Susan Weitzman, Ph.D., wrote a book titled “Not to People Like Us.” It is about domestic abuse in “upscale marriages.” The following is an excerpt from that book (chapter 6) and describes why I am passionate about women coming together and telling their story. (Relationship and boyfriend can be substituted for marriage and husband.)
THE POWER OF THE STORY
What is it about a sympathetic ear that motivates an abused wife to step away from the difficult path she has been treading for so many years? As I noted in Chapter2, a woman learns about the world through reflections of herself and her universe as viewed through the eyes of those whom she connects with and respects. She learns within relationships and incorporates others’ perceptions into her own to confirm her experiences and to be better able to see how she fits with the rest of humanity. When others validate her reality by listening to her story and taking it seriously, she gains the strength she needs to take action.
Moreover, as the abused woman talks to others, she is forced to construct, often for the first time, her own terrible story from beginning to end. She has concealed the truth from others for so long, and on some level she may have been keeping it secret from herself as well.
It is as if the woman has endured experiences that remain disjointed in her consciousness. They don’t make sense to her. There is no place to put them in her mind, so she distances herself from them by using denial and rationalization. But in telling her story to others, these disconnected pieces suddenly coalesce into a horrifying whole- she sees the pattern of abuse and understands her situation. The support and input of empathetic others guides her toward a more realistic view of her circumstances.
As she speaks out, she beings to realize that her rationalizations and justifications have led her in directions that are not in her best interest. Previous theories of domestic abuse suggest that insight- independent of others- promotes shifts in behavior. But I have found that for these women piercing the veil of secrecy, telling the story, sets them on the path toward freedom. The abused upscale wife slowly comprehends what it means to acknowledge that her husband is a batterer- to admit that her reality is different from what society supports and considers normal. In speaking her truth, she feels relief and a sense that her world has expanded, that she has options. And this allows others to help her.
When a woman talks with someone who acknowledges her dilemma, her inner voice and abilities enlarge. She sees that she was correct in her initial impression that her husband’s behavior was wrong, even if she believed no one else in her community was undergoing the same assaults. Her previously squelched feelings of fear now reemerge and become dominant, and over time she beings to listen to herself.
Coming out of the closet, breaking the isolation, and freeing herself of the burden of keeping the abuse secret provide many benefits for the upscale battered woman:
- Her thoughts and experiences are affirmed.
- She begins to trust herself again.
- She reclaims her sense of self (especially if she feels she lost herself with the tyranny of the abusive marriage) and slowly beings to strengthen it.
- She leans on external supports, which bolster her self-esteem and resolve.
- She begins to remember or acknowledge her inner and material resources.
- She is able to plan actions to leave in ways that foster her own best interest as well as that of her children.