• Tina Morlock

Twice a Victim: Why We Didn't Leave Is None of Your Business

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

After I left an abusive relationship, I thought all my dear friends would rejoice that I was free from the control, lies, and manipulation my abuser continually inflicted upon me. And for the most part, it was true—save for one person who relentlessly harassed me about my experience. When I told him what had happened, I’ll never forget what he said.

It is all your fault.

And to this day, I still feel a little bit sad that I’d trusted this person with my innermost thoughts, feelings, and hopes for so many years. I know now he didn’t deserve those things, but even more than that, I see his judgment of me as even more abuse I don’t deserve.

(I left that friendship when it became clear he wasn’t going to stop telling me what a horrible person I was for being abused by a man I once loved.)

More than that, though, his behavior called into question how so many other people feel about abuse victims. They desperately want to know that if the abuse was so bad, why didn’t we just leave when it first started? What most people don’t realize when they ask this question is that they are saying much more about their ignorance of abusive relationships. They are coming out and saying—in a passive-aggressive way—exactly what my ex-friend said.

It is all your fault.

Whether they think they’re trying to understand what happened or not, if that is their first question, they are jumping right into re-victimizing the abuse victim. Intentional or not, when you place the responsibility on the victim, you de-value the abuse victim’s struggle to survive in the middle of all the pain and trauma they’ve experienced. Whenever I see someone ask this question again and again, I can’t help but think they are saying something more.

It is all your fault.

And pretty soon, we start internalizing these unspoken words, and we start to think the world is right about us. We starting agreeing with you that we are the cause of our own pain. On the surface, that might seem true to people who haven’t experienced abuse firsthand. But underneath what you don’t see or hear, abuse is much more complex than being hurt and putting a bandaid on our injuries. That is not the typical reaction to the repeated psychological and physical torture we suffer at the hands of a loved one.

Many abuse victims don’t realize they’ve been abused until they leave the relationship.

I know that was true for me. Sure, I felt hurt, alone, and a little lost, wondering why I couldn’t just have a normal loving relationship. Abusers use our pain against us, and they convince us that we are the ones who have done something wrong. They call us needy, manipulative, deceptive, crazy, insane … not once, twice, or three times—but all the time, every day. And since we love this person, we believe every single word of it until we eventually grow numb to what’s happening. We subconsciously look the other way when something doesn’t feel right because we agree with our abuser.

It is all your fault.

So, we do everything they want, everything they ask of us. For me, that meant my life had to transform into serving his every need, no matter how it destroyed my health, career, family, or relationship with my friends. And at the time, I was happy to do it because I was so consumed by the love I felt for him. Of course, I know now it was a relationship full of more hate than love, but I couldn’t see that then. I couldn’t see that he had almost erased who I really was.

What I’d love for people to understand is that at the heart of the aftermath of an abusive relationship is that most survivors would do anything to shelter others from the same type of toxic relationship they experienced. This is why I feel being asked, “Why didn’t you leave?” should be of no consequence to outsiders. I don’t say that it’s “none of your business” because I’m angry at you. I say that because I wouldn’t wish any sort of understanding on you in a million years. Because when you finally understand exactly why it’s so hard to leave an abusive relationship, it’s too late. You’ve become another statistic in the growing number of people who are forced to survive an abusive relationship.

Abuse is a complex thing with many layers, and all you need to understand is that your loved one is safe. The only question you need to ask is “do you want to talk about it?” That’s when you listen without judgment, and over time, maybe you’ll begin to understand that there should be a more important universal question asked:

Why didn't your abuser stop hurting you?

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