Why Didn’t You Leave?

If you missed my previous post where I spoke about domestic violence then firstly, where have you been? Secondly, you can click here to read my very subtle entrance into the topic.

A post which I’ve been attempting to write from the perspective of domestic violence is related to the importance of language.  Over the years, I’ve learnt that many people don’t know what to say when you tell them your story…….or they unwittingly say the wrong thing.  Whilst it may sound extreme, unfortunately, the wrong response can cause someone to shut down…..like I did.  Three years passed before I was able to start talking about it again; second time around however I chose more wisely who I opened up to.

I have put together a few phrases that I was met with, many years ago, whilst probably still quite vulnerable. I choose to believe that people were trying to be kind and included, what I assume to be, their intended meaning. I have also reframed some phrases into a more empathic way of talking to someone who has been through an abusive relationship.

“I always thought you were strong”
“I never thought you would put up with that”

Intended meaning: wow, it really can happen to anybody.
How I interpreted it: You are weak and pathetic.

Let’s understand better:  Unfortunately those old Eastender episodes of timid Mo and that dastardly Trevor means people like me don’t fit into the proper stereotype of what abuse victims look like.  I’m fiercely independent, smart (if I do say so myself), strong and pretty kick-ass.  Therefore it’s probably quite important to understand, it literally can happen to anyone.

Reframing: This has really opened my eyes to how even the strongest amongst us go through really awful situations. I’m really sorry for what you went through; it wasn’t right.

“Why didn’t you just leave?”

Intended meaning: My mind is not allowing me to understand this.
How I interpreted it: It’s really your fault, you could have left any time and you didn’t.

Let’s understand it better:  This is a really important yet difficult concept for many to grasp – domestic violence is a psychological process and unfortunately not as simple as “just leave”.  Victims are often psychologically worn down into believing that they are the cause of their partner erupting.  Many believe they will be killed if they ever leave (with an average of two women killed every week due to domestic violence, it’s a frightening reality).  Add onto that cultural issues, financial control etc then it’s clear that there’s no easy answer to that question.

Reframing:  Just don’t ask this one.

“I would never put up with that”

Intended meaning: It’s something I would never put myself through nor a situation I would want you in (okay, I’m being really generous here, I know)

How I interpreted it: You’re really, reaaaallllly dumb for having stayed so long.

Let’s understand better:  I was that person once.  I was pretty smug.  I never thought it would be me.  That’s how I can tell you that you will never know what you would do.  True story.

Reframing:  He should never have treated you like that; this is on him, not you.

“I never saw any bruises”

Intended meaning: I’m really trying hard to remember how you looked on all those occasions and nothing comes to mind.
How I interpreted it: LIAR

Let’s understand it better: Most abusers are actually pretty smart; they don’t leave visible marks because that raises questions.  Emotional abuse has no obvious scars but is often more damaging and long lasting.  I spoke to someone once who told me, “The punches got easier to take, it’s the words that slowly killed me”.

Reframing:  Another one I was unable to reframe.  ‘I believe you/I’m here for you’ would simply be kinder.

“But he’s so nice”

Intended meaning:  I can’t imagine all this because of the shiny, happy surface he presents.

How I interpreted it: You’re not nice.  You’re lying.

Let’s understand better: Most abusers are notoriously charming.  They’re the church-going, mosque-going, smiling, helpful beings.  If they didn’t have charm, they wouldn’t have managed to snag us in the first place.

Reframing:  He’s a ——- (they chose to speak to you – you in turn get to choose a juicy word)

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

Intended meaning:  I would have done something for you.

How I interpreted it:  You made a choice to stay quiet so whatever you experienced was your own fault.

Let’s understand better:  Victims of abuse don’t shout it from the rooftops that they’re being abused.  Look out for your loved ones; the subtle signs that things aren’t right and question those moments that don’t add up.  We often speak in riddles because it’s hard to vocalise or even understand the reality; we’re in a mentally vicious cycle with our abusers.  Abuse thrives in silence.  The more we create an open environment for difficult conversations within our family and social circles – the more likely people are to break their silence and leave dangerous situations.

Reframing:  I think you’re incredibly brave for telling me now and I’m here for you.

*The image for this piece comes from one of my favorite videos, it’s short and you can watch it below*


If you’ve experienced comments related to domestic abuse and feel there was a more empathic way it could have been said then please share them.

Alternatively if you would like to do a similar post on a different life experience then I’d love to hear from you.


17 Replies to “Why Didn’t You Leave?”

  1. I love your blogs. I started reading about your divorce journey when I was unmarried little did I know at the time
    I would be going through my own divorce just 3 months into the marriage.

    I’ve had a few people ask me why I married him etc – serious question – if I had honestly known he was that abusive do you think I would have gone ahead? You would not believe my status in society – I’m highly educated, no one would be able to guess what I was going through, anyone who blames the victim or questions why you stayed is ignorant and part of the problem.

    Let me tell anyone who is reading: the abuser is so clever they make you believe you are the problem, it is your fault and you must apologise and fix it. You end up getting into a vicious cycle of pleasing and walking on eggshells until your self esteem and confidence gradually erode, until you no longer respect yourself.

    I used to say to my ex husband I wish you hit me instead because I’d be able to fix a bruise or a scar but I can’t undo the mental or psychological torture I’ve endured. Subhanallah with time and lots of reading and councelling I’ve moved on and am doing bigger and better things.

    I kept a dignified silence and moved on. I could have ruined his life. His friends and family must think I’m awful for leaving the nicest guy ever. Allah swt is watching, everything he does is for a reason and if it meant that being divorced has made me into this incredible person then I have no regrets.

    Hang in there sis – you are strong beautiful and intelligent, Allah has given you so many gifts – you were with someone who was not even worthy of your expired air and Allah knew this – he removed that person in such a way that you despise him rather than any good feelings , he has better plans for you, you deserve the best inshallah xxxx

    1. Thank you for your message Honey. Sorry for the delay as I’m just catching up on ones I’ve missed! I’m really sorry to hear what you’ve been going through all these years and on the other side of it so pleased to hear that you’ve found this incredible strength to do great things. ‘must think I’m awful for leaving the nicest guy ever’ – abusers are excellent chameleons aren’t they? So yes, people may well think that but importantly you’re out! Hugs and love back to you and thank you for sending them my way X

  2. I think many suffer from…’what will people say’ syndrome….so no offence to those who suffer at the hands of a partner (it should never happen)….but if there’s even a slight incling that you are in a toxic relationship …leave … move on!! Don’t be that person who is frightened of society…you only do yourself harm and people will speak…you have two choices…stay and be the victims…or do something about it…a lot of people hate to admit it …but there’s truth in this…

    1. I think that’s far too simplistic I’m afraid. If it were really that easy many would leave. Whilst there may be an element of ‘what will people say’ related to leaving a partner for any reason especially within the culture I come from, I don’t believe it to be the reason many don’t leave. The problem with toxic relationships is that when you’re in them, it’s very difficult to recognise yourself as experiencing one. Toxic relationships usually have a psychological element to them thus affecting the real victims ability to fully identify or understand what they are really experiencing. By saying ‘just leave’ , it oversimplifies the real problem and undermines the intelligence of anybody in an abusive relationship.

      1. Coming from an asian background and also taking personal factors into account…I know a too well about the ‘what will people say culture.’
        It’s heavily embedded, not slightly but majorly…you want to look good Infront of society, possibly make them jealous. You only need to take a look at social media pictures and posts to realise this…for people who use this as an excuse (you know who you are, even if you deny it) stop playing the victim and act..

    2. I do disagree with some of the points made however the point of the blog is to engage in discussion and listen to what others have to say so I appreciate your willingness to add a comment to this post

      1. Good stuff luv, keep up the good worK

  3. When a husba nd or partner has been te,llingbyou for mo ths thst you are useless a bad mother,cant get a job,no one will love you,your pathetic etc,you do startbto b e,lieve them. Your self esteem is on the floor you may be worried about how you will support yourself an d/or your kids.
    You may also be sufferi g from stockholm syndrome where you start to side with your oppressor.
    It takes superhuman guts a nd courage in some cases to leave. I know.
    This was me . Took me 2 years to get out after i was bashed uncons scious.
    But the mental torture was worse. Far worse.

    1. I’m sorry for the awful experience you went through and it does take extraordinary courage to leave, something which you obviously have plenty of. Metal torture/abuse is long lasting and often requires a lot of work to be able to work on a new self belief afterwards x

  4. Thank you for this brilliantly helpful post and the Video. I have realised more and more in my old age that the most precious thing you can give to anyone who is suffering is simply to listen with your full attention and care and say as little as possible other than to make sure, as you so clearly illustrate, that all you say affirms the person and acknowledges the hurt. I remember telling someone of a different kind of abuse I suffered as a child, 30 years later, and the kind man I told listened with his full attention and simply said “That was awful”. That was all I desperately needed to hear at the time – an acknowledgement of my pain.

    1. Thank you for sharing here Aunt Pat, it means a lot and I remember much like yourself, the best response I ever received was simply an acknowledgement (a colourful acknowledgment but an acknowledgement none the less). The power of listening is a great trait that not many have. The same researcher makes
      mention that if you have one person in your life who can listen without judgement who you can tell everything to then you’re extremely luck. If you have two it’s almost unheard of. X

  5. Great blog – completely on point with all those reactions!! And yes I would rather it have been said in the way you wrote it now

    1. Many thanks for your kind comment xx

  6. ‘You could’ve phoned the police’. Well yes I could’ve. But like you say, I was so conditioned to believe it was my fault. How could I Phone the police when I believed the real perpetrator was me?

    1. I think the psychological aspect isn’t well understood l, if it was that easy they would all be charged! Xx

  7. It’s amazing how some people frame caertain sentiments…

    1. I know and I would hate to think how often in the past I may have made flippant comments. I hope I was empathetic even before life hit!

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