Sefton and Liverpool Women in Business

Confessions of a Domestic Abuse Goddess – “She’s Nuts, Mentally Unstable!”

So, I have talked a lot about how alone you can feel when you are a victim of DV.  And I have talked a little about things, thoughts and feelings that unite victims, but here is one area that really does drive me crazy (pardon the pun!).  Over the last year or so, I have talked with many women who have either been victims or work with them in a variety of ways.  I have joined several groups and now sit on the Violence Against Women and Girls Tasking and Finishing Group in Liverpool.  We were hearing some feedback one afternoon from a few members who also sat on the Liverpool Mental Health Consortiums “What Women Want” meetings, and their current topic was mental health and DV.    I felt compelled to speak out, and subsequently got invited along to their next meeting, where I repeated my thoughts on the work they were doing.  Now I am to be a guest speaker at the unveiling of their proposals for change in Liverpool.

Mental health, it’s one of those things that we seem to immediately think of as a negative thing isn’t it.  Uh oh we are talking about mental health so something must be up, right?  And it isn’t something perpetrators of DV have failed to notice let me tell you.

I thought I was alone when I found my abuser constantly telling me I was mentally unstable.  Sometimes he was screaming it at me, full of rage and anger, as though I had seriously let him down by being unstable.  Other times it was a twisted, manipulative bargaining chip while he was persuading me to have charges against him dropped, clearly my instability had led me to overreact to his behaviour or completely misunderstand a situation,  but most of the time, it was just part of the daily psychological abuse and was meant as a put down, that I was a lesser woman or person because of my alleged inability to cope with day to day life (of course in an abusers head he is doing nothing wrong, so his whacked out version of normal is everybody’s day to day!).

The sad thing is that you start off very strong, having this internal conversation with yourself that he is wrong, you are in fact fine, and that he is the one with issues.  But you try and placate them, by agreeing with him.  In the beginning, you think you must just be doing something wrong, and if you please him, make him happy, things will change, and that happy ever after you were promised will re appear.  And in many cases, because the abuse starts subtly (who would go on a second date with a guy who treated you like dirt?  You haven’t developed feelings for him yet!) you haven’t even got to the point where you see this for what it is – abuse.  So you go along with it, and tragically for many of us, you even voice his opinions out loud, to other people, sometimes medical professionals.  Slowly, as time moves on and the abuser keeps going, you get to the point were your strength is fading, and you begin to question yourself.  As abusers continue, they usually get worse.  They can’t risk loosing their prized possession.  So the more time passes, the more those internal conversations become not about your own voice, but his.  And there are usually other aspects of abuse going on too.  In my case, I was by far the more capable intellectually, so my abuser took every opportunity to put me down as stupid, incapable and incompetent in every aspect of life.  Paying bills, grocery shopping, locking doors, disciplining the children, cleaning the house.  You name it, he could find something to pick on and criticize.  Like my mom once said when I left, in 10 years she never heard him say a good word about me! He didn’t just say it to me, he said it to everyone who would listen, but always with a smile, as though he was such a kind man to put up with me with all my faults.  Oh, and FYI, he told the whole world I was nuts too, loud and often!!

Like I said then, you loose your strength, you do actually feel like you are loosing your mind some days of the week.  But for me there was still this tiny voice saying no Steph, you aren’t.  He is a truly wicked excuse for a human being, this is not you!  Eventually, I got strong enough to get out!  And that’s when things got really hard to handle.  For some reason this society treats DV victims with a certain air of contempt.  It is like we are seen as weak, easy to “handle” or unlikely to fight back!  So my abuser and his harem of DV facilitators (his family, some of my ex friends, and various other hangers on) really tried to twist the knife.  Of course I had angered him by having the audacity to leave him, how dare I!  I had left the marital home and 90% of my belongings and I had taken my children.  And before too long I had also begun a new relationship.  So he was hell bent on my complete and total destruction for revenge.  He had social services arrive at my doorstep, apparently he was worried about my mental health.  He told everyone he could I was having a breakdown.  And when we went to court to get divorced, he decided to try for custody of our son because of my mental health issues.  Our son I later found out was receiving counselling from the local women’s refuge as a victim of having watched me abuse his father!! Apparently this had culminated in me pushing his father down the stairs breaking his leg (a rumour he spread all around that I was blissfully unaware of, but that sadly he had done to himself on another one of his drinking binges)  There were a million other things too, but the hardest to bear was the accusations I was the violent one, that was heartbreaking (although would it be wrong to say when I found out I was supposed to have pushed him down the stairs I smiled a little to myself as I imagined the pure pleasure such an action would have given me, not to mention the fact I know I would have done a much better job than just break a bloody leg – come on now, allow me that one wicked thought, I deserve it!!)  Our son, one  he had never previously shown much time or affection was suddenly his prized possession (I had left the space vacant you see!).

Anyhow, the point I am trying to make is that both during and after the relationship, different things put strain on me both physically and mentally.  And yes my mental health suffered as a result.   But that said, I was never unstable as I was so often accused of being.  I only ever required treatment when I had post natal depression, something he tried to deny me getting access to and as it turned out it was treated quickly and effectively.  I would definitely say though that I suffered terribly emotionally and dealt with deep anxiety throughout the marriage (I want to say sentence here, not marriage!).  But no mater to what level my mental health suffered, lets be really straight on this, the status of your mental health is not a choice.  It is exactly the same as any illness that can effect us.  Every human being is susceptible to illness, be it based on your own genetic make up, your general health at any given time or on external influences or just plain old bad luck.  So why oh why is it treated so differently?

And this is how I got involved with the “What Women Want” group.  You see they are trying to put together proposals that will see women who are suspected of suffering or are known to suffer from DV with more support from the medical profession across the board.  From GP to health visitor to consultant to A&E nurse.  Having them ask the right questions, offer the right advice and get the right support.  And any of you who have been victims will I am sure recognise that this is very much needed by many of the women who find themselves victims.  It doesn’t mean that all these women need to be on antidepressants however, or require psychiatric help.  Many will just need to talk, learn a few coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety, and understand that they are not alone.  Some will just need to be able to appreciate that they are no less a woman because they need a little support, that their abuser is in fact the very reason they need a bit of help.  In the end though, the level of support is irrelevant, victims should be given what they need, and treated with respect, and I have no doubt there are many victims who don’t even realise they need a bit of support.

But here is the part where I get quite mad.  If we support these women, as we absolutely should, we lay them open to futher woes along the line.  You see our family legal system is full of judges and barristers who live in the dark ages.  My own story is similar to many others I have now heard, and it beggars belief.  So, I am in court with my abuser wanting control, sorry custody of our son.  He is busying himself telling the judge that I am mentally unstable and an alcoholic and thus an unfit mother (see if he can get the child he can get me back!).  Now I know I am no alcoholic nor am I unstable, so I agree to medical reports and tests if the same are done for him.  When the tests come back I pass with flying colours while he fails in spectacular fashion.  I have full medical records handed over for perusal, he gets a letter from the GP  to say no history of depression or drug or alcohol abuse (even though the alcohol tests prove otherwise no one thinks to challenge this GP!).  Because I had depression when my cousin was killed at Hillsborough and post natal depression after my son was born, I am stood there listening to his barrister (female!!) tell the judge that I am unfit to be a parent while the perpetrator (who has been charged and convicted of my abuse) sits there apparently untouched by his convictions or alcohol abuse.  My barrister had said earlier with a sigh, that it would have been better for me if I had not gone for help for my post natal depression.  Because it wouldn’t be on my medical records.  She was a wonderful woman and appreciated it sounds crazy, but she said courts in this country use mental health issues against parents in court.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Mothers who suffer post natal depression and don’t get help can hurt themselves or their babies!  But if you do the adult, responsible thing and get help, some archaic fossil of a judge can hold it against you?  Seriously?  And this judge was questioning my sanity?  In the end the judge couldn’t ignore the abusers alcohol results and I got full custody.  But the fact my mental health was brought into question was farcical.  Surely these judges know what perpetrators do and rely on in these scenarios.  And surely they can see that these men can bring women to their knees with their cruelty and torture, so surely they should be applauding women who get out and get help?

So my problem is this.  Yes victims need help and support which should be readily available to them.  The relationships are hard but then so is the beginning of freedom.  But what they don’t need is more pressure heaped on them when they get to the already traumatic court proceedings.  perpetrators love to play the unstable card, judges are not educated about mental health and it all adds up to more misery for the victim.  So it is time we changed the way our legal system sees mental health, so that we can take better care of DV victims and really offer them a ray of hope beyond their life with the perpetrator.

 

And on a final note, I now know that I am far from unstable.  Victims of DV are amazingly strong women who show courage, pride and dignity every day of their lives.  They hide the deepest agony and disappointment every day, getting though as best as they can, trying desperately to keep their loved ones safe, happy and oblivious to their own hellish reality.  Ladies, if you too have been or are a victim, know that I think you are amazing, beautiful and strong, and believe me when I tell you you deserve so much better, and that you are worth so much more.  Ladies, if you are ever confronted with a judge suggesting you are unstable, tell him the animal who abuses you is the unstable parent!

 

Stay safe, take care and keep believing in you, you are amazing,

 

Love Steph xx

 

 

 

2 comments on "Confessions of a Domestic Abuse Goddess – “She’s Nuts, Mentally Unstable!”"

  1. lina ferry said September 4, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I’ve been with my kids father since I was 15, I’m 25 now. For years I have been unhappy, feeling lower than dirt, like everything is my fault, like I ruin everything, and he does no wrong and god forbid I try to tell him he did something wrong. I had no idea what mental abuse was until recently. I tried telling him what I learned in my anger management classes, he won’t hear any part of it. He won’t even consider the idea that he is emotionally abusive. He tells me I’m crazy for saying that and I’m the one who has issues. See, I made some mistakes in our relationship, I’ve told white lies like I’m gonna be at a friend’s house and then go to a party cause I knew he wouldn’t let me go, I kicked him out several times, I’ve hit him, I’ve gone out with my girlfriend and came home with a guys number in my pocket….my ultimate mistake being I had another man’s baby (i was 15, we were just starting, and both believed the baby was his. My son is nearly 9 and he has raised him)….these are just a few things that he never lets me forget. Every argument, he runs down the “list” of everything I’ve ever done wrong and how I have to do this and that to prove my love to him. Our relationship is so tainted….I hate the way we talk to each other….it’s so disturbing. I am mean with my tongue, I admit, it has gotten to the point that I sometimes can’t control the “I hate you!”s. Yet I hesitate to confront him about something I don’t like. I’m scared of his reaction, I don’t wanna fight anymore. So I bite my tongue. I know, no matter what my issue is, he will make me feel crazy, stupid and wrong for even bringing it up. “How dare I! After everything I put him through!” He accuses me of lying, making things up to be mad at him, he accuses me of cheating and reminds me over and over that I gave him reason to distrust me (no matter that my mistakes were several years ago and I was a teenager) he will sometimes put me down with a smile on his face like he just said something nice. Other times he will yell loud enough for neighbors to hear and won’t let me get a word in. I feel like nothing I do will please him, I will spend the rest of my life making up for my “mistakes” I hate myself, I feel depressed, unworthy, like I should feel lucky that he wants me. Most recently, I left him, I took my children and I left. It only got worse when he then told me over and over how I never loved him, I never cared, I never tried, I’m a terrible mom, he is gonna take me to court. whenever I came to pick up or drop off the children, he would tell me what a slut I am and he just “knew” that left him for another man. His words hurt….deeply. no one can understand why I cared or why it bothered me…… But I am back with him….. trying my all to prove to him that I love him, that there is no one else, that I can change, that I do care….only he has got New ammunition…..I had a new boyfriend during the six months that we were separated. He mentions that every day. How I left him for another man. I know that wasn’t the case but I can no longer stick up for myself, I just agree to all the terrible things he feels towards me. Please tell me am I being abused? Or am I just insecure? Is it ok that he constantly reminds me of my mistakes or shortcomings? Do I deserve this? Why does a tiny part of me feel like I’m right and the rest just feels guilty, and obligated to make things right? Am I crazy? Is this all my fault?

    Reply

    • Stephanie Wright said September 8, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Hi Lina,

      Thanks for leaving your message. It takes great courage to put down what is going through your thoughts and to share your pain and confusion. I relate to a lot you have written. It is hard to try and write about so many years history in a small space, but from that which you have written, I would say at this point yes your relationship demonstrates elements of abuse.

      Lets start with you. Yes you have made mistakes, starting it appears with who fathered your son. You are not the first nor will you be the last to have this happen to you. You say you believed he was your partners, so it was an honest mistake. And you were 15 years old, so I think first things first you need to give yourself permission to forgive yourself. Since then you have raised him and I am sure done a fantastic job. And welcome to the real world, we all make mistakes, often. And the great news is you get to keep making them and learning from the for the rest of your life! It’s part of being human. Be kind to yourself.

      Next you mentioned hitting your partner and anger management classes which I assume are linked to hitting him. What you don’t tell me is why you hit him or whether he has ever raised his hand to you. I don’t condone violence, however I do understand how women can retaliate to protect themselves or their children (been there). I also understand how men who are abusive can manipulate their victim into such a state that they lash out through fear, panic, anger, defiance and frustration. This is actually far more common amongst victims of abuse than you would realise. I also know some people are just predisposed to violence, and that it takes great courage to admit that. Only you can know what caused you to lash out, but do try and figure it out so you can work on it and make your own life happier.

      Reading what you have written, I really feel for you and I sense that yes you are a victim of abuse (see my other blogs for the definition). It would appear on face value that you have been a victim of mental and psychological abuse. However, I would recommend that you speak to someone at your local women’s centre. It isn’t like it was in the old days when everyone demands you leave him right there and then, rather you will get the chance to explore what is happening and then come to your own conclusions in your own time and decide what you want to do. And you will be supported all the way though. That is unless you or your children are deemed to be in immediate danger – which is fair enough. If you would like to email me your postcode I can refer you to your nearest advice centre (stephanie@slwib.co.uk).

      In the meantime I want you to think about yourself and your children, and more importantly your futures. By the way I don’t think you are crazy, I think you are probably at the end of your tether after the way you have been made to feel. And I think you are an amazing woman tackling everyday life and parenthood when you clearly feel so bloody miserable. What a remarkably strong woman and mum you truly are. I have been there and done that so I know how it goes, keeping up the facade of a lovely life when inside you are dying. Start taking your confidence back bit by bit, go speak to someone, and put the things that are happening to you straight in your head, you will feel so much better when you realise you are not alone and that others are going through the same. Listen to that little voice in your head that says “no he is wrong, I am worth it, I am good, I can do it etc etc.”. That little voice is very wise! Believe in yourself. Look around you at your beautiful healthy children, your friends and your family. Look for the good, and believe that is what you are worthy of. Love, respect and happiness.

      If you need anything else come back to me at any time. But promise me you will start believing in you. I know it’s hard, but I am living proof it can be done. I wish you every success and future happiness.

      Stay Safe,

      Steph xx

      Reply

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