If it can happen to me …
When you hear about a victim of physical or verbal abuse, do you think, “Why doesn’t he or she just leave?” Or, perhaps, you imagine that, if it is a woman, she must lack confidence or self-worth to tolerate such abuse.
Well, let me dispel that myth. I was that woman.
I, along with many of my friends, recognized signs of volatility pretty early on. But, it took a year and a half for me to actually turn my back on the verbal abuse for good – and understand that I was not responsible for the behavior (as he had so often convinced me). I was a victim.
I suggested we go to couple’s counseling, which he did reluctantly until he stopped going altogether. I continued even after the relationship ended, because I wanted to understand why I – a strong, smart, independent woman – would allow myself to tolerate a man calling me vicious and vile names or pushing me into a ditch on the side of a road.
I would come to learn that abusers are typically narcissists who have a special way of twisting words and situations to make the victim feel as if he or she were responsible for their behavior, and, worse yet, deserved the abuse.
Even though I knew this person’s history of abusive behavior, I clung optimistically to his apologies and promises to change.
A few months after I finally let go, I sat at a luncheon benefiting a domestic violence shelter. As I listened to the director rattle off a startling statistic – one in four women is the victim of physical or verbal abuse – I sat silently thinking, “That’s me.”
The next statistic was equally alarming: one in five teenagers is a victim of physical or verbal abuse.
I immediately thought about my teen daughter, who saw me come home with torn clothes littered with weeds from that night I ended up in a ditch.
I got home and launched into the statistics, reminding her that she should never allow any guy to physically or verbally abuse her, speak to her with disrespect, or call her names. Her response was a real jolt.
“You mean, like you,” she said.
“What do you mean?,” I asked.
“Everybody could see it but you,” she replied.
I was so mortified and ashamed.
What kind of example had I been setting for my daughter? How could I teach her to accept nothing less than respect if I had been so unwilling to expect it for myself?
It took me a while to forgive myself, but I have. I finally feel strong enough to share this with others because, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. There is no excuse for abuse of any kind and no one deserves it.
So, rather than judge or wonder why someone would stay in such a relationship, let’s all do our best to educate and empower each other to remember that there is no shame in asking for help.
Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 & 10pm. She is a mother of two, marathon runner and motivational speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on Facebook, twitter and at CatherineAnaya.com.