Please use discretion in reading, as this post contains content related to emotional and physical abuse.
Many women who have been in domestically abusive relationships tell themselves, “It’s really not that bad. I’m sure others have it worse. I can deal with this." This thought process is known as abuse minimization.
Abuse minimization, by the target of the abuse in emotionally abusive relationships, is a conscious or unconscious defense mechanism to protect oneself against the cognitive dissonance of the abuser’s confusing Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality.
Abuse minimization isn’t a deliberate effort to excuse the behavior of the abuser, but rather to try to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s so difficult to believe you’re a victim of abuse, especially during the “love-bombing” phase of the abuse cycle.
What does it look like inside the mind of an emotionally battered and bewildered victim of domestic abuse? It could look something like this:
I’ve never been physically abused. (Or have I?) Sure, my husband can get violent from time to time, but only toward inanimate objects; punching holes in walls, smashing (my) things, destroying furniture. I’m never the target, so I haven’t been physically abused.
(Or have I?)
Sure, my husband has done things to me sexually that I haven’t been comfortable with, but he’s never raped me, and I wasn’t assertive enough when I tried to say “No,” so I’ve never been sexually violated.
(Or have I?)
Sure, there was that one time he flew into one of his aggressive Mr. Hyde rages over something I can’t even remember. When he was done spewing verbal venom at me he stomped out of the room, slamming doors and breaking things as usual. But less than an hour later he told me it was time for me to go to bed. He said it nicely. I was happy and relieved that he was being nice again. So I went.
And sure, he put his arms around me as I attempted to maybe, possibly sleep. But he didn’t put his arms around my waist or shoulders like he usually does. This time, he put his thick, strong arms around my neck. And squeezed, tight. But he’s never been violent toward me. And that night he kept murmuring in my ear, “My baby,” and “I really do love you,” over and over again. So I think he didn’t even realize his arms were so tight around my neck. My terror was all in my head. He was just hugging me. Tightly. Around the neck. Because he loves me. Besides, I didn’t move. I didn’t tell him I was uncomfortable, so he didn’t even know. I mean, it’s not like I had trouble breathing or anything. I wasn’t choking. I was just slightly uncomfortable. Not much, even. I fell asleep at some point. So it was my fault, for not speaking up. And besides, it was no big deal.
I admit that he did try to pick the lock of the bedroom door one night when I’d locked myself in because I was afraid of his raging, and he’d promised to sleep in the guest room anyway. When, at 3:00 AM, he finally decided to go to bed — not in the guest room after all, but with me — and found the door locked, he was angry. But I get it. I mean, it’s his bedroom, too, right? When he tried to pick the lock, it terrified me, because I knew if he was successful, then I’d be in for it. So, I unlocked it myself. That was my choice, right?
Plus, he’s never physically hurt me, so my fear was ridiculous. It is ridiculous. It’s all in my head (and my stomach). I don’t know why I feel this way. I’m being stupid. After all, I’ve never been physically abused.
(Or have I? Because it feels that way...)
If you’re in an abusive relationship, know that you’re not alone. It can be heartbreaking for anyone to realize she’s being controlled and manipulated by her partner.
Education, awareness, and support are necessary. Pope Francis has called domestic abuse “craven acts of cowardice” while the U.S. bishops affirm that “violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.”
Domestic violence is an attack on women. In addition to advocating for marriage, the Catholic Church teaches strongly that women are not required to put themselves in harm's way: “No person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.”
Minimizing the severity of abuse and its damaging effects helps a woman get through her day, but ultimately leads to more trauma. The first step to getting help is acknowledging your pain and realizing there is hope.