By Alexandria Roswick
As an advocate for victims of abuse, I’m constantly striving to learn from other survivors so that I can be of more assistance to the greater community. My aim has always been to create art that could reach people who are involved in the vicious cycle of abuse and to validate the emotions that their abusers are working to devalue.
In order to devise the most optimally compelling work for this outcome, I’m perpetually seeking out stronger words of empowerment and encouragement. Whatever it is that is in these specific moments that bring victims to say “ENOUGH! I deserve better. I’m leaving my abuser,” I want to capture and spread it around like wildfire.
So, last week, I asked my Instagram followers to tell me what words, stories, art, media, people, or circumstances inspired them to leave an abusive situation. Of course, as someone who escaped from an abuser, I have my own experience to reference.
If it weren’t for my friends’ blatantly expressed disdain for the way my abuser treated me, I might still be in that relationship to this day. They were the ones who would not let me forget that I deserve better. Their words echoed in my head whenever he would demean or defile me.
And one day, I had ENOUGH.
I had that moment and I can write about it. But my story is not the only story. Despite the similarities that are woven into survivors’ narratives, we and our experiences are all distinctly different.
I knew when I asked the question that it was not going to be a simple answer considering how complex these relationship dynamics can be, but I figured the only thing that could come out of this would be education and enlightenment.
Well, I had several conversations with a few survivors over the past week, and none of them went as I’d expected. Many of the survivors I spoke with told me that they didn’t leave, nor did they ever want to leave their abusers. Several confessed that they were ultimately discarded and that is the only reason they are not in the relationship to this day.
Although this was a reality I’d already been aware of, the results of my social experiment shocked me.
A few days ago, as I reflected on all of this, I caught the latest episode of the Armchair Expert Podcast with Dax Shepard and Monica Padman. This week’s episode featured an interview with actress and singer, Anna Kendrick.
Anna is charismatic, witty, intelligent, talented, and incredibly successful. As I quickly learned, she is also a survivor of hellish emotional abuse. Throughout her interview, she detailed the psychological turmoil she endured during her six-year-long relationship with a man she once considered “her person.”
Anna so poignantly articulated the gruesome and soul-crushing process of being in love with someone who is sucking the life out of you little by little each day. She recounts feeling unsafe expressing her concerns about suspected infidelity because anytime she did, her partner would scream at her until she curled into the fetal position.
She also explained what specific subtleties about the dynamic kept her reeling like a worm on a hook.
“I have so much shame about not leaving. It wasn’t just the, ‘Oh, I’m losing a relationship.’ It was that I believed that if we broke up or, you know, if he left basically, it was a confirmation that it’s because I’m impossible, I’m lucky that he’s even tolerating my bullshit. There was an inherent thing of me being so rejectable that this person who loved me very deeply for six years, it suddenly occurred to him, how awful I was or something. The shame, that lingers much longer.” — Anna Kendrick, Armchair Expert Podcast
At one point in the interview, Dax Shepard asked her if there were any words she could think of, any piece of advice someone could’ve given her, or anything that she believes could have convinced her to leave sooner than she eventually did. Of course, this question immediately caught my attention. I got out my pen and paper and was ready to take notes.
Her answer? She said there were zero words. Nothing. She couldn’t think of a single message that would have pulled her out of the toxicity. Even though I’d already witnessed this in action, her answer was quite jarring for me to hear.
I’ve personally known, conversed, and worked with many victims. I already know that abuse is designed to make victims blame themselves for all conflict. I already know that abuse is designed to force victims to believe that they can not live without their abuser.
I already know that abuse is designed to be impossible for survivors to leave. Still, this moment in the interview hit me like a ton of bricks as I realized there is a lesson here that I’ve already learned several times.
Although my friends' words aided in my escape from a toxic relationship, my circumstances were the exception to the rule. There is little to nothing that friends or family members can do to pull a victim away from an abuser.
There are no words or facts or support that is guaranteed to work when it comes to convincing someone to get out of an abusive relationship. There is no calculable equation that will add up to a saved survivor.
Is it time for me to stop placing my high hopes on finding this answer that probably does not exist? Maybe. That doesn’t mean I will give up on prevention. Or victim empowerment.
This perspective shift only directed my attention to the importance of teaching others to take certain precautions before forming new relationships. In future works, I’ll be focused on stressing the urgency of self-preservation.
One of our biggest weaknesses as a society is that we fail to understand how dire it is that we arm ourselves and family/community members with knowledge about predatory practices before entering the dating world. We often make the mistake of thinking that we’re too smart to be fooled by predators when, realistically, psychological manipulation is designed to work on everyone.
Once a person is reeled in by love-bombing they will very rapidly be taken by the current of the unceasing whirlpool that is the cycle of abuse. After this point, there is no telling how long they will be swirling around in the raging waters. There are too many factors that make this impossible to predict.
Boundaries are a must in order to protect yourself from potential predators. Distance yourself at the first sign of grooming, love-bombing or manipulation. Go with your gut. If you even have to question a behavior, it’s better to trust that feeling and run. Forget the discourse about “ghosting” being toxic or immature. We can’t be afraid to cut people out of our lives without explanation or justification. It may not be ideal or considerate, but these behaviors can be necessary.
We need to shut down these people-pleasing and validation-seeking tendencies that culture conditions us into. That is not to say that anyone is ever to blame for falling into the trap. Again, it can happen to anyone. But as a society, we need to be realistic about how the prevalence of abuse should affect our dating habits.
“Many times, I’ve seen online people saying, ‘you saved my life,’ but I always want to say to them, ‘I didn’t save your life.’ Just for one moment or two, something filled up your cup enough that day for you to do the unbelievably backbreaking work of saving your own life.” -Anna Kendrick, The Armchair Expert Podcast
While feminist art, music, and the persistent words of my friends and family members may have helped me to feel strong, it was I who ultimately saved me.
My art will never rescue a person from an abusive situation, but I still believe in my ability to provide catharsis and begin meaningful discourse. Besides, I wouldn’t dream of taking credit for another survivor’s strength.
It’s time for me to accept what I can do for victims and let go of the rest.