The difficult position of bystanders
Updated: 5 days ago
This morning I had an appointment with my doctor, who has been my physician since my children were babies. During this conversation I mentioned that I was now out of my marriage. "You are completely out?" she asked. I could her the inflection and the deep caring in her voice. I could feel her approval that I was out of that marriage.
My doctor was aware of what was happening. I told her about events that were occurring and how it affected me. Those conversations are recorded in my medical records. The abuse was actually been documented, years before I was able to get out. And even though I had been the one to speak the words to her detailing the abuse, I myself couldn't hear what I was saying. Its not until you get out and gain the perspective of time and space that you can see it.
This morning when speaking with her, I realized she has always recognized it for what it was. She knew it was an abusive marriage and she provided me unquestioning support until I was able to recognize it and get myself out of that situation. Today I could hear her relief that I was out.
This is the second time in less than a week that someone who knew me at the time has validated my experience. I have not seen either of these people in a while, and their validation of my experience hits home. I do find i have a bit of an emotional reaction to it. After years of them, watching me struggle they know feel they can be open about it. To hear people who were in my world say the words "that was a severely emotionally abusive relationship" Is a bit jarring. Of course I know, but to hear it said unsolicited makes it even more real. Someone else witness it, I was seen. Then I am truly faced with the truth of it. Even now, that truth is a hard medicine to take.
Its a difficult position to be in when someone in your world is affected by abuse. I have other friends currently in the position of seeing someone they love in a toxic relationship. The difficulty is, if you say anything about what your are witnessing you may actually jeopardize your relationship with the victim. Then you will not be able to be there when they need you. So you end up helplessly watching. You can try to help them see what is happening is not ok, but it is a very delicate tightrope to walk. I can confirm that when you are in an abusive relationship your thoughts are so scrambled that you do not know who is friend or foe. Your perception is so skewed it is impossible to see the facts. The common name for this is FOG, Fear, Obligation and Guilt.
I can tell you from personal experience it is entirely possible to be in an emotionally abusive relationship and completely not recognize it. If you would have asked me at the time I would have completely denied it. I know if either of these people would have tried to tell me what they could clearly see was going on, I would have been completely unable to hear this. In retrospect, I can now see it, and it was obvious to any impartial observer, but I was completely blind.
I am so grateful to all those people that stood by me all that time. Their hands were tied and they could see my struggle. I am sure if they could have pulled me out they would have, but it isn't that straightforward and simple. Unfortunately, while they can support you, it is a situation where you do have to save yourself. It isn't until you see it on your own that they can finally help.
One of my uncles got arrested because he came the aid of a woman getting beat up by her boyfriend. When he pulled the boyfriend off, the woman reacted by attacking my uncle. Then she protected her boyfriend by denying he had attacked her and my uncle was trying to help. After that, my uncle said he would never help again. Unfortunately that is what happens, the trauma bonds are so strong that it is dangerous ground for outsiders.