Yesterday morning started out on a really sad note: one of my DV survivor moms called up crying after attending an at-home moms support group. She listened respectfully and diligently as she said moms went around the circle talking about their issues and frustrations - how the dog pooped on the rug, how a cereal bowl was spilt on the floor, how someone ran out of an ingredient while cooking and how someone else bought the wrong laundry detergent – then it was my survivor mom’s turn…
She told the other moms how her ex-husband was stalking her and had frightened their daughter at school by showing up and saying that “sometimes mommies go away”. She talked about how he had once broken into her house and how, like before, law enforcement wasn’t doing/couldn’t do anything about it. She talked about how afraid she was, how isolated and vulnerable she felt and was really hoping for words of comfort, console and support but instead she was asked to leave the group and not come back again.
A few hours later, I was sitting in family court with another one of my survivor moms. Supervised visitation was being ordered and the judge asked mom who in her life could and would be willing to supervise visitations. Mom replied that she didn’t have anyone. The judge looked surprised and said “No one? No friends, family, neighbors? No one?” Mom confirmed, “Yes, I have no one.”
Both of these moms have been out of the abusive relationship for YEARS, but as you can see, the effects of the abuse live on in a very real and interfering way.
Isolating the victim from her friends, family, colleagues and support system is a common and well-known tactic of abusers; by keeping the victim away from outside influences, no one can point out the abuse or provide her with any objective information.
The isolation tactics abusers use aren’t a simple matter of the abuser blocking her access to friends and/or family (as in not affording her any amount of time to interact with them) but may actually involve:
- the victim rejecting her own “on her own” (she avoids or rejects them because of threats he’s made to her if she continues to talk to/see them)
- and then there are abusers who will make the victim’s family and friends reject her by repulsive and/or socially offensive behavior (like “coming on” to every female who comes near the victim).
- Some abusers will make it clear that she cannot socialize without him or without his approval
- while others will put out an “unwelcome mat”, ie: “Now that we’re married, she doesn’t need/have time for you anymore”.
HOW she becomes isolated isn’t as important as the impact is has once it’s been achieved.
Sadly, post-separation, survivors may still live in isolation:
- out of sheer habit (it’s what they’ve become “comfortable” with or accustomed to)
- out of shame (she feels everyone will be able to “tell” what’s happened to her – she feels so damaged, how could anyone miss it?)
- because they continue to live in fear of their abuser whose lurking around out there stalking them
- or because the abuser is actively interfering with her relationships that keep people away from her but more often then not,
- I see survivors whose isolation is self-imposed because of their post-separation experiences.
What kind of experiences? Experiences that tell the survivor that she’s not accepted and is not “one of us” - like what happened to the survivor mom who was asked to not return to the at-home moms support group. Here are some other real-life instances that keep DV survivors in isolation:
- If the survivor has a TRO she’ll typically be told to inform her employer for her own safety but instead, she’s seen as the safety risk to the other employees because she has some crazy guy after her. Who wants to invite her out to Pau Hana after learning something like that?
- Similarly TRO holders are also directed to inform their landlord and/or neighbors about their DV situation so if anyone sees the abuser, the police can be called and she can be warned BUT doing this can lead to eviction because who wants potential property damage by a violent person? Knowing that your neighbor’s being stalked won’t put her at the top of the block party invite list and I’ve even heard of some instances where neighbors have actually pivot-turned at the sight of the survivor.
- Schools can be particularly traumatizing when the survivor tries to blend in as a classroom mom or at the PTA; oddly, some people treat DV like it’s a communicable disease where they’ll pull their children away from the survivor’s children. “You’re not allowed to play with her/him anymore” is what the survivor’s kids hear and then the survivor mom’s left trying to explain why to her heartbroken child.
- Local rumor mills and gossip, some perpetrated by the abusers’ themselves, keep potential friends and supports unavailable and inaccessible.
- If the abuser has successfully infiltrated the survivor’s support system and has won them over, it’s not safe for her to maintain those relationships any longer because all the abuser is trying to do is manipulate them to get information about or access to her.
- Even if those in her former support system don’t maintain an ongoing relationship with the abuser after “taking his side”, it’s far easier and more comfortable for them to ignore and avoid her then to seek her forgiveness for their betrayal and try to repair their damaged relationship with her.
- Some survivors carry a burden of shame with them still believing the criticisms, condemnations and lies of the psychological, mental, emotional and verbal abuse they endured. Although this is not their shame to carry, they do so because no one’s relieved them of the burden.
- When attempting to make new friends or form new relationships, bringing her DV experience into the conversation often makes people uneasy and uncomfortable because they don’t know how to respond. Instead of saying “Tell me more”, they’ll tell her “I can’t handle hearing this”.
- If the survivor has lost custody of her children to the abuser, ignorance about the family court crisis and post-separation abuse leads people to believe that she must’ve done something wrong and is a bad mother if a court took her kids away; people generally want to be friends with good moms, not bad ones.
- Because such a negative stigma still exists about DV, survivors are responded to awkwardly which tells the survivor that being one is “not ok” and instead of the abuser rolling out the “unwelcome mat” it’s the rest of us doing so to her.
Psychologist Dr. Jeanne King http://www.preventabusiverelationships.com/articles/isolation_aftermath_405.php said it best
The isolation in the aftermath of an abusive relationship is chillingly cold.
The good news is that we can raise the temperature and welcome DV survivors back into the fold – something I’d strongly encourage – so you can have the pleasure of meeting the amazing women I’m so very honored to know.