All the things I want to say to women and girls who have been abused by men
28 Mar 2019
Content warning for discussion of abuse, rape and harm of women by men
An open letter to women and girls around the world.
Whether you have been abused, are currently in an abusive or exploitative situation, have recently escaped abuse or are still processing abuse from years ago; this one is for you.
These are the things I would say to you if we were sat together having a drink and eating some cake.
1. None of this was your fault
The first thing I want to tell you is that you are not to blame for the actions, behaviours and choices of the abuser. Make this your mantra. You are never responsible or to blame for the actions of another adult who chose to harm you for their own gratification. Take zero percent of the blame. Accept zero responsibility.
Self blame is extremely common after abuse, trauma and violence. Women and girls are socialised from a very early age to blame themselves for male violence committed against them. From every level of society, you are taught that abuse happened to you because you were asking for it, because you are a bad person, because you are naive or vulnerable, because you make bad choices or even because of what you were wearing or where you were going. In some cases, you’re even expected to ‘know what was going to happen’, as if you have some crystal ball to your disposal.
Therefore, when we do become victims of abuse and violence, it’s common for us to blame ourselves using these very same reasons. For some of us, this causes a feeling of conflict in which we know deep down that we are not to blame, but we relentlessly question ourselves about what we could have done differently.
If I was sat with you now, I would be explaining to you all of the reasons why this was not your fault. I promise you, abuse is never ever your fault.
2. Abuse is all about the abuser, and nothing about you
This one is important. Abuse is not because of who you are, what you wore, how you act, what you do, where you go, who you met or where you are from. Abuse is because the abuser wanted it to happen. That’s literally it.
Abuse is the most selfish act someone could commit. They chose to harm you simply because they wanted to. Maybe it made them feel good. Maybe it made them feel powerful. Maybe they got aroused by it. Maybe they like hurting people. Maybe it made them feel important. Maybe they enjoy manipulating people (think puppet-master complex).
Abuse is all about the abuser. It’s all about them. It’s about their motivations, their choices, their methods and their own issues. All grooming processes are actually about the abuser and what they get from the process – not about you. That means that if the process was never about you, and it was all about them, you cannot possibly be to blame.
Abuse is caused by abusers. Start to see your abuser as a selfish, horrible person with issues that cause them to choose to harm others who trust them.
You are not to blame.
3. It is not your job to fix abusive men
How many times have I said this to women around me? Over food. Over cocktails. Over coffee. Hundreds, maybe.
I’ve said it to three women in my life just this month.
The reality is, no matter how much you love this guy, you are not on this earth to fix all of his problems, behaviours and flaws. You are not his mother – and it’s not even his mother’s job to fix him.
When you got into that relationship, it wasn’t so you could end up becoming his therapist, referee, problem solver, lender, cleaner, chef, fixer and rescuer. Was it?
His issues and his abusive behaviours are not for you to fix. It’s not fair for him to ask you to help him change. It’s not on you. His behaviours are his shit. His choices to harm and abuse you are all on him.
There is a dangerous myth that you can change men like this, that if you love them enough, you can change them. It’s sexist bollocks. Similarly, you are absolutely NOT responsible for him going on to harm or abuse other women or girls after you. Don’t ever let anyone put that one on you.
4. You are not going crazy
If we met, I would definitely be reminding you that all of your symptoms, experiences, thoughts and feelings about the abuse are totally normal and natural.
Having nightmares about what he did? Normal.
Started eating junk food? Normal.
Started to get anxious about the little things? Normal.
Feeling unsure about your future? Normal.
Scared of repercussions? Normal.
Feeling tired all the time? Normal.
Questioning and second guessing yourself? Normal.
Not sleeping well? Normal.
These feelings can be scary, worrisome or even overwhelming but they are totally normal during and after abuse. You’re not mentally ill. You’re not crazy. You’re not suddenly unwell. You’re not unstable.
You’re coping with or processing huge – or lots of smaller – traumas. Maybe it was rape, assaults, emotional abuse, trafficking or bullying. Your feelings will swing from one to the next. You might feel emotionally exhausted. This is all completely normal and natural. Abuse is such a distressing human experience – give yourself time to feel the feelings, listen to your body, think the thoughts, process the memories, rest more, eat well, drink water and do activities that make you feel good again.
5. Friends and family might let you down
A sad reality for a lot of women and girls subjected to abuse is that family and friends often let us down. Research shows that many of us will be blamed, judged, outcast or bullied by our families and friends when we disclose or report abuse.
Obviously, this doesn’t happen to everyone. However, it is extremely common – and being let down by a close friend or a family member can be devastating after disclosing abuse. This is often because, deep down, you expect family and friends to be there for you when you need them most. Having finally got up the courage to tell them what happened, the last thing you expect (or need) is for them to turn on you, to accuse you of lying or to say something horribly insensitive to you.
Also common is the ‘you should probably keep this quiet because it will impact the whole family’ type narrative. This is especially common when the abuser is a family member or parent.
What you need here, is a back-up support network. Maybe another friendship group, an online network, a Facebook group, a local support group, a counsellor, a helpline, a charity service or a rape centre. Whilst it is common to experience negative reactions from family and friends, you can find excellent support elsewhere if you need it. Please don’t suffer alone.
And don’t take negative reactions from family and friends to heart, it’s their shit, not yours. If they respond in a horrible way, it reflects on them, not you. I’m not saying forgive them and allow them to treat you like that in your moment of need, but I am saying ‘ignore their well meaning judgemental bullshit’.
6. You are stronger than you will ever know
This one is short but extremely important. You might feel weak and hurt now, but trust me, if you have lived through abuse, violence, assaults, rape, bullying, gaslighting and fear – you are so much stronger than millions of other people. You are incredible. If you have already lived through that and coped (in one way or another) you already have amazing skills, endurance and strength.
Don’t ever let anyone make you feel less than astounding. To live through what you experienced takes strength that some people will never ever know or need. You can do and become anything.
7. Life is going to be different from now on
Don’t panic. I don’t mean in a ‘waaaah your life is doomed’ type way. I mean in a ‘life will never be the same again, because you now have new life experiences and wisdom that will guide you.’
After you have lived through abuse, many things change. Some women look at the world differently. Some women become scared of men. Some women trigger from beards or certain aftershaves. Some women stop going out to clubs. Some women become finely tuned to notice perpetrators. Some women notice abusive men in their friend’s lives. Some women give their time to help other women. Some women change their whole appearance or pick a whole new career.
Abuse teaches you a lot about yourself and about other humans. You may also feel you learned a lot about services, professionals and justice systems. Abuse might change your worldview. Abuse might make you question things you have never thought to question before. Abuse might cause you to reflect on things that you always thought was normal until now.
You’re still you, but you’ve grown and you’ve changed through trauma. Don’t be scared by this. It’s okay. I promise.
8. The shame is not yours to bear
One thing a few women have talked to me about recently is a feeling of shame or embarrassment when other people find out their husband or boyfriend was abusive. They were worried what people would say about them or whether people would think they were stupid or lying.
I just want to tell you that the shame and the embarrassment sits squarely with the abuser, not you. You have nothing at all to feel guilty about, to be shamed for or to be embarrassed about. The fact that you made it out and escaped the abuser should make you so proud of yourself. Realise the strength you have and had to have every single day to deal with the abuser and their behaviour.
This is their shame and their shit, not yours. Don’t take on any of their shame. Brush it off and tell yourself that this is not your shame.
9. Give yourself time and love
This is one I should practice AND preach. As a victim of abuse myself, I wish I had given myself time and love. But then, I had no one to advise me and no one to talk to. But that’s one thing I wish I knew back then. I wish I had spent some time just being alone, spending money and time on myself, learning to love myself again and learning to be alone again.
I remember wanting to be fine again. Fixed. Happy. Normal. Confident. Perfect. I remember wanting to find a new partner again. I remember wanting to go out and meet lots of new people. I remember wanting to start a new job and move to a new area.
All of those things are fine – but did I really need to do them all within months of escaping years of abuse and trauma? Wouldn’t I have been better just slowing life right down and focusing on taking care of myself and my own wellbeing for a while?
That’s why I always advise women to take some time to love themselves and spend time on themselves. And I’m not talking about joining a gym, dropping 10lbs and taking selfies for insta. I’m talking about private, personal love and compassion for yourself. Listening to your instincts again. Loving who you are again. Looking in the mirror and recognising yourself again. Listening to your favourite music and singing in the shower again. Walking around a park in the sunshine. Reading a new book. Getting your hair done. Watching your favourite childhood films.
Don’t rush yourself, be kind and compassionate. Take time.
10. Learn who you are again
The final thing I would say to you is this:
Abuse changes you. It makes you smaller. It morphs you into what the abuser wants you to be. It makes you compliant, scared, worried, angry, self-hating and ashamed. When you’ve left an abusive situation, you can sometimes wonder who the hell you turned into. You can sometimes wonder who you are – and where the ‘old you’ went.
It will take time, but learn about who you are again. What do you truly enjoy doing? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What food do you love? Where would you love to travel? What’s your favourite music? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you laughed? What fulfils you? What excites you? What arouses you? What intrigues you? What motivates you?
Where do you see yourself now you are free of the abuser? What have you always wanted to do? What dreams did they stamp out of you? What did they stop you from doing? What can you now go and pursue?
After abuse, you might spend months or years learning who you really are – away from the control and power of an abuser. Go with the flow and try new things. Listen to your body.
Your life without the abuser is a huge adventure. Yeah, sometimes it is scary – but you are more than capable of dealing with the next chapter in your life.
Love to you,
Written by Jessica Eaton