Initially published January 14, 2012 at Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families in Santa Fe, New Mexico during my role as a Domestic Violence Treatment Specialist
Countless times, I have heard clients that have been abused say, “I have a big heart” right before they go on to tell me about the repeated times they have taken their abusive partners back. The mistreatment they endure can range from having been physically attacked to accept their partners back after having slept with someone else. The individuals that have survived this abuse say they put their own needs, wants, and feelings aside numerous times to cater to their significant other’s comfort and wants. They describe “forgiveness” as being synonymous with “ignoring reality”.
The National Violence Against Women survey by the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention found that 22.1% of women and 7.4% of men experienced physical forms of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. The average victim of domestic violence leaves their partner six times before they actually escape. Something is terribly wrong when our society believes that “having a big heart” means ignoring our inherent need to fight for survival and take care of ourselves.
But this belief can’t be exclusively held by victims of abuse; domestic violence is the manifestation of unhealthy patterns within our culture. Although I have heard this statement from men and women alike, feminists have long advocated against the harm in teaching girls from a very young age that their purpose in life is to please everyone else but themselves. It is no surprise to hear when clients tell me that they feel guilty for not answering an abuser’s harassing phone call for the 15th time to ask where they are and with whom.
I am not sure when the definition of being “good” and “kind-hearted” has become having to turn into martyrs for people that don’t value the loving sacrifices being made for their benefit. In healthy relationships, the adults involved care for themselves. They do not depend on their partner for self-worth, to ease their suffering, or to “save” or “rescue” them from self-destruction. When one becomes an intimate partner of another, one continues to have the same human needs as before to socialize with friends and family, to make independent decisions, and to personal space and privacy. Our role in our partner’s lives is to support, trust and respect them or in other words, to accept them. It’s not our duty to punish them or to change them into how we want them to be. Healthy relationships are based on reciprocity, equality, and safety.
Some don’t leave their abusers because they fear for their lives. They live controlled under threats, fear, and intimidation. Others accept abuse to avoid the fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, or out of guilt. Whatever the case is, if you are experiencing abuse, you are not alone and receiving abuse is never your fault. No one deserves to be abused. Contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. They can refer you to a local agency to provide you with the tools to escape this life-threatening and emotionally unhealthy situation to provide you with security and support.
Love doesn’t have to hurt neither emotionally or physically. Your heart hurts as it asks you to have mercy and begs you to love yourself. You can’t care for anyone else if you are not well yourself. Leaving a person that hurts you does not make you a “bad” person. It means you are protecting yourself from danger. You can forgive the people that hurt you, but at a safe distance. Your heart will not get any smaller but instead it will grow even bigger as you learn to care for the most important person in your life: Your Self.
In Case of Emergency, Dial 911
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence State Coalitions List:
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