There is much research showing that having a large social network improves mental and physical health. However the type of support you get is important.
‘Greater emotional support from friends is consistently linked with lower levels of psychological distress’ (Cohen 2004)
Socialising with friends can take you out of your unhappy situation for a while, helping you to forget it even for that short space of time. Laughter can be healing. When I came away from time with good friends I felt stronger and more able to face my abusive home life and some smaller issues seemed more in perspective.
Being around positive, upbeat people is good, and it can be helpful to meet people who have been through the same kind of experience and come out the other end. When I was in a dark place, I did not at that time use social media which can be great to reach out to others anywhere in the world. However I did go to a Woman’s Aid support group. I was amazed that women had partners with exactly the same personality traits as mine and in fact some of these traits followed a universal pattern! It was also interesting that some of these women seemed strong and confident, yet they had still got into intolerable situations with abusive men. This made me feel better about myself.
However, things were more difficult with some of my friends. Some people are in really good relationships and they don’t understand why others put up with unreasonable behaviour from their partner. In fact many people in society have the view that it’s the woman’s fault, as if she is being treated badly she should just leave. I could certainly sense the irritation with many of my friends who could not understand why I stayed with Ben.
There are many reasons why some women would not get into an abusive relationship. They may not have fallen in love with an unsuitable man. They may be better at setting and enforcing boundaries so that the relationship would not proceed. They may not have the low self-esteem which can cause attachments to these kinds of people. Their lack of understanding of your position can cause further stress and make you feel even more inadequate. In the end I stopped sharing my problems with these friends because it was so obvious I was annoying them. Whilst it is right that your friends point out to you that you deserve better, you should not put up with it and that it would be best for you to leave, this needs to be done with empathy.
Other friends would take it further by being bossy, in order to try to force me to end it. – ‘Throw his stuff out on the street’, ‘Call the Police’, ‘Change the locks’. My reluctance to do this would also cause annoyance with them. Not only was I an idiot to stay with him in their eyes, but also I wouldn’t even take good advice! This pressure from them, combined with controlling behaviour at home, just added to stress levels. Leaving an abusive relationship is not as easy as walking out of a shop where you don’t like the clothes but some people seem to think it is! Your partner has taken over your whole soul and you are struggling with issues entrenched in you since childhood. Advice is fine, but you need appropriate action when you are ready, prepared and able.
Sometimes the way people react is because they care about you and find it upsetting to see you in such a situation. This can be the case with friends and family. They can be over emotional in their response, for example over protective and/or angry. Sometimes they even exaggerate the problems you are facing. This can in itself be stressful because you then have their emotions to consider. It can also make you feel in a ‘victim’ mentality which does not put you in the right frame of mind to take positive action. You need calmness and rational thinking from those around you.
Because Narcissistic people often portray as charming to others, and try to convince people that they are the victim, some people may not even believe you. Ben told blatant lies, a common trait in narcissistic people, to try to convince our friends and family he was not at fault. It is devastating if people believe the abuser.
One of my friends suggested that I actually enjoyed being abused. Of course there are often issues of co-dependency and I had some of these, but this is not to say I enjoyed the situation. Whilst some women are attracted to what they perceive to be strong and controlling men, and whilst there may be some addiction in couples to arguing and making up, I cannot imagine there can be many people that enjoy long term abuse. It saps you of all your confidence, self esteem and energy. You end up being a shadow of your real self with no vitality. You live your life every day in a state of anxiety and fear, carrying a false hope that things will change. I wanted to finish it but I was frozen in a state of inability to take action and I didn’t really know how to go about it.
So to conclude, I think it is important to socialise as much as you can. Choose people who are positive and fun to lift your spirits. Choose people maybe who have been through the same experience and know what you are going through, or at least don’t judge you. Be around people who are confident themselves and can help you set boundaries, but don’t condemn you when you don’t succeed. Don’t forget your old friends but be aware of unhelpful behaviours. Getting away from an abuser is not always easy and may take time (in my case years). It gradually happens when your self esteem grows which gives you strength and you slowly take back control. The reasons why it is so hard to break away, I will cover in another post.