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Tales From A Survivor

Chris Brown tried to choke Rihanna. That was while he was threatening to kill her. And the stans are out in force claiming that she deserved it/provoked him/he didn’t do it on purpose. I would say I don’t know WTF is wrong with people, but I see this shit a lot. From men who want to justify it and from women who think it could never happen to them. Here’s the thing, abusers never seem like they’re violent to people on the outside, and in the beginning of the relationship they are the *perfect* partner. I mean it, they are absolutely the best partner their victim has ever had. They have all the romantic touches down, they’re a great listener (the best you’ll ever meet), and before long they have insinuated themselves into every single aspect of their victim’s life. As soon as they can’t imagine life without this person, they’re in deep shit.

Why? That’s when the abuse starts. And it’s not overt or even necessarily something that anyone would recognize as problematic. Because it’s just words, little subtle digs at their self-image that come from this wonderful person who knows them so well and loves them so much. And so they listen, and they lose a little of themselves. It’s that slow chipping away that’s important. Because without it? The first blow will be the last one. And the abuser can’t have that, so they lay the groundwork. But sometimes that chipping away doesn’t work, or at least not fast enough for the abuser. Maybe they’ve been pushed too far too fast, maybe at their base they’re not broken enough, maybe they are just plain contrary, or maybe they get fed up early in the cycle. Who knows? But when things don’t go according to plan the abuser flips their shit. Annihilation time if they can manage it.

And the fucked up part? They’re not necessarily consciously aware of what they’re doing to the victim. So they can tell themselves that they’re not a bad person, and they’ve never been this way with anyone else, that it’ll never happen again and a half dozen other things that add up to not having to face the reality that they’re hurting someone very badly. Because in their own heads they love their victim. Even when they want to control them and crush them. They love them so much that they can’t let the relationship end, or risk their SO meeting someone else, or whatever else is the trigger of the moment. And people will swear that something big must have happened to provoke them, but the reality is that they’re a ticking time bomb. All day. Every day. Whether it is a burnt dinner, a tone of voice, or being successful, there is nothing the victims could have, should have, would have done to defuse that bomb.

And people will say “Why didn’t she just leave?” like that would fix something. Know when most victims die? When they try to get out. And the craziest part is that people will still swear they should have tried harder, left earlier, done something other than whatever they did. Because victim-blaming is the most comfortable emotional reaction for a lot of folks. Here’s the thing, for a whole host of reasons there’s no way to spot an abuser at a glance, and even if you do figure it out fairly early in the relationship, there’s no guarantee that the fuse on that bomb isn’t so short that you’re already in danger. Does that mean no one should date? No. But it does mean that people should stop blaming the victim and start blaming the abuser. Want to get them help? Great. But don’t serve it with a side of justification for the abuser’s actions, or disdain for the victim. Domestic violence crosses every line regardless of money, race, or religion and we need to start treating it like the sickness it is instead of hiding from it. Yes I got out of my marriage, but it was hard and required me to do some things that I’m not proud of even though they saved my life. Luckily I had friends that truly supported me, and now I hope Rihanna (and every other victim) has friends that will stand by them until they can call themselves a survivor and get on with life.

39 thoughts on “Tales From A Survivor”

  1. maria says:

    This is a great post. I haven’t suffered abuse myself, but I have seen it in a friend (unfortunately we were living in different countries at the time and I only realized what was happening after she got out), and it is exactly what you said. It was “only” emotional abuse, she broke it off after the first physical assault. She was a very intelligent and beautiful girl, he was the first boyfriend, a few years older, charming, and it wasn’t until after she finally broke it for good that I put into place all the belittling comments, all the jokes at her expense that I have witnessed the few times I have met him and that I had ignored at the time, because otherwise he was so great, and because she was such a smart and independent woman that it never crossed my mind that something like that could happen to her.

    By the way, there is a great movie about domestic abuse that I think portraits it very realistically, “Take my eyes”. It is a spanish movie from a few years ago, and I really recommend it.

  2. Jay says:

    THANK YOU for saying this.

  3. Adam says:

    Hi Karnythia,

    Good to see you post. And a potent post it is. I have enjoyed reading your reflections over the last year.

    I remember learning about the cycle of abuse when training in domestic violence prevention. Yes, Chris Brown did not just all of the sudden “snap”- this has probably been going on (in its varied forms) for quite some time. I would venture that Brown threw in some “extravagant apologies” with gifts and accolades to her “to smooth things over”.

    When younger people in my own circle begin to date, I will suggest (if asked) that she/he do her/his best to see their significant other in as many different social contexts as possible, as opposed to being alone together all the time. Because, if there are any red flags to be seen, it will not take long for them surface.

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  6. Roxie says:

    Excellent. You’ve said everything I’ve been wanting to say..but with me it just comes out in a frustrated scream.


  7. Feminist Review says:

    Ironically, this past week we ran a review of Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse by Hillary Potter, which has an interesting analysis of how DV affects Black women.

  8. Sabs says:

    Very powerful entry. Right now I am so disappointed in some of the younger women who are siding with Chris Brown. Are people really that star-struck or stupid? For 25 years, I’ve done some sort of activism to bring awareness to DV and it seems like the message isn’t sinking in…particularly with the under 30s. It’s like the “law of the jungle” is the order of the day. I don’t care if Rihanna did allegedly “start it”….he didn’t need to “finish it” but inflicting injuries that required hospitalization. He was out of control. Plain and simple. Between the Christian Bale f-bomb fest and this incident, you gotta wonder what is up with celebrities and lack of self-discipline?

  9. Babs says:

    Fuckin’ sing it, sister.
    My mother was a victim of domestic violence for years. I, by extension, was also abused as a small child. That victim-blaming is something I’m not unfamiliar with, and unfortunately just as guilty of in the past, *in spite of* my own experiences with it (or perhaps, because of the anger that came from them?)… I’ve learned since then, and thank you for posting things like this. More people need to read it laid out like this.

  10. China Blue says:

    Beautifully articulated. I haven’t been on the gossip blogs much to avoid drowning in a sea of ignorance and half-truths. Maybe, just maybe, this is the jump-off point for young people to start discussing what domestic abuse is and how to spot it. Shame on his stans for apologising for what is more than just inexcusable behaviour :-(

  11. brownstocking says:

    I am trying to put together a lecture and discussion around this for WOC on campus, and, while I am saddened by the event being so public (so many issues around violating her right to privacy, I’m steaming mad), I’m hoping more of us who are trained in DV counseling will be reached out to, and will be able to educate our communities more.

    Excellent post, I had a mini-trigger, but only because I avoided a much harsher abusive relationship because he left me for law school. In hindsight, we were in the early stages, where he was following me, calling all the time, sucking up to my parents (my parents hated him, so at least their instincts weren’t being ignored) saying the “nice-hurtful” things about my weight and job, trying to hone in on my friends. I am so thankful to God he left. I just want to help others, but as K pointed out, when a survivor is ready to leave, that’s the most dangerous time.

  12. shara says says:

    Thanks for this post – these things can’t be reiterated enough. I work at a mediation center and spend a lot of time screening mediation referrals for domestic violence, and it is so much more about power and control than it is about actual violence. Not to say that violence isn’t a major issue – it is, but many of the most effective abusers never/rarely have to raise a hand, because they have such a tight level of control on the victim, who often doesn’t even self-identify as a “victim of DV” because of limited understanding of what DV entails.

    I’ve been doing DV screening for nearly 4 years now, and often its obvious from a history of orders of protection and police calls that there is a problem, but for the other cases (where its never gotten on the radar of courts or law enforcement), an important “warning sign” that I’ve learned to recognize involves the way that the man (usually it IS a man, although I’ve seen it go the other way) engages in conversation. The power and control issues often come out – even in a seemingly casual conversation – as DV offenders autoritatively but subtle-ly control the course of the conversation, often speaking in absolutes that casually negate any other possible point of view than their own, shut down particular paths of dialogue (unilaterally switching gears without acknowledging why), and firmly and smoothly try to replace the options that are available with a different set of options that they are willing to consider. I’ve noticed this in my screening at work, and its made it a lot easier to spot potential power-n-control jerks outside of work too.

    Knoxville, TN has a really great resource called The Family Justice Center. Back before the FJC was around, a DV victim seeking resources might have to make between ten and twenty stops to different places to get the different kinds of help she needs to get out of a bad situation. There was one place for the shelter, another for clothing and food, another for custody assistance, another for orders of protection, another for counseling, another to deal with the needs of traumitized children, another to develop a safety plan for leaving the home, another to deal with pets, etc. Basically, it was nearly logistically impossible for a woman who is being controlled and monitored to have made all those trips to all those places, and it was a major problem. The Family Justice Center now has 40 agencies under one roof, and the woman just has to show up and go through an intake, and she stays in one room and the service agencies all come to HER, while she gets to watch her children, who are looked after by staff, in the next room. It really is a model that works well, and is very victim-centric and takes into account the need for a woman to have a serious amount of support when she’s planning on leaving a bad situation (or if she’s having trouble AFTER or BEFORE leaving). I don’t know how many other places are using a model like that, but its an amazing resource.

  13. Ico says:

    Wow, this is a powerful, powerful post. Thank you.

  14. Lalaroo says:

    Thank you.

  15. Nina says:

    Oh God, thank you so much. You just said about a million things that I have been trying to figure out how to articulate for years!

  16. CM says:

    This is the only good piece I have yet read on this story. I’m horrified at the level of post-abuse abuse being thrown at Rihanna by ordinary people, and I’m so glad someone has called it. Thank you.

    “Victim-blaming is the most comfortable emotional reaction for a lot of folks.” So, so true. But why?

  17. Keri says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. The reactions I’m seeing to the news are unbelievable. One of my co-workers showed me a forwarded text message she received JOKING about it. I was so disgusted I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just said “That’s not funny” and walked away. I wish I could have expressed myself as well as you have here.

  18. jenn says:

    Thank you so much for the post. I’m glad you got out and are now safe. But I’ve been thinking all along that the “feminist” movement failed and is failing the younger generation. The fight wasn’t just for equal pay and the ability to get a job, but it was for women to have human dignity and a sense of self worth. We shouldn’t need a man or anyone to make us feel worthy. That’s where this all begins, not feeling like we are worth anything and needing someone to hold us up. Then the first blow comes and we pass it off because “other times he is sooo good to me.” We need to mentor our young ladies to walk with a belief in themselves so that they will always know that NO ONE ever deserves to be hit.

  19. bplutchak says:

    Thank you for the post. It always surprised me when people asked me “why didn’t you just leave?” AFTER I’d moved 4,000 miles away. I finally figured out, that the blame the victim insistence, and its evil twin “quit acting like a victim” is a way to make people feel safe, like it couldn’t happen to just anybody. It makes people very uncomfortable when someone they think of as articulate and successful has that kind of a backstory. It threatens that illusion of safety. My debt of gratitude to the people who saved my life, when I couldn’t believe I was worth it, will never be repaid.

  20. Melanie says:

    Thanks for calling out on the victim blaming that has been happening with this. Whatever reason Chris Brown *thought* he had to attack Rihanna (and I am sure that like most abusers, he felt extremely justified in what he did), there is no justification EVER for violence.

  21. anon says:

    This is exactly how emotional abuse works, as well. Which is in some ways just as damaging (perhaps not physically) and even harder to get out of (after all, he’s not beating you)…

  22. Daomadan says:

    Thank you! This survivor of DV thanks you.

    I nearly lost it on the thread at Racialicious, well I guess I did because I did just say “Fuck you” to someone, because it was the same old, “Why didn’t she leave?” And “I blame the woman for not getting out.” And “Stupid bitches staying with abusive men.”

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  25. ahianna_nia says:

    Like many who have already responded, I have been trying to find a way to articulate the nuances and the correlations that you’ve outlined here.

    People just don’t get how complicated it is and how we as a society share some of the responsibility for the difficulty women face when in these situations.

  26. Original Lee says:

    Terrific post. This is especially resonating with me because I just got done writing a unit for 4th-6th graders on the silent treatment. A lot of people don’t know that the silent treatment counts as abuse, because there aren’t visible bruises or trips to the ER, and as you say, victim-blaming is the comfortable way to go. Part of the problem with DV, especially for the under-30s, I think, is because so much of what is on TV, in magazines, in the movies, is romanticized abuse (cf. Twilight). If young people get huge amounts of input that abuse is how you show you love someone and only a little bit of input that shows considerate and respectful interactions, then of course their view of the world will be skewed. But that’s a rant for another day. Your rant deserves to be preserved for the ages!

  27. dcmoviegirl says:

    This post was SO needed.

    You now what the sad part is?

    A lot of the criticism I’ve personally heard came from black women. Just damn. Talk about throwing ourselves under the bus.

  28. annieanderson says:

    One of the best posts I’ve read on DV in a very long time. It’s one of those things that is so totally hard for most people to comprehend until they’ve been in the situation.

    My friends used to ask me why I never just left. Well, they found out after I finally did leave – he stalked me, threatened me – you name it.

    And it took many years for his FAMILY (brothers, sisters, parents) to understand and realize I was telling the truth.

  29. opit says:

    I have a habit of tying seeming unrelated data together. Give me a moment.
    I was married to a Manic-Depressive for years. What you describe is classic.
    Social Services keep going on about Child Sexual Abuse : and link this sort of control behaviour into the syndrome. I had to collate reports into a survey once : it was enough to make one seriously consider this behaviour the norm.
    PTSD and concussive shock trauma have symptoms where peoples’ control of unpredictable violence and self control is impaired. I had to remove myself from a relationshp because I could feel control vanishing: and I don’t even fit in that category.
    The second time I had more patience because my own kids weren’t involved. Physical abuse isn’t as much of a threat when you’re built like a tank. Eventually you lose all capacity to continue life in the nutzoid ward full time regardless.
    It’s wearing and depressing dealing with that sort of aggression ; yet it is a tactic of many bright people. Note I didn’t say wise.
    Alienation is deliberately programmed into our social media! A WASP won’t presume to tell you you live in an institutionally racist society. You know that. But those who pull the levers of power are programmed by their parents into a state of empathy deprivation. Now the general public is the’beneficiary’ of that mind control via Media Monopoly.
    Now I’m getting pretty wild. O.K. I’ll give it a rest. You know where to find me. I collect what I think best on a subject on my Links page. Meantime consider the like of Rush Limbaugh, only one of a number of famous media meatheads pushing hate, suppression and oppression. Here’s one report

  30. NicoleGW says:

    I’m late to this, but I wanted to thank you for this post. It is so rare to see someone who gets it the way you do, and even more rare to see someone who can write about it in a way that makes sense. My mother just left my father, after over 25 years of abuse, and every time I try to explain it to someone it just sounds so deeply illogical. So thank you for articulating what I can never manage to say.

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  33. Aspasia says:

    “Because in their own heads they love their victim. Even when they want to control them and crush them.”

    Yes and I would also add that these abusers can also see love as inherently abusive and you show “love” by being controlling and manipulative. Because they lurve the person so much. Gag me with a frakin’ spoon. I also have experienced DV similar to what happened to Rihanna, the choking part anyway. My own father attacked me for reasons too long to go into here. Essentially, as a 23-year-old woman at the time I had the audacity to talk back. Odd that he decided to attack me then because I was never the shy, quiet, submissive daughter type. I’ve been “talking back” as long as I could form words. But again, there’s a longer story involved that I won’t get into here.

    I had him arrested immediately after telling the responding officers that “YES I AM PRESSING CHARGES!” too many times for comfort. I learn later from my mother who was present at the time that he did the same to her, in front of his family no less, years ago. She didn’t press charges and they’re still married (41 years). I guess he thought because she and I are so much alike that I would react the same way. Wrong! In the end, though, the court judge decided it was just a “family squabble”. How typical. Naturally, should I ever be at the wheel of a tank or other military spec equipment and the judge just happens to be crossing the street…

    That said, I have recovered and while the experience doesn’t “rule my life” I do get extremely angry when I hear about any DV. Then again, even before that situation I did because there’s never a reason for abuse. In a twisted way, I was lucky to be raised by a mother experiencing emotional abuse because she taught me those signs that other women ignore or don’t even notice. I had a potential boyfriend in high school make some crack about my much lighter skin color. I dumped him immediately. That was a five day relationship. Others have followed and my most recent bf I ended it because he wanted to tell me not to wear lipstick. Dude. Who the fuck do you think you are? Of course, some would read this as a woman only requiring praise but I don’t really need that from an outside source. What I require from everyone is respect and as soon as that is not evident, even in the slightest ways, I am done with that person. If I can’t respect a person then I will not socialize with them and I expect the same from other people. Don’t like me? Fine, we can go our separate ways.

    Anyway, I’ll wrap this up. I think the abuser mindset is very insidiously honed in this society and way too often it is wrapped up in expressions of “love”. How timely since yesterday was V-Day.

  34. TBC says:

    Great post, especially since I think I come away learning a few things I hadn’t really considered in the past. I hope to take this perspective and allow myself to look at the whole domestic violence issue in a whole new light.

  35. Rob Hansen says:

    Hmm, turns out that one of those who vocally surpported Brown is himself a wife batterer. No wonder he had so much compassion for the abuser:

  36. Tangerina says:

    Thank you so much for this. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship a few years back that thank god never resulted in any physical violence directed at myself (unless you count wall punching… or joke slapping which just seemed like horsing around until I looked back at it’s context after the relationship and only occurred after I said something he thought was dumb… it didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t a joke). Thing is, I still have a hard time letting myself really understand that it was emotional abuse since it never escalated to physical violence or the really heavy shit that some people go through, so I kind of put myself down for not being over it or taking it too seriously. But everything you mentioned in this post was exactly what I went through, except that I got out without injuries. Perfect boyfriend who worked so hard to win my heart until the second I was totally committed and then he just flipped and started trying to break me down in a million little ways (making me jealous, chewing me out for not “respecting his authority”, getting on my case for not reading his mind and showing affection exactly the way he wanted it at that second, pouting since I wouldn’t get my nipples pierced “but once I slept with another girl who had them pierced!”) It really helps to have it validated and be able to call it what it is (abuse!) and not trivialize my own feelings.

  37. Paulus says:

    All too true. Yet abuse shows in both sexes. When the abuser is the female, the male is considered less “manly” if they can’t take it.

    Bottom line, ABUSE IS WRONG!!!

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  40. mama says:

    thank you. thank you. thank you.

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  43. Sarah says:

    You understand.

    Whoever wrote that…..understands.

    Thank you.

  44. knowledge says:

    This needed to be said and I just happened to come across it, hence the late reply. Thank you for speaking out. This is actually one of the second blogs I’ve come across to actuall ADDRESS the issue instead of saying “this is yesterday’s news” and all manner of other comments, as if domestic abuse is a one time affair or it goes away with the changing of news stories. Ridiculous! I agree with your sentiments and share them as well. I could not leave without leaving my mark here in support of your willingness to speak out.

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