Thursday, 25 February 2010

years of your life

speaking of burnout, what's really dragging on me at the moment is the gradual realisation of the real slowness of this work. i know that it takes women on average seven years to leave an abusive relationship and i've not even (quite) done this job for that long. and i have seen so many successes and amazing new starts and people finding their choices and options and confidence and starting to live life on their own terms, not those of their ex/partner. and i'm fully, acutely aware that whether i'm doing my job well has sod all to do with whether women i'm supporting 'leave', and i'm happy with that:
"One of the biggest mistakes made by people who wish to help an abused woman is to measure success by whether or not she leaves her abusive partner... A better measure of success for the person helping is how well you have respected the woman's right to run her own life - which the abusive man does not do - and how well you have helped her to think of strategies to increase her safety."

there are now a fair few people that i've been supporting for two, three years or more. a few of them have started recently for the first time to extricate themselves from abusive situations. others, of course, haven't. and, just very recently, i've started to feel frustrated. i was shocked to find myself irritated one week, while supporting a couple of people. i was a bit grossed out at myself: it's such a fundamental principle of the work, the 'unconditional positive regard' and not something i'd ever even had to think about before. but i found myself preoccupied with the phrase wasting years of your life. speaking with someone who, after two years of contact with the service, will not admit to herself that her partner has any kind of agenda to control or trap her and thus will not take any action to pre-empt him or protect herself. i'm pretty ashamed to admit i felt irritated with her.

within a couple of days i realised that i'm not irritated with the women i support, that was just my brain's defence against something harder. and as soon as i realised this my irritation (rage, actually) started being turned where it belonged. i can't stand that women i speak to every week, who are working so hard and so consciously, fighting every day to build their self-esteem and strength, are knocked back and re-trapped by all the other, stronger messages coming at them: give it up, you're not worth it, you can't do it, you'll end up alone, know your place, it's not safe, no one else will protect you. the culture colludes with what the perpetrator has told her. the perpetrator will have studied which social messages weigh heaviest on his partner and used these as his most powerful lever to make leaving him seem too scary - perhaps it's you're not beautiful enough for anyone to care, perhaps it's single motherhood is harmful to children, perhaps it's uppity women get killed. these messages play on all of us and take so very much energy to fight in our own minds for those of us who are not in an abusive relationship. how do you fight all this at the same time as practical obstacles to leaving and the fact that leaving massively increases the likelihood of you being seriously injured or killed?

yeah, so i'm not mad at the women, at all. i'm just almost unbearably sad and angry that these individuals who i've come to know and care about, and millions like them, are trapped not only by their controlling, abusive partners, but moreso and worse, by their controlling, abusive and neglectful culture.

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