I’ve been told that some men are monsters, and I’ve heard that there’s a monster in every man. In most of my life, I can hardly say either is true. The people I’ve known all my life all have some way they can be looked at and not seem that different from most of us. Aggressive people have weaknesses they’re covering. Manipulative people have deep insecurities they’re rushing to protect. The fiercest tantrums come from kids who just want to be loved.
The rules are different when you know an abuser.
Whatever you think is wrong in society is wrong in a person who does this. Selfishness, inconsideration, demands for instant gratification, all are found in the life of a domestic abuser. When life and marriage offer some give and take, an abusive partner takes everything they can and gives their captive hell. They can focus an untold amount of energy on staying in someone’s head, telling them they’re weak, crazy, and unloveable. No chains can shackle a woman like motherhood and joblessness, to keep a person powerless to pay her way out. No cage can trap someone like the threat of someone’s anger, when there’s no telling what they’ll do to keep that control.
And somehow, they manage to add a trait so dangerous it sounds fictitious: malice. I’ve heard women tell me that their ex, or even their husband, has literally told them, “I want to make your life miserable.” They have destroyed a woman’s electronics upon entering a room, and left haunting messages to let her know that he’s still following her. They have cut people off from every friend and all the family they ever had, damning them to isolation, or even spreading the fiercest rumors imagination can concoct to get her greatest supporters “on his side.” One sentence above all I have heard used word for word so many dozens of times: when a victim tells me he told her “you’ll never see your kids again.”
The engine behind this cruel machine is the want for power and control. Everyone has a voice in their mind saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” But as we grow older, the voices of reason and compassion learn to talk over it. In an abuser, their self-righteous voice remains a never-ending roar.
Of course, there are some women abusers as ruthless as the men. The screaming fits may be a higher pitch, but they can still grab a knife, drain the bank account, file the restraining order against the victim, and split the family like any man could. Even then, they can hide that side of them from everyone else who thinks they’re “close” to them, as two-faced as an abusive man.
There’s a strange continuum from the most emotionally or verbally abusive victims to the most physical. Daily accusations of infidelity would be bad enough without the injury to insult by cyber-stalking them, and scrutinizing or threatening everyone close to their victim. Words alone can poison the soul with fear and doubt and shame. But to haunt a woman with the threat of pain is monstrous. A single push, or throw, or strike of the hand changes the way a woman sees him for years after, if he ever crosses that line.
But to many, one kind of abuse seems to be no worse than the other. Both kinds of pain can leave a person scarred and afraid they cannot trust, or left expecting that a relationship like that is as good as they will ever get.
Domestic violence is proof to me that the word “evil” isn’t just in stories. Whatever else there may be to a person, when they turn abusive, it ravages the people closest to them too much to overlook.
But while there is evil in anyone’s heart, there will be good to care for its victims. People’s friends, family, and countless thousands of domestic violence workers rise up to take care of the wounded hearts. They hold hands with them and share their strength, promising them a life outside of the pain. They share what they have to give back what an abuser has taken.
And there is the good in the heart of every victim. The good that endures. The good that defies. The good that escapes.
And from where I stand, I see the good in their hearts that inspires.
This post was written by Abe Clabby, an advocate at the Hotline. Abe is a Graduate student at St. Edward’s University. He is majoring in Counseling, and serves other members of the helping professions in the Austin area.