When Women Like Us Get Beaten By the Men We Love

Since starting this blog I have learnt to expect the unexpected, and one of the most unexpected things of all has been the people from far and near places who look me up and come to me wanting to share their stories. They are actors in L.A. and psychiatric nurses in Boston and moms in Brisbane and teachers in France, and they present to me (as one reader put it) the multi-coloured ‘ribbons of their lives.’ So, when one of the moms from my daughter’s school approached me this morning and asked if we could have a coffee because she had a story to tell me I wasn’t that surprised.

We met in an odd little coffee shop down the road from where I live, and once the niceties were out of the way she launched into an astonishingly brave and candid account of the past year of her life where she got involved with (and almost had kids with and married) a man who abused her verbally, physically and emotionally. She left him barely a week ago, and her right eye still bears the bruises from where he hit her the last and final time. And she said, ‘the physical wounds heal fast. It’s the other ones – the ones you can’t see – that take longer to go away.’

And as she was talking I couldn’t stop thinking about another beautiful, strong, independent girlfriend of mine who told me exactly the same story some months back, except she was actually married to the guy in question, and he hit her for ten years before she managed to escape. Nobody knew – not her mother, her siblings or her closest friends. Until one morning she found herself in another fight with him, and this time hiding his gun in fear that he would use it on her, and the reality hit home for the first time that this was not about getting punched now and again – if she stayed with this man she might not live to tell the tale.

And these two women are nothing like the stereotype of who gets battered. They are smart and streetwise and together. Which makes me realise that every single one of us is vulnerable; no-one is immune to falling in love with a violent, sociopathic man and getting caught up in a situation we don’t know how to get out of. Because it happens slowly, and for a long time you’re blinded by those brain chemicals that cloud your judgement, and the erosion to your sense of self begins so subtly and innocuously that you’re well into the relationship before you even have a chance to realise what’s going on.

And it’ll be a little poke or a shove, mid-fight, or a criticism cloaked in something that sounds like concern, but with every small piece of violence leveled at you your self-esteem takes a knock and you wonder if you are a bad person and you do deserve what’s coming and your friends really don’t care about you – like this man keeps saying. And then one day, in between the humdrum of washing and cooking and doing the school run, you find yourself being flung against a bedside table so hard that you sustain a fairly serious head injury and you go to your doctor for the second time in a few months and he gives you a knowing look and says, how long are you going to tolerate this? Because he has seen it before and he knows better than you do you how much danger you are actually in.

And the man you love has successfully isolated you from your friends and family, and you don’t know who you can trust enough to tell, and if you should even tell anyone because you are so ashamed that you have allowed this to happen. It was an emotional conversation, and the time when I lost it was not when she told me about how he threw things at her or the cruel words he used or how he tried to separate her from her child, but when she described her visit to the local police station to get a protection order, and she was anxious and distressed and just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but the officer in charge was a gentle, kindly black woman who must, in her life, have seen and heard it all before, and wouldn’t let her get away with filling in a form and leaving.

Instead, she was made to sit down and tell her the whole story from beginning to end, (‘African-style’, was the expression she used) and asked her questions and never judged but took in the picture in its entirely and gave her endless time to speak, all the while listening with her heart as well as her big, brown eyes. And she said to my friend who felt trivial and embarrassed – a white woman from an affluent suburb telling her small, ‘insignificant’ story – ‘you don’t have to worry anymore. I will deliver this to him in person. He won’t be hurting you again.’

I dunno – there was just something so moving about this scenario. Like an atonement, or something. So, the protection order was delivered and he’s not allowed to come anywhere near her ever again, and she’s suing him for money he owes her and getting her life together. And even though it was a terrible story, it was kind of a good one, too. Unlike many, she managed to get out quick. It doesn’t always end so well. And there was a song. It was playing on the radio while they were driving one day and he was punching her on the leg and it was one of the many turning points that made her know she was going to save herself. Music has some incredible power. (In fact, she told me it was my Tori Amos story that made her come to me and want to tell me hers).

Later, once she had left him and had sat for hours at the police station doing the necessary paperwork, she was tired and hungry and stopped for a late night supper at a deserted pizzeria in Sea Point. She thinks the young Zim waiter must have overheard her talking and wanted to make her smile without being weird so he asked her what song she was ‘liking’. Immediately she thought of the one from the car that day, but she didn’t know the name or the artist so she sang it for him. He went away, found it and suddenly it was playing over the restaurant’s sound system. Spontaneously she got up and started to dance, and he joined her – two human beings in an empty restaurant somewhere on the southernmost tip of Africa. And she said, ‘I released a lot that night, but I received so much, too.’ Until she found herself, she hadn’t even known she was lost.

54 thoughts on “When Women Like Us Get Beaten By the Men We Love

  1. This story is so unbelievably similar to my own 20 years ago, it’s scary. It made me cry and smile at the same time. Wow.

  2. I am so glad for this woman, that she found her own power again.. I am a fan of Dr Phil, and he always said its about self-worth and how much value you place on yourself and if you truly believe you deserve better. It is better to be happy alone than to be miserable in a relationship.

  3. People don’t realise that you don’t fall in love with the person that drinks too much / hits you / uses drugs / cheats. You fall in love with the person behind all of that. Which is why it’s so difficult to “just leave”. Easier said than done. Thanks, Susan, a great read and very moving.

  4. There is a fantastic website – http://www.saferelationships.com – that has all kinds of helpful info about these kinds of dangerous relationships as well as links to more help with emotional healing. For all sorts of reasons to do with our society and the way boys tend to be brought up here, I think we have a relatively high percentage of these kinds of relationships. So, have a look at the website, see what you think and then perhaps post links to it on your blog to perhaps help other women in this position.

  5. I think women/men that have been in this situation relate to this story in every level … I have found myself there not too long ago and the only advice i can pass on is ‘get out and take ownership of your life’ . Abuse doesnt see colour gender or status . It creeps up unexpectedly while you caught in the bliss of love . Some sociopathic individuals dwell amongst us and their mission is to manipulate and get you so dependant on their every word that you lose yourself completely . Funny thing is they all operate in the same manner , where do they get it from ? Be aware of the signs they scream LOUDLY at you, LISTEN to them . AND GET OUT . You cant help him/her they wont change unless they want to change themselves dont try … Dont let ‘love cloud your judgment’ … It clouded me and i nearlly ended up under the wheels of a bus … Great article!! Love yourself .

  6. Beautifully written once again! And so very true. Many woman repeat their mother’s mistakes, almost to punish themselves for not being able to protect their mothers from the abuse.

  7. Wow, very profound, I have a friend who is going through this but won’t admit it – he has basically made her choose between him & me so really touched a nerve with me.

    Thank you for the most brilliant blog – I love your writing, you are very talented ….. keep going!!

  8. This hits very close to home, and I would like to thank you very much for sharing it.

    It’s been a little over a year since I got out of my own abusive situation, and every day is quite honestly still a very large struggle, however it gives me a lot of hope to see that there is happiness after abuse even if it takes awhile to find it.

  9. I don’t want to keep telling you how wonderful I find your blog in case you report me as a stalker.

    But I do find it wonderful.

    Thank you.

    Jenny Duncan 46 The Country Village PO Box 324 Greyton 7233 Tel: 028 254 9975 Fax: 0866 858 510 Mobile: 082 886 4093 ifs@icon.co.za

  10. Oh my soul, as I sit her crying in sympathy for my sister out there, I am so grateful for the wonderful man I married 21 years ago. Her bravery is so immense. So many women live out their lives in this half-life state until sadly it is too late. She needs to understand she has broken a pattern and is on the road to self healing and self discovery. I wish her every happiness. Her pain will fade and she will become something amazing, wait and see.

  11. This reminds me of my up bringing and the abuse my mother, sister and I suffered. Thankfully it is all over now and we lead a good life. I truly enjoy your blog. It’s brilliant. The world needs more people like you. Regards, Ivan.

  12. ugh Susan, thank you for sharing this story. If I had been home alone I would probably have had myself a good sob. My heart goes out to her so much. She did the right thing to finally leave him.

  13. and what about the smart beautiful ‘together’ women of the affluent southern suburbs who are in emotionally abusive realtionships with narcissistic men. These men do not hit or punch, they do not leave a scar anyone elso could see. These scars are hidden deep inside the psyche, bleeding and affecting every breath. I am lucky to have eventually escaped a realtionship like this 6 years ago but are all caught in cycles of abuse with cruel and verbally viscious men. none of them know each other and I have the same converstaions with most of them every single week. tears recriminations guilt blame, back and forward it is endless. and so so sad.

  14. Life Line Childline are a wonderful organisation offering free counseling. They wo/man a phone 24 hours a day and will listen to you without judgement or agenda. Their style of counseling is to help you to find your own right answers and to find the inner strength to act on your beliefs.
    It can take many chats , but talking through a problem helps to clarify the important issues , an objective anonymous ear helps you to express your real fears.[ There is no special religious affiliation , rather spiritual wellbeing as a guiding principle].
    You can phone in under a pseudonym if you are afraid [although privacy is guarenteed] , but make the call if you have no one else who is safe to talk to. 021 461 1111 in Cape Town , or call their office for a face to face counselling session in their city centre Roeland St premises.
    Other cities have their own numbers which are in the phone book.

  15. thanks so much for this article

    i can so relate although it happened years ago and i got out

    but the thing is the self esteem never really recovers

    20 years late i still dont think im good enough for any man

    and i cant forgive myself for depriving my children of their father

    pathetic hey



    1. Ah, sweetie, you are not pathetic, just human. You don’t have to live the rest of your life feeling this way. Go and talk to someone who can steer you away from these beliefs and help you understand how amazing you are. Please see Jacky’s comment above, she has included a number. I know it’s hard making that call, but do it – for the little girl inside who has suffered so much. I think I speak for everyone on this thread when I send you a huge hug. Just writing this must have taken courage. See how brave you actually are! And good and kind and deserving of love and respect xxxx

  16. Megan you are NOT pathetic. You are simply being a human caught up in working out your strengths and your challenges.You left and that took HUGE courage.Own that.Its enough to be courageous and you have demonstrated that. If you feel at time your courage slipping do something that requires courage. Like surfing. And as you embody courage through surfing so you find that part of yourself again.
    Your children have an incredible role model in you. You left an abusive man and through that they have possibly learnt how to draw their boundaries. They saw your courage and you have made it easier for them to find theirs. You have lead the way. Take pride in that .
    Love to you

  17. What a wonderful ending to the story. That is why I love Africa. Ubuntu is present where ever we go. We just have to keep our eyes open.

  18. Lovely story, it touched me so profoundly I felt a lump in my throat. I have a friend who was in a similar situation for many years but could not get herself to the point of leaving him. I sat with her for many nights trying to encourage her to leave him, but that was never successful as I realised that the she has to acknowledge that she deserves a better life. Strangely she moved to another city but still kept the bonds of marriage going, she continued to pay medical bills, bond and even a domestic worker. I could never understand why. Then five years later she moved in with another person with a similar disposition.

  19. Emotional damage can leave deep scars and the horrible thing is, as time goes on, they might not hurt anymore, they might not even be sensitive .. and that’s the biggest problem. Sensititvity and feeling has gone in certain areas. Wariness and mistrust creepes in where carefree and spontaneity should be. Having been involved in Christian counseling for so many years I tried not to get emotionally involved and desperately tried to keep the problems out there separate from my own feelings and memory banks. Today, I look back and realise that there are those who just want to “dump and run”, returning to the same problems, different chap, again and again. Some wake up, wise up and move on to wiser choices. This is the diversity of those we live, laugh rub shoulders with, interect with and pass by in the street, they’re called people everywhere.

  20. Very moving, well done for being so brave and sharing your story. I can only imagine how desperate you must have been! There should be a public profile page with photos’ of these awful men so we can all view and be warned against! These men move onto the next woman and will behave in the same way!

  21. What a pity we have no way of letting that policewoman know what a fantastic job she is doing and the positive effect her efforts are having!

  22. This is the second time I read this piece today and the second time I have cried – for her, for my dear friend who endured exactly exactly the same, for the incredible female policewoman and the Zim waiter. I love this saying ‘Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’ – some harder than we could ever imagine. Thank you Susan – you are a real treasure.

    1. Okay, that just made me cry! We are all treasures, and I am humbled beyond words by all of you who have come forward and told me your stories and left websites and numbers and offered advice. Wow. Such a sisterhood out there. I wish I could hug each and every one of you right now. The lovely woman I wrote this piece about is so thrilled by the response :-) xxxxxx

  23. Happened upon something the other that read “friendship is weird. You just pick a human you’ve met and your like “yip i like this one” and you then just do stuff with them.”
    We have not met and are not friends, but having found your blog and being an avid follower – I wanted to let you know that if we did meet I would go “yip I like this one” Well done and keep putting it out there!!

    1. What a wonderful thing to read. I was feeling so down ten minutes ago, and these comments have completely changed my mood. I would be most honored to be your friend! :-)

  24. Look how many women you’re inspiring with these posts :). Thank you for titling this post “women like us.” I’m a counsellor and hear these types of stories WAY too many times, and what is so striking is that this so called stereotype of a ‘battered’ woman doesn’t really exist – it is just women, everyday women, and the circumstances they suddenly find themselves in. Life has snowballed and suddenly we don’t recognise our surroundings. Thank you too all these courageous women for their stories.

    1. Thanks so much, Rachel, and how wonderful are you working with this daily and really changing people’s lives. It must be hard on the soul sometimes. Bless you for it xxx

  25. It’s true that you marry a certain person, but then they reveal their ‘other person’ and the change is so slow you don’t realise it until the words that cow you into submission are as cold and imprisoning as titanium cuffs. And there is no key. Or else it is too far out of reach. Until one day you realise the abuse is like a contagion and is spreading to your children so that they too have to endure abuse. Finally, you know that it’s time to make a last grab at that key just out of your reach. And you throw yourself at it. And it hurts like hell because but you keep stretching out for it, crying in the process. Snot en trane. Luck and sheer determination finally has the key in your fingers. And you use it on those titanium cuffs. He is so shocked because he thought you would never be able to reach that key. Disbelief. Meanwhile you feel triumph. Because you are moving. And you’ve said the words that set you free. Yes. It’s been just over three years. Freedom tastes like nectar.

  26. Thank you for your sensitive but transparent honesty, There are so many women out there with equally huge stories to tell but are maybe just too paralysed by fear to tell them. This will encourage those words out hopefully.

  27. Wow Susan – this piece burrowed right into my soul. Well done for getting out of that dear
    lady friend – I applaud your courage.

  28. Hi, see the Fair Lady November issue, Famous Men Who Hit Women….it ‘s pertinent to this post.
    Always loving your writing!

  29. this is mine story too. but mine happened 20 years ago. please tell your friend that the emotional wounds heal too. she sounds so strong, and anyone who can still dance with a stranger in the middle of the night in a deserted pizza shop has a fire in her that could never be blown out by the feeble wind coming from the fists of a douche bag ;-)

  30. Sometimes your blog posts make me laugh and other times they make me cry. I can think of no bigger compliment for a writer, than that their words bring out emotion

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