During my high school, I had to witness my best friend’s wrist got yanked by her boyfriend and her shin kicked. Some time after that, I got to witness not only the red mark around her wrist, but also old, purple bruises on her thigh.
In my senior year, I spent half an hour hugging and soothing my friend who cried as she re-told the story of her ex-boyfriend, who choked her, slapped her, clawed at her thigh. I thought about how her body was a battleship, but I didn’t say that aloud.
Even after university, I had to listen to stories about a friend, whose boyfriend slapped her and tightly gripped on her wrist, dragging her home because she went somewhere without his consent.
To all these cases, I repeat the same question
“Why did you stay?”
All three of them eventually broke up with their respective boyfriends. But they endured for a long, long time before eventually taking the courage to escape.
What took you so long?
Why couldn’t you just leave?
Most of the times, they couldn’t answer, but one of them once replied, “I think during that time, I love him so much.”
There was a time when I scoffed at the notion of love. Especially when it comes to its infamous ability to numb one’s capability in thinking logically. I come in a bad term with this emotion, almost despising it even.
Then, came a story from a single mother who raised her only daughter alone. For 5 years she endured abuse and violence from her husband. Got hit, slapped, kicked, all with bare hands and legs and bricks and sticks. 15 years ago, she decided to step out of the malicious cycle of getting beaten and forgiving.
The same question lingered in my head. I never dared to ask my mother why she stayed during those 5 years. However, in her endurance and in her tough line of mouth, we both know she stayed because of me.
Because she had a daughter who needed a father.
Until she decided that her daughter needed a good father.
As time goes by and I think about this, I realize that it’s not love to be blamed from the very first place. It’s not what makes them stay. My friends mistake dependence and fear with love. And people, a lot of times, do not understand how pathetically powerful these two are when combined.
There are a lot of factors causing dependence, and oftentimes it differs between persons. For a single mother with almost no record of education, she depends on the living her husband makes for her and her children. For a high-schooler who experiences new love, she depends on the absence of loneliness and the pseudo-happiness she gets when she has her boyfriend waiting for her at the school gate. For my friend, she confessed she depended on the fact that her boyfriend was always there for her.
Even when he was there to hit her.
The bad news is, most of the time you can’t let go of something, it’s because you depend on them. It has become a part of your life that there will be an empty puzzle slot when it’s gone. You become so accustomed to someone’s presence that their absence is unimaginable.
Think about being lost in a desert and some magical power allows you to have a daily supply of water under one condition. You have to pluck a strand of your hair for each gulp of water. Will you do it? Possibly. Or else you’ll die due to dehydration. It’s just a strand anyway. Until one day you realize, you have no more hair to pluck.
That’s how you depend on something that you let go a part of yourself. Now, you might want to argue me, that the matter of the water is a matter of life or death. Relationship is not.
Is it always not, really?
People’s forms of dependence differ. Dependence on water in a desert is unavoidable, because it is natural and physical. The way humans depend on oxygen to breathe and food to keep living. However, say, if a person is deserted with their loved one. Tell me how many people will be willing to give their supply of water to keep the other person alive.
The problem is this: some realize they’re slowly killing themselves, but in an abusive relationship, the majority can’t tell.
A journal “The Myths of Relationship Abuse” by Michael E. Cavanagh mentioned that only in a survey of Henton’s high school students, 4.4% of the abused victim related the word “violence” with “hate”. The rest of them agreed that “violence” meant either “confusion” or worse, “love”. This shows that the victims compromise the violence because they think “they love me, they’re just confused and overreact due to anger.”
Now, as if dependence alone is not bad enough, there is another factor (these two are not the sole factors, I’m just writing about the general factors that are felt by majority). Fear is powerful, and more often than not, this keeps the victims of violence keep their mouth shut, keeping the bruises and the scars hidden even from their closest ones.
It’s not a complicated science anymore that in a lot of ways, fear controls people. How many people do things they are forced to do out of fear? How many people stay out of fear?
When I was a child, around middle school, I was so scared of going out. Even if it was to a shopping mall not more than 1 km from my home, it scared me to death to go there. It took me several years to understand that the actual fear is the threat my father used to give me if I went farther than the alley of my neighborhood. My father no longer lived with me since I was 5, but the fear remained.
CIA once wrote an “ Exploitation Training Manual” that stated that the threat of pain infliction triggered fear more effectively than the actual pain. This proves why psychological fear works better in attacking someone rather than physical one. Think about how investigation involves a lot of intimidation to inflict fear. To get them talking.
Abusive relationship has a similar concept. The psychological fear, of the possibility that their partners will beat them again, of the thought about anger inflicted in their eyes and how their teeth grit in madness, makes them stay. Because fighting back or telling people and asking for help do not stop things permanently, but instead, will possibly worsen the violence. This threat is the greatest source of the fear.
I’m not going to talk about why abusers do what they do. There are tons of factors. Maybe they too, were victims of abuse. Maybe we are just bound to live in a society where domineering partners exist and some people just can’t help but abusing the power they have in their hands. However, despite of whatever the reasons are, I need people to understand it’s always their faults and never the victims’. Never because of the victims’ poor choice of partners, never because they’re too stupidly in love that they stay. A lot of times, they don’t have a choice. They might do, and indeed they do. However, the dependence and fear they are tangled in force them to see only one way out: that there is no way out.
What can we do next? Get help. Either you’re the victim and you’re a friend of a victim. Get help. It takes one hell of a courage, yes. However, it is one meaningful step and do not stop there. It’ll be painful, yes. Probably more painful. However, do not stop. Do realize that you have choices and even though they might look impossible, they are not.
Here are several contacts that are concerned with domestic violence in Indonesia:
National Teen Dating Abuse 24 Hour Helpline & Loveisrespect.org Call 1–866–331–9474/tty: 1–866–331–8453 (24/7)
Live Chat with Loveisrespect.org (7 days/week, 5:00 PM to 3:00 AM EST)
National Domestic Violence Hotline Call 1–800–799–7233 (24/7) Email the National Domestic Violence Hotline (24/7)
RAINN: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Call 1–800–656–4673 (24/7) Live Chat with RAINN (24/7)