Leaving an Abuser

Here’s a thought experiment for someone thinking about leaving an abusive relationship.

Imagine that some anonymous benefactor offered you $10 million to leave your abuser. The only term for this gift was that you’d agree to never see or communicate with the abuser again. Imagine being able to pay off debts, hire legal representatives, secure a crew of bodyguards, hire a team of counselors, and never deal with the abuser again.

Now imagine that you were born in a poor country and your parents married you off at an early age to a brutal abuser for the dowry. When you describe the abuse to your parents, they claim you are exaggerating and insist you stay with the abuser to avoid family disgrace. Your religious leader warns that if you leave the abuser, you’ll be punished, possibly with death. Your abuser controls all access to money for you and your young children.

Assuming those two scenarios define the extremes for someone trapped in abuse, we fall on the spectrum somewhere in between.  Few of us have benefactors leaving large sums of money to buy our freedom.  And, most people reading here live in developed countries where laws protect the abused and government services offer shelter and support.

My financial incentive to leave came through my dear mother who died from cancer in year 28 of my marriage with the abuser. She and I were estranged, at my insistence, because I was appeasing the abuser’s demands for exclusive loyalty. Nevertheless, she kept me in her will and my sisters protected those funds until I could leave the abuser. Her gift helped me hire an attorney, temporarily move to another community, get a reliable car, find employment, and get counseling. It was enough to bolster my courage at overcoming obstacles. At the same time the emotional impact of her death jolted me from my stupor and motivated me to leave.

I lived in a developed country and my family supported my leaving the abuser. Family and friends were resilient and resourceful in protecting themselves from the abuser’s threatened retaliation. I worked outside the home (even though the abuser controlled our finances), and I didn’t have children to protect. I was educated and had skills to live independently, although they were severely stunted from years of living under an abuser’s control. The internet connected me with resources and other people familiar with my experience.

The point is, we all need to evaluate our available resources and the perceived obstacles before leaving an abusive relationship. We can wait for the mythical $10 million benefactor or we can take heart that we have a basic support system denied to the child bride in a poor country.

We could always use more resources and fewer obstacles, but we rarely control that. We only control our choices about how to use resources we have to surmount the obstacles we perceive. Leaving an abuser is tough, but discovering your resilience is the prize.

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