trafficking Modern Day Slavery!