I keep getting messages that I’m strong and brave. I am neither. Most of the time I feel incredibly weak and scared when discussing this topic. I’m not telling my story so that I can show strength, I’m telling it so other women can feel strong. I want them to get the courage to walk away far sooner than I did.
Why do women stay with men who treat them badly? Why do they continue to forgive and forget on a regular basis? There is scientific evidence that abuse and trauma change the brain. There’s a lot of terms thrown out there- abuse amnesia, trauma bonding, battered woman’s syndrome, and cognitive dissonance. I’m going to try go through these over the next few posts to help both the abused and non-abused understand the science behind why women stay. Then I want us to be able to talk about the emotional and religious reasons we stay.
It wasn’t until I began keeping a journal after his affair that I began to notice the pattern of abuse. I was shocked when I would go back and read about all the lies, broken boundaries, and verbal abuse I had gone through. I would remember the incidents when I read about them but didn’t really recall them until then. I had already moved on from what had occurred. I had to go back and reread much of those journals to write those first three posts. I was heartbroken and angry at how easily I just “forgot” what had happened, just a day or even hours before. Honestly, it was overwhelming to me to keep adding to the list on a regular basis. That journal is what finally helped me walk away. It helped me “see” what my brain had been hiding.
I was awakened in the middle of the night about two weeks ago. I clearly heard God telling me to quit listening to Him with my brain, and listen to Him with my heart. I had no idea what that meant! I am analytical, an over-analyzer, over-thinker about everything. I tend to trust what my brain is telling me. The heart is fickle, right? Why would I listen to it? I thought about this, and started doing some research (of course, because that’s what I always do) on how abuse can affect the brain. Turns out our brain can be tricked by the very chemical that promotes feelings of love and bonding.
In very simplified terms, oxytocin is released when we feel an attraction to a person and it creates a positive feeling of attachment to them. When a person is in an abusive or high stress situation, cortisol and adrenaline (the fight, flight, or freeze hormone) are released, placing the person in a readiness and hyper aware state. Those hormones begin to subside when the event ends- such as the abuser stops the abuse. Oxytocin and opioids are then released, which have a calming effect that feels much better than the fear of earlier. The feelings of calm are much more pleasant to remember than the distress and anxiety, so the abused chooses to forget the trauma. This is known in some circles as abuse amnesia.
Basically, I forgot the abuse that I had endured because remembering it was too painful. My brain was failing me, and thinking logically and reasoning things out were getting me nowhere. Oxytocin was not only bonding me to him in the good times, but it was also helping me hide the bad times. God was right, I have to change the way I listen to Him. I need to open my heart and let God tell me what is good and healthy for me, not my own reasonings. I’m still working on this. It’s a daily struggle.
So, be patient with the woman that won’t leave her abuser. And if you are the abused, be patient with yourself. Understand that some of those feelings you are having for your abuser, may not be truthful and honest. You might just be viewing abuse as love because that’s what your brain is telling you.
Stines, Sharie. “Abuse Amnesia: Why We Stay with Our Abusive Partners.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, 2 Oct. 2017, http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/abuse-amnesia-why-we-stay-with-our-abusive-partners-1003175.