‘I thought everything was my fault’
The Star Press/June 18, 2004
By Ric Routledge
That first-grader staring out the window at school might not be daydreaming. Instead, he might be thinking about what he saw at home last night – Daddy beating the hell out of Mommy.
Maybe he saw Mommy being taken away in an ambulance and Daddy in a squad car, which means he’s without both parents.
“This happens more often than people will ever, ever know,” said Alice, a former abuse victim in her 40s who lives in Blackford County and asked that her real name not be used. “They [victims] keep their mouths shut because they are scared, absolutely terrified. Or they have nowhere to go, or they think that no one will ever believe them.”
Just why some men, and even a few women, physically and verbally abuse their mates, supposedly their loved ones, is still being debated. But there is no argument that domestic violence is prevalent in our society.[h4]Low self-esteem
More than 3 million children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year, according statistics provided by womensissues.com, and the violence knows no boundaries.
“We as a society think people with more education and wealth would be immune from this,” said Bud Edwards, a counselor at Ball State University. “But there is no respect to class or race. We find the phenomenon across most demographics in this country.”
Why men beat up their wives, and why a woman would stay in such a situation is subject to speculation more than science.
“As best we understand it, some factors are similar,” Edwards said. “Men with a low self-esteem, and ill equipped to maintain an equal relationship, may have a need to have power in order to make themselves feel good.” They are often jealous and control freaks, he added.
“The need for control usually comes from how they get their self-esteem,” Edwards said, “They assure themselves they can maintain a relationship and have an air of superiority that they know what is best for their partner. And if her self-esteem is low enough, she may believe him.”
Women stay in abusive relationships, according to Edwards, also because of low self-esteem.
“She believes that she couldn’t make it on her own when, in reality, she probably could.”
Finances are another big reason why women stay, especially if children are involved. He might be the sole provider and she can’t see how she could possibly make it financially without him.
“They brainwash you,” said Alice, who still fears the man she divorced years ago. “They literally control you, they make constant threats. I ended up having a nervous breakdown and looking like the crazy person. I wasn’t but he had taken me to where I couldn’t go any further.
“It got so I’d rather he hit me than take the verbal abuse,” she said. “You can recover from the bruises but you don’t recover from the verbal abuse. God, I hate to think about what it’s done to the kids.”
Taking the blame
Alice said that for years she thought she was to blame for all of their problems.
“I thought everything was my fault,” she said. “If he had run over somebody while drunk I would’ve thought it was my fault because I should have tried harder. He always said everything was my fault, and I believed him.
“You think maybe it’s not real, or that he’s going to change, or that it’s going to get better the next day. I kept thinking that if I was a good wife he would be different.
“But it didn’t matter what I did, I know now, because it made him feel superior.”
For former victim Betty, domestic abuse is something she’s known since childhood.
“I heard my parents fight when I was a kid,” said Betty, who also asked that her real name not be used. “I thought she [Mom] had it coming because she was pretty hard to take. When I encountered it years later, I assumed that I had it coming. If I thought she deserved it, then I did, too.”
This happened to Betty during her four-year marriage to a Ph.D. while she was working on a master’s degree. That was 30 years ago and the Delaware County resident still hasn’t remarried.
“I don’t fit any of the stereotypes. That’s why I wanted to tell my story,” Betty said. “He was a heavy hitter in terms of intellect, very successful. I was 35 when I married him, not exactly a baby.”
Both women said they were fooled by their men when they were dating.
“In the beginning he was so nice,” Alice said. “He had me meet his mom and dad. I thought he was great. He was sweet and loving – and a monster.”
“He was the perfect gentleman when we were dating,” Betty said about her former husband. “Sophisticated, had a Shakespearean aura about him.”
Signals that someone might be an abuser often aren’t apparent at first, Ball State counselor Edwards agreed.
“It’s hard to see these things coming,” Edwards said. “It may be that some of these things aren’t in place yet, especially if you marry young, or if life circumstances change inside the abuser.”
But there are warning signs.
“Look for people who struggle with controlling their emotions, especially anger, and have a history of violence,” Edwards said.
“How does this person treat other women in his life? Sometimes it’s gender-specific, which is why other guys wouldn’t see it.”
Domestic violence has remained hidden for a long time, according to Edwards. “We still have a ways to go to academically address this less desirable piece of our culture.”
“It’s time people wake up,” Alice said. “Your daughter could be in a bad situation or your son could be doing it to someone.”