Shame and Humiliation: Healing from Domestic Violence

Crying womanShame and Humiliation: my story of domestic violence.

After a public discussion about  NFL player Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée unconscious inside an elevator, the floodgates were open in Twitter for women to share their own stories.

Under the hashtags  #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, women are telling their own experiences of domestic violence.

They swirl around the basic question: Why is she staying with him? Why is she not leaving? and the answers tinted by personal stories, ethnicity, age and cultural differences,  flow endlessly into the same river of pain and redemption.

First, let’s talk about shame and humiliation:

Underneath all the tweets I read, I’m looking for a special thread…the one that speaks of feelings of shame and humiliation.

I know that my shame was profound and paralyzing…Because while I grew up under frequent beatings by my parents, my inner resistance was telling me all the time that someday, somehow,  I would find someone who could love me without punishment. I was going to give myself a good companion, that could heal the wounds of my childhood abuse.

It was my promise to myself left unfulfilled and my shame was telling me in a constant way that I had failed myself, that I had again let the world hurt me in my body, mercilessly…that it was my failure to find protection and care.

In short, I was totally incapable of finding security and love for myself…what a wretched person I had to be if I let my husband punch me to the ground as my mother did when I was an asthmatic girl of four…

This is Shame:

Shame when I told my mother about the domestic violence, and instead of compassion, she blamed me: “Why do you let him?” “let me tell you why: he is a highly trained military officer, he is stronger than me, and if I rebel he does a mock execution with his pistol…” It didn’t matter what I said to her, she would blame me for the bruises. And told me that I was not welcome to her house again, because I had 5 children which would be a serious financial burden on anyone attempting to help me.

After that, I never spoke about the violence in my home with her,  because I was afraid to let her and my family know I had made a horrible mistake… I did not want my mother to know that she was right and that I was useless as a wife.

It took years for me to recognize how domestic violence is humiliating both parts of the couple…it makes her feel denigrated, debased, and put under him…there is no more equality in the marriage when violence enters the picture. It was my whole identity that had been degraded. And his identity as a shameful wife-beater made him also scornful, aggressive, and mean with others like our children.

I felt helpless again as I was as a child; stabbed in the heart or kicked in the stomach as back then. My humiliation was also perceived in my body, as an intense physical pain, beyond the beatings pains and my asthma returned with a vengeance

This is Humiliation:

Then, his violence in public against me brought humiliation to my shame. The humiliation reduced me a to childish situation,  violating my personal boundaries, when he controlled how I would act, dress, think, and behave according to his wishes, by using aggression against me.

Humiliation is what one feels when one is ridiculed, debased by what one is, and not by what one does. Being humiliated because being a woman is a basic feeling, and it hurts because it attacks the primary beliefs about the basic equality of all human beings. Being humiliated only because being his wife was so hurtful, I could not think clearly about this aspect for years…I could not change being, thinking, and feeling like a woman, and I didn’t deserve his public sarcasm about my behavior.

He said he wanted me because I was smart, free, independent, and curious. He saw me as the prize everyone wanted. As soon as I was “his,” he was threatened: that I might want other things, have different ideas, that others would want me. He went to work gaining control. He went to work squashing ebullient me into a little box: his property, only enthusiastic or sexual or thoughtful for him.

The humiliation came with the violation of my personal boundaries when he decided to unleash moral and physical violence to let me know how should I think, act, and be. Apart from feeling all the time that a crime was committed against me, what I remember the most is the impact of his terrifying power unleashed on me.

If had to placate my abusive husband with sex or respond to all his demands, when I had no strength to resist, it felt like “eating dirt,” the same experience as to keep smiling and excusing my offender’s actions, knowing that I was a miserable, unhappy human being, but imagining that there was no other way out but to appease him to be safe from him.

This is the Destruction of Self-Respect:

Being humiliated by your own husband is to lose self-respect, and suffer damage to your identity and to your sense of self.

The tragedy of being beaten by the same partner that one has chosen is showing all the world, there as a witness, how clumsy, stupid, and useless is the woman who made such a choice. After an episode of public violence, you can find it hard to believe in your judgment because you blame yourself for having chosen the same person who now beats you.

This proved to my family and friends that I was not able to take care of my safety, and thus I was pitiful and deserved to be beaten.

The circle of destruction of self-esteem begins with the loss of respect. And your family, like mine, will not be very motivated to intervene (again demonstrating to all that you are not worthy of affection or respect), for fear that you again will return to the offender. This would involve the rest of the family in the perceived humiliation, and this is the reason they would prefer to use denial to keep away from your plight.

Why I stay?

Beyond financial fears of not being able to give security and a safe future for 5 children, I was glued to the hope that he would repair my humiliation. I wanted him to come to his senses, be the person I fell in love with, and apologize. That would make a gigantic difference with the childhood abuse, where my parents always felt justified beating me because of my real or imaginary trespassing.

Now, here is this grown-up person, whom I have chosen, who has access to my story of childhood abuse, and can do the most important repair of my life: he can apologize, acknowledge the hurt produced, and offer some reparation to my dignity and self-esteem.

Why did I need this behavior from him? Because it would prove to the world that I was not wrong choosing him, that I was able to select the right person for me, and in doing so I was a responsible adult who deserved respect.

You probably know what followed…my shame continued because he would never apologize, instead would continue blaming me for provoking his anger. He never owned his violence and took it as part of his male privilege as a husband to be able to use violence without any excuses whatsoever. I’m glad now that having a video of Ray Rice’s senseless violence in the elevator and making it public, has forced people to face this scourge and search for solutions.

The Moral of My Story?

As long as I felt ashamed of myself for taking humiliation from him, I couldn’t leave. My life was miserable, but I could not see myself leaving…

Perhaps this demented faith in the person I expected him to be made the violence relentless…he knew I was waiting for him to give up his absolute need to control me and connect from his deep feelings. That was equal to a defeat for him, and perceiving my remaining hope for healing through a much-needed apology escalated his anger.

As usual, there is always a last, horrific attack that ends the story: his last act of violence established my hope as useless, and his grab for control and domination the only “relationship” he would offer. That was a turning point that made me believe that I was worth the effort of protecting myself, after resigning myself to the fact that healing my marriage was impossible.

What is beyond that moment? I could only dream of a life with peace and safety for me and my children….Can you imagine what is life without violence? Only after my divorce, I could have one. Bit by bit, year after year, I could recover my self-esteem, trust my own ability to support myself and the family and move on to a better life. It took some personal work to release the traumatic effects of the past violence and learn to take good care of my body; I’m still painfully aware of how much I get scared of anger escalation around me…

Beverly Gooden says it for all of us, in this moving letter to her past self:

“Once the pain subsides, you will experience freedom. Oh Bev, there will be such peace! Can you imagine that? It will feel like heaven. You will build a new career. You will find love again. You will experience healthy relationships. You will make new friends and reconnect with old ones. You will get group therapy and meet other women like you. You will buy a car. You will have food to eat. You will have coffee to drink! You will survive. You will thrive. You will breathe. You will live. We will live. You will have the world at your fingertips. When you’re ready, the world will be too. I’ll be waiting for you.

The path of healing never ends, so be safe, trust yourself while you are developing resilience, and do your best to escape and heal from domestic violence.

About Nora Femenia

Nora Femenia, Ph.D, is the CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions and the author of the book: “Emotional Abuse: The Hidden War for Power and Control,” a field guide for women who have to deal with violence or aggression from their partners. Please, register for this blog and join the community to discuss issues related to Conflicts and relationships and receive also her book “Breaking Free From The Silent Treatment.” You are warmly welcomed here because we care for your happiness!

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