Many times I have been asked to explain to others what it means and what it feels like to live with violence in the home. Survivors of abuse have told me for years they felt like they were constantly walking on egg shells.
The daily grind of not knowing when the next attack will happen has been compared to living in a combat zone. During war, military personnel come to an understanding that it is in their best interest to be keenly observant 24/7. Personnel in a war zone know never to let down their guard if they intend to make it out alive. A survivor of (domestic violence) quickly moves into this form of hypervigilance, and the individual becomes so "other-focused" that all sense of personal identity may be lost.
A pop psychology theoretical concept, such as the label "co-dependent," is inappropriate to use in describing a victim of domestic violence. Use of any such concepts, which come and go like the fashions in department stores, to explain a victim's role in the abuse is not only tantamount to victim blaming, it actually re-enforces what the abuser has told the victim: "The problem is you. You're the crazy one. You're the one who needs help, not me."
Survivors of abuse sometimes report they have been in more than one abusive relationship and begin to wonder why they would be attracted to someone who would abuse them. For those unfamiliar with the dynamics of an abusive relationship it is difficult to understand that the relationship did not begin that way. I have explained to many survivors that an abuser will woo you and pursue you, much like interviewing for a job. The abuser will initially put his or her best foot forward.
The first attack on a victim of violence usually brings an immediate feeling of shock and disbelief. Then other feelings wash over the person in waves: anger, sadness, hopelessness, hopefulness, despair, confusion, love, fear, shame, denial.
Keep in mind this victim probably also is trying to hold down a job, take care of the children, and maintain relationships with family and friends. Bills have to be paid, parent/teacher conferences have to be attended, groceries bought, meals prepared, laundry washed. All the regular day-to-day demands of life continue while a survivor of domestic violence struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy to others. The individual may also have different physical ailments that the stress of abuse can exacerbate.
Some survivors of domestic violence are docile and may appear accepting of the situation. These survivors have actually become resigned to the reality of their life, rather than accepting that the abuse is normal. Some fight back. Some are angry enough to become aggressive and lash out at their partner and others. Some turn to God. Some use drugs to cope or anesthetize themselves against the pain. Some sink into depression. Just as each person's experience is unique to them, so is the response, or coping skills they choose to use.
Anyone involved in an abusive relationship can call the toll-free hotline 1-800-500-1119 and receive information and assistance. The advocate will not tell you what to do, but after listening in a sensitive and supportive manner, will be able to explain options that may be right for you.
Mary Ann Peavler is certified as an advanced level domestic violence advocate. She lives in Spring Hill and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.