Domestic Violence: Why Did I Stay?

Sep 30th, 2012 | By | Category: All Posts, Guest Blog

by Patty Hite

Everything I did was for my husband.  Any ideas or suggestions on my part would end in Bill physically or emotionally abusing me.  I always felt my life depended on making a perfect meal.  When he didn’t like it, he would knock me out of my chair and force me to eat “that crap” off the floor. There was never a choice in how I wanted to style my hair. My choice gave him the excuse to take the scissors to my hair and cut it the way he wanted. Choosing my own eye shadow was disastrous. Bill rubbed it all over my face and forced me to wear it out in public.

I was never allowed to go to the doctor by myself (he had to be able to give false reasons for my bruises and scars) and especially when I was pregnant. While the doctor was giving me a pelvic exam, Bill would watch my face and make sure I wasn’t enjoying it.

When I finally got the nerve to leave my abusive ex-husband, one of the many questions I kept asking myself was, “Why did I submit to so much abuse?”  I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t walk away from it the first time he slapped me across the face, dragged me by my hair to the bedroom and raped me.  Why didn’t I call the police and why didn’t I run away?  Why did I take it, day after day, year after year?

Dr. Heyward Ewart author of “Am I Bad?” explained it so well for me:

“All people cross the line from childhood to adulthood with a secondhand opinion of who they are. Without any questioning, we take as truth whatever our parents and other influentials have said about us during our childhood, whether these messages are communicated verbally, physically, or silently.”

As I started to re-visit my childhood and my past, I was able to take a long, hard look at the child I used to be—the little girl who still lives inside of me.  I began to know what she thought, what she saw, what she heard. By seeing those things, I was able to understand her decisions to submit to abuse rather than stand against it.

When I was a child, I learned the rule, “Speak when spoken to.”  In other words, shut up unless you have broken a bone or are bleeding to death. My parents entertained friends and relatives all the time. There were always adults in our house. When the adults were gathered around the kitchen table, I was sent outside to play.  They were always talking about adult stuff so I was not allowed to hear such things. The rule was,  “Stay outside until we call for you. Don’t talk to us unless we talk to you.”

Interrupting the adults with, “So-and-so called me a bad name” was not allowed and I was told, “Stop acting like a baby”. “I fell off my bicycle and scratched my knee” would only receive a glance at the scrape and told, “Stop crying over such a small cut and tough it out.” I got a harsh stare from my dad and warned I’d better have a good reason for coming into the house. I never really knew what a “good reason” was and what would “allow” me the right to speak, so I submitted to the rule and remained the good little girl.

When my uncle started to molest me, when I went inside the house to use the restroom, I didn’t speak. The fear of being told that I wasn’t important enough to break the rule and the fear of rejection and not being believed, spoke louder than the abuse. I found a secluded spot outside, crawled into a ball and cried while I waited to be told I could come back into the house.

Another rule I learned was “Obey your mother and father.”  I knew that meant, “Do what I say or else”.  The “or else” meant beatings with a belt, a slap against the head or the most horrid of all, finding your own stick off the tree to be hit with.  I didn’t endure much physical punishment, but my brothers did. I saw the whippings because they were done in front of all of us, and I heard their stifled cries of pain because they were told, “You’d better not cry or I will give you something to cry about.”  Looking up at an adult with a weapon in his hand was a scary sight. I chose to be the good child and to obey my parents.

When I saw my dad molesting my sister, I obeyed him. He told me not to tell my mother so I did what he said. This was so traumatic for me that I dissociated it for twenty years. I always thought I hid within myself because I saw what he did, but it was being told to “obey” and the fear of not obeying that caused me to protect myself with dissociation.

I was also taught, “Respect your elders.”  But what happens when an adult doesn’t respect a child? My first day of kindergarten, the teacher was calling out our names and we were told to raise our hand and say, “Here!” The teacher called out the name Patricia.  I didn’t know my name was Patricia because I was always called Patty Jane.  She moved closer to my desk and kept calling out “Patricia” and I could tell she was getting louder and more irritated.  She stopped at my desk, grabbed my ear and pulled me out of my seat, demanding to know why I didn’t respond.  I was terrified, in shock and crying, explaining that my name is Patty Jane.  She slapped me in the face and told me to respect my elders and warned me that the next time she said my name, I’d better answer or else.

I was sent home with a note pinned on my dress.  I don’t know what the note said, but I remember trying to explain myself to my dad. I told him how my teacher pulled my ear, yanked me out of the chair and smacked me. He looked at my face, told me there were no marks, and that I needed to respect my elders and stop embarrassing my family. I got a smack to my butt and told to go outside and play.

As I grew older, there were many adults in my life who harmed me and molested me.  I was afraid to tell my parents. I was afraid to tell anyone.  I didn’t want to embarrass them. Would I be told again that I deserved the abuse and there was no excuse for not obeying my elders? I felt my pain would not be validated and I would be sent “outside” again.

By the time I was physically abused by my first husband, I’d already spent my entire childhood being a “good girl” following the rules of not resisting and not complaining.  I never knew how much pain I was suppose to endure because none of my pain was important enough for anyone to pay attention to.  What was the limit?

Bill’s rejection was just as painful as the fear of being rejected by my parents. The fear of embarrassing him in front of others, like family, friends or even the police, was a rule I had to obey.  Making him look bad in front of others meant I would be spanked, invalidated and abandoned.

Children learn from birth to cry and scream when they are hungry or in pain or fear. Healthy parents stop the crying by taking care of their child’s needs. I learned how to stop crying through fear and submission. My pain didn’t matter and I didn’t have a voice.

Teaching a child rules to live by should be for the child’s good, not just to make the child less of a hassle. The rules I learned taught me to be a submissive person—an adult with no personal boundaries, no limits to what people could do to me.  I was in fear of being rejected and not able to protect myself because I was an adult still thinking like the child I was.

I am not a piece of property.  I am a human being with feelings, emotions and thoughts. I feel pain and rejection and abandonment.  But, I didn’t believe this until after I started to see the reason I believed these lies.  I am no longer the submissive child/adult I used to be. Now I know I’m a valuable person, worthy of a life free of abuse. I’m able to recognize the false beliefs and lies from my childhood, live in the truth of who I was meant to be.

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Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to participate in the discussion. If you would like to protect your privacy, you don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.

Related Posts:
Domestic Violence: The Signs I Missed
Power Trip: How To Journey From Overpowered to Empowered
Standing Up For Myself: Re-claiming My Self-Worth
Perpetuating the Abusive Cycle

As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to have found the meaning of true love, a respectful relationship, and support with her late husband, Lonnie. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.

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15 comments
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  1. Patty,
    People have asked me why I stayed in my abusive marriage so long and it’s so hard to help people understand that abuse was my “normal”. I didn’t think of it as anything to resist since I’d been treated that way all my life.

    This is such an excellent example of how the belief system is formed and how lies are reinforced again and again. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    Hugs,
    Christina

  2. Your comment about interrupting the adults was a trigger….which at this stage of my life is a good thing. There is so much wrong and has been all of my life. At the age of 58 I am just starting to put the pieces of my life back together. Correctly this time. Not the warped way my mother done. I have always known that my mother was toxic and I have been in and out of therapy for this reason. My mother never allowed me to have a say no matter what the situation. I was always to be prim and proper and never, ever under any circumstances make her look like a bad mother. The part about the scraped knee…when I would go to my mother with a bump or a skinned knee what I got was derision and a snide “oh there she goes again. Having to be the center of attention.” And then promptly dismissed. Even my dad couldn’t take her and he left when I was 11. When I was 12 my mother’s new boyfriend molested me. I am just now remembering all of this. Needless to say it has been hidden in a dark corner of my mind and has seeped it’s poison into my system. I have PTSD, Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder . I also have several autoimmune diseases. This web site and the facebook page have been a life line to me at a time I don’t know which way to go. I feel like I am caught in a riptide and I keep swimming further out while I know I am supposed to go sideways. Thank you for sharing your story and for all the brave souls who are also able to open up and share. This is my first time telling any one about this (with the exception of my therapist and husband) but I feel I have to share this with some one who understands.

  3. Christina,
    Thank you. And yes, it was the “normal” for me, yet I’m so glad that I didn’t want to remain “normal” and searched myself in finding out the truth about the lies and false beliefs. It just goes to show that we are never too old and don’t have to be “‘set in our ways.” Change is a good thing and one that was a life saver for me.

    Patty

  4. Pamela,

    Thank you for sharing and I’m so sorry for all that you have been thru. I am so happy that you are discovering the truth about your childhood and how it has impacted your life. The examples you shared shows how much you were discounted. The sad thing is, that I used to feel guilty for needing attention and affection, so I never asked for it, nor thought I deserved it.

    This made it so hard when I was trying to overcome my past. This was my greatest struggle. I understood where the lies came from. I understood why I submitted to abuse as an adult, now I had to make myself believe that it was ok to spend time on my healing and it was ok for me to want attention, and it was ok for me to deserve affection.

    I’m so glad that OSA has helped you Pamela, and I look forward to hearing more from you. You deserve freedom from those false beliefs and you deserve to live a happy and joyful life. Patty

  5. I’m sorry to say that I got sooo off track when writing last night. I just re-read my comment and realized there was not much there about the topic of domestic violence. I meant to put it in there but again…off I went in a different direction! I too have been married to an abusive man. Not nearly to the point you endured. Mine was mostly emotional. But, it was ingrained in me by my mother as a child that emotional abuse was acceptable because I was not worth any thing good. So, I accepted that from my husband as well. The sad thing about that is that I was engaged to a wonderful person who treated me like I was so special. This man made me feel accepted for the first time in my life and to this day my heart smiles when I think of how good I had it with him. But I left him because he just couldn’t fit into my idea of how to treat me. I couldn’t wrap my head around some one who was good and decent. And he did have trouble handling my emotional baggage. His idea of “getting over it” did not work with me. He came from a solid home, good parents, good emotional support. He could not grasp what all I lived with. I left him for the abusive man I ended up marrying. I knew how to act with this man. I was used to the drama and the emotional abuse he heaped upon me. This was familiar – sick and twisted but – familiar. I have stayed with him for a long time. Never could find the courage to just walk away. This was all I knew. Thankfully with therapy I am finding my voice and no longer tolerate his emotional crap. I am finding my boundaries. I hope others find theirs before taking the abuse for years like I did.

  6. Pamela,
    That was so true to me, too. Abuse was familiar. Even tho it was horrific, it was familiar. I too have walked away from healthy relationships because it felt more scary for me to be around them, so I left them for yuck!!! I’m so glad that you are getting your voice and not tolerating abuse. It is because of my desire to heal, that I walked away from the abuse and others who were emotionally abusive. The stronger I got, the more I could not and would not tolerate abuse.
    It was too hard to change while I was still being mistreated and made to feel worthless. I would just start to feel valuable within myself and then Whammo…… an abusive word or being invalidated would throw me right back into the abuse world. For my own self, I had to leave, because he wouldn’t change and thru healing I discovered that I can’t help change anyone, I can only change myself. His loss!!! Now, I love myself and I love who I have become. So I hope the same for you, that you continue to heal, and continue to grow into who you are meant to be. Patty

  7. This was so sad to read. I want to cry for the child in this story and the adult she became. I relate to so much of this. I think my biggest struggle right now is the silence. I am continually told by well meaning individuals that true forgiveness equals silence. That if you’re still talking about it then you clearly haven’t moved on, healed, forgiven etc. I believe in sharing our stories we are able to help each other. I know that I was inspired by reading how you have worked to overcome your past in spite of the horror you have endured. I think you have every right to tell that story. Right now I am finding it very hard to relate to some of my Christian friends who feel that in sharing my testimony about the abuse I suffered in my marriage…that I am somehow being judgemental by talking about someone else’s sin. Like you I think we may all have been told shut up and be quiet for long enough.

  8. Patti,
    Here I am at the age of 54 still questioning myself everyday. Trying so hard to be a strong person and encourage, teach my daughters never to be victims. Still living with the dreadful guilt I felt at the age of 8 being sexually abused by relatives and their friends, running home to my mummy to tell her what had happened to me. ( not understanding what really happened because I only know it felt wrong and I felt hurt) I interupted her and my dad as they were dancing in the lounge room. She quickly took me through to the bedroom, rousing and pulling me by my arm because I had stopped their fun. When she realized I had no pants on, she belted me and yelled at me.. The fear I felt and not wanting to be hit anymore shut me up, because I was ignorant. It never leaves you. The years of abuse through my childhood, my teenage years and then my marriage. And still, family members will not understand or acknowledge any of this. They say things like. Steve(ex- husband) is a nice person, I can’t imagine him doing that. or oh well, he provided a house for you. Or mum saying. Oh it was only kids stuff. I was not responsible. I am strong and passionate about women’s right and vocal, so people automatically think that at 175cm and 80kilos, you are capable of defending yourself. But I can defend others. When it is me, my head blurs, I seem to leave my body. I hate it. It has only been through hearing your story and sharing other stories of abuse, that I have come to realize that I am not insane. I am not alone and there are people who understand and share my experiences. So thank you. I hear you and I have tears for you and what you have suffered.

  9. Patty,
    I am so sorry that you had to deal with a monster like that. I know what it is like,I went through mental,physical and verbal abuse. I stayed in that relationship because it felt like the norm. I was also, sexually abused as a child from family members. I dissociate for yrs also, I have an attendency to blame myself for the tradgey, trying to convince myself it was not my fault. So, I feel your pain and sadness lets just keep continuing to heal and think aboutthe present and future. Take care sounds like you have become a stronger woman and thats the goal. Take care

  10. Thank you for writing this. It’s helped me continue to click together more pieces of the puzzle.

    I had thought myself as someone who would never, ever tolerate abuse in a marriage, yet here I am, having left one husband who was verbally, sexually, and physically abusive, and I remarried to someone who has been verbally and emotionally abusive. The only reason I’ve stayed with my current husband is he’s taken some accountability; he’s sought help and he’s admitted he has a serious problem. A counselor has also suggested he may be experiencing dissociative episodes.

    I also admit I have been physically and verbally abusive in both marriages and with my children, because as has been pointed out, that was “normal” in my world once upon a time. I feel sometimes like I’ve been in some sort of car crash where I’ve had to learn to walk and talk all over again, expect in respect to how I treat others, and how I allow others to treat me. I’m in my 40s and I still feel like I have such a long way to go.

  11. Holly,

    I too have dealt with fellow chiristians telling me to forgive and then forget and then shut up about it. How terribly invalidating that is to anyone who has been abused. First of all, forgiveness should only be done when we are ready to forgive. It’s more than just “doing it” it’s a heartfelt matter. And forgiveness is done for me. Not for the abuser. Forgiveness helped me to overcome the bitterness and hatred in my heart. I didn’t like who I had become. But, forgiving does not mean that we remain silent nor does it mean that we have to now, allow our abusers back into our lives and give them another chance. Forgiveness is strictly between me and God. It doesn’t mean that since I have forgiven that I now need to act as tho nothing happened, nor do I now have socialize with my abuser and become friends with them. I was taught this. And because I was taught this, it was so hard for me to forgive. I tried so many times but the more I did it their way, the more I felt like a failure and weak.

    Now, because I was ready, I am free of the fog that encircled my soul. I am free to have a relationship with God and not feel as tho I failed Him.

    As far as talking about your abuse, only those who don’t want to hear it or who don’t truly care, are the ones who try to find ways to silence you. And it could be a whole church because of the false beliefs that they have about ” talking about others is gossip and a sin.” Gossip is gossip only when it is false. But how can telling the truth and sharing your story, your past, your life be a sin? You didn’t abuse, you were abused. By telling your story, you are sharing a truth, not a lie. And you should not be made to feel like you should be ashamed of it. You are only telling your story, it was the abuser who caused the crime, not you.

    Sharing our story, our life, our abuse, is an important part of healing. Not only to face the truth, but to be able to share that truth. To say, I have been abused, I am valuable, I am worth the time it takes for you to hear my story. This happened to me. It isnt’ going to disappear, it’s not going to go away. This is what happened to me. We deserve to be validated and we deserve the right to share it. By sharing it, we lose people along the way because they honestly don’t care. They don’t care enough to try and understand our pain, and they may not care enough because it stirs up their own pain. But our healing is not depended upon what others think or believe. It depends on what we believe. Do we believe we are valuable enough to share our story and to not feel ashamed in doing so?

    Healing is for us. Forgiveness is for us. Anyone who tries to stop us and shame us into silence is not for us. They are speaking and living out of the abuse world. The very one we are trying to get free of. ((hug)) Patty

  12. Cathy,
    And I feel the same for you!! I’m so sorry that you were abused and then not validated in your abuse. Even more so, in hearing others tell you, more or less, that your abuse doesn’t matter, at least you had a roof over your head.

    It’s so disheartening to hear how other Survivors have been treated. I have always said, that as hard as it was to be abused, the “not caring” from my family and friends, seemed to hurt me more. When I was being abused I felt every day, that I didn’t know if I was going to live through out the night. I fought for my life by trying to be perfect and not mess up.

    And then, once I was able to remove myself from that abuse, and share my story with my family, to be told that my abuse and my pain and my fear was not valuable enough to even listen???? Wow. I felt like I had a knife stuck in my heart. This is what I had to discover the truth about. Why am I not valuable to my family?? Why is my pain swept under the rug like dirt on the floor? For years I battled with this. For years I tried to share my pain and how my abuse affected me. How I was afraid of the dark. How I would dissociate each time I tried to make a meal. How driving in a car would cause me to find myself in unknown places. Yet, no one seemed to care.

    And then, I realized, that I was always discounted. As a child, I never had a voice. As a child, my needs and pain never mattered. It’s not the abuse that has kept them silent and uncaring. It’s because they always were that way toward me. That was a major break through for me. Now I understand. Now, I am free to continue to share my story, even when it involves those I love. Because now I don’t have to worry about how this will effect them. The truth is, I never did.

    You are not alone!!! Your story can and will affect many. And we care!! We feel your pain, we understand your fight to gain control over your life. We care. I care!!!! Patty

  13. Sue,

    I’m so sorry that you have been abused also. I hope that as you continue on your healing journey that you realize you are not to blame. No matter what our childhood was like and we can put together the pieces of why we may have submitted to such abuse, it is never our fault for being abused. Abuse was done by the abuser. There is never a reason, or a cause, other than they chose to abuse. You are not to blame. ((hug))

    As much as I do think about my present and my future, i also think very much about my past, because that past is a part of me. In order to heal my present and future, I have to first heal my past. I have to find that little girl and put her back together. And as much as it hurts me, to know that I was discounted or made to feel unworthy of healthy relationships, I know that it is a major part of my healing and becoming whole.

    So, healing for us all, for as long as it takes, for as hard as it may be. For our present and our future. Forever we will stand on our truth and be strong enough to share it. We are valuable and we are worthy!!!!

    Thank you so much for sharing and caring. Patty

  14. PS,

    I too jumped from a physical abusive relationship into the fire of a verbally and emotional relationship. I used to convince myself that it wasn’t as bad as the physical one, so I could be happy. Well, needless to say, it was just as bad. He didn’t want to change, so after 15 years I left. Duh!!! (now you know why it was so important for me to heal) I’ve spent most of my life trying to find someone to love me. It wasn’t until 10 years ago, that I did. I went into that relationship prepared with a list for him, telling him what I will not tolerate and what I had to have emotionally and physically from him. lol. Sounds funny, but I am so proud of myself for doing that. I had a perfect man finally, and I was able to experience real love. ( he passed away recently, but I am full of what a loving relationship is)

    Anyway, I am so glad that your husband is trying and I hope you are able to know the fullest extent of what love is suppose to be.

    I too had to take responsibility for my behavior concerning my children. It’s taking a long time to heal those broken hearts in them and to gain their trust in me as a mother. But they see the change in me and we communicate. I share my history with them. Not to ever make excuses for my behavior, but to explain where my false beliefs and lies were dominant in my life, and to help them overcome those same false beliefs and lies I showed them. We are able to communicate and they are able to understand. I allow them to be angry about it, and I share in their grief and pain and we are on the road to recovery.

    I hope the best for you. I truly do. You deserve it, and you are worthy enough to have it!!! Patty

  15. I love those words “All people cross the line from childhood to adulthood with a secondhand opinion of who they are. Without any questioning, we take as truth whatever our parents and other influentials have said about us during our childhood, whether these messages are communicated verbally, physically, or silently.”

    it is so true, and not something we tend to realize.

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