The names and some of the identifying details have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the client, but the essence is true.
Sarah entered my office. She was 40 pounds overweight, with the bent shoulders and apologetic, beaten, hunted look in her eye of a woman who has lived with an abuser for a very long time – 27 years. It’s the look of a woman who has been blamed for everything from his cut in salary to his drinking and their son’s shameful B+ average on his last report card.
Her personality, her spirit, her joie de vivre have been depleted, eroded as a result of living under the tyranny of threats, intimidation, severe punishment, shame, humiliation and constant criticism.
And lurking in the background has been the threat of physical abuse.
He once punched her in the stomach when she was three months pregnant, saying she was incapable of “clear communication.” This is a doctor who also serves on the board of a local philanthropic organization. He has power, money, influence and credibility. She has lost much of hers, due to post-traumatic stress disorder. All he has to do is remind her of the importance of “clear communication” to send her into a state of panic and terror.
She learns that her husband’s abusive profile matches that of a pit bull, subject to frequent, intense rages, and there is even a health condition associated with it: rheumatoid arthritis – which she has. She learns that there are many types of abuse – physical violence is only one of them. And bruises and broken bones heal. The scars from emotional abuse can last a lifetime.
Through the curriculum I teach in my support group, she is beginning to identify the types of abuse and realize that it is not her fault, and that she is not going crazy. She feels validated for the first time in her life and has found in the support group other women she can identify with.
Because of her damaged self-esteem, anxiety and depression – and to build her inner strength for the divorce process – I recommend therapists skilled in domestic violence and lawyers who understand it.
There is tension between Sarah and her 12-year-old son, who is beginning to imitate some of his father’s abusive behaviors. I put her in contact with a parenting coach to help rebuild her self-esteem and teach her how to set boundaries.
Through the specialists I connect her with (lawyers, coaches, counselors), she begins to build a network of support – the antidote to the abuser’s tactic of isolation.
In the past four months, Sarah has lost 30 pounds, regained her health and resumed correspondence with her high school sweetheart, who she says is the true love of her life. She is taking her power back, reclaiming herself.
It will be a long, difficult road to freedom for Sarah, but she is taking it one small step at a time. With the right resources and support, the women in our community are learning that there is freedom, peace, safety, healing – and even joy – on the other side.