I have something to say to my lady blogger friends who write about domestic violence. Please tread more carefully with your words, and please don’t be so sure you know what you’re talking about. Unless you a) have been in an abusive relationship or b) are a professional who is trained to treat people in abusive relationships, you could be doing more harm than good.
The most recent debate that had my hair standing on end was the conversation that erupted around Dr. Drew Pinsky’s comments on Lance Bass’ new SiriusXM radio show.
“I don’t fault either person, I don’t say ‘oh (s)he’s a bad person,’” he said. “These are human experiences. These are very common experiences these days.”
The minute I saw the Dr. Drew video, I knew where bloggers would take it. And I was very saddened and outraged because Dr. Drew is right.
Pointing fingers is the fastest way to alienate and isolate both the abuser and the abused, totally shutting down any possibility for treatment, and causing them to more deeply entrench themselves in the distorted world in which they exist together. I know this because I was in an abusive relationship for three years and have spent the last two years trying to put my life back together.
I was 26 when my ex and I first met. We were so in love, we couldn’t get enough of each other; when we were separated, we couldn’t go five minutes without communication. Now, after years of therapy, I see how unhealthy our dynamic was from the get-go. But at the time I was sure it was the fated love-at-first-sight the movies had promised me.
The emotional abuse, insults and slow degradation of my self-esteem didn’t start until a few months in, and he didn’t actually hit me until about a year later.
The first time it happened, we’d come home from a night out, during which I’d made him jealous for talking to two (gay) men and ignoring him. I had just gotten into the shower when he opened the curtain while I was washing my hair and smacked me so hard in the head that I slammed against the wall.
Soon after, we were in the street and he started yanking me by the ponytail. Some poor guy walking by felt obligated to try to defuse the situation, and I (ironically)kept crying “I’m not Rihanna! I’m not Rihanna!” Another time he dragged me across my apartment by the hair, causing a neighbor to call the police in response to my screams.
Sometimes I would hit back, punch, kick—usually once he was done, he would let me retaliate to even the score. Occasionally I’d even kick him out. But in the end I always called him back; I always forgave him.
I could go on, but the blow-by-blow is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I know how it feels when someone you love is hurting you. I know how your friends’ concern can make you shut them out, and I know how their righteous indignation can back you into a corner, defending yourself, defending the man you love and defending the relationship that other people “just don’t understand.”
So, if the goal is to get a victim out of an abusive situation, and to stop an abuser from abusing anyone else, then blame is the antithesis of constructive treatment.
Painting the abuser’s behavior as black and white is painting his victim’s behavior as black and white. “She should hate him! How could she still love him?” you screech. But the bottom line is that she does still love him.
It is complicated, it is inexplicable and very often, the cycle of abuse is also a cycle of addiction. So just as it would do no good to ask a junkie, “Why don’t you just stop shooting up?” It does no good to ask an abuse victim, “Why don’t you just leave?”
I do not want to suggest that every domestic violence situation is like mine. But not every domestic violence situation is The Burning Bed scenario, either, with the angry, drunk husband throwing his timid, broken wife into a corner before beating her bloody with a belt. Not every woman stays because of an unjust patriarchy or because of money or children. A lot of perfectly empowered women stay because they love the man who is hurting them and they think that he loves them, too.
By turning every domestic violence situation into the Ike and Tina Turner story, you create a one-size-fits-all narrative that leaves many women struggling to define their abuse. Like the functioning alcoholic who looks at the homeless drunk on the street corner and says: “I’m not that bad, I must not be an alcoholic,” she will think, “I’m not trying to cover black eyes with makeup, or lying all the time about falling down. It must not be abuse.”
You may read this and think I have abused woman syndrome, and maybe I do. But that’s why when I was finally ready to seek help, I went to the people who I knew wouldn’t say, “I told you so.”
Please, stop pointing fingers. The issue here isn’t whether or not it is OK for a man to hit a woman. It is not. The issue is how do we help that woman get out as fast as possible. So next time the Rihanna/Chris Brown story bubbles up to the surface of the news cycle, and I’m sure it will, let’s focus more on how to help two people extricate themselves from an unhealthy situation, and leave the analysis to people like Dr. Drew who is clearly more concerned with solving a problem than with prosthelytizing about it.