The words “domestic violence” conjure up images of black eyes, bloody lips, swollen noses and defeated faces. For many, this is what their domestic violence experience entails. But, for many more, physical violence isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s the emotional rollercoaster ride where you’re in a pitch black tunnel, and never see the next turn coming.
Let me tell you Jane’s (name changed) story: Jane was an aspiring college student, well on her way to a successful career in electronic engineering. Jane and her longtime boyfriend recently decided to end their relationship. This caused Jane to apply herself even more to her studies and her work. Finishing college was her number one goal. With this drive, she didn’t have much time for friends or socializing.
The spring semester of her junior year, Jane was struggling some with her studies as the classes were getting harder. She was still dealing with the break-up from her boyfriend and overall she found herself feeling vulnerable, alone and somewhat unsure of herself. Though she never suffered from self-esteem issues before, for some reason, she was wavering.
At her work, along came a young, new, and stimulating professor. He spilled energy, excitement, and charisma into the engineering department. And he took a special interest in Jane. He was just what she needed to get back on track with her degree and re-energize her for her future. He literally swept her off her feet introducing her to a whole new world of engineering she’d never seen, and a whole new world of relationships. What started as a mentor-student relationship quickly evolved into love. Jack took all of her time, but she believed it to be in her best interests of her school work. Within three months of intense dating, Jack offered her an opportunity to live with him, quit her job and apply herself even more to finishing her degree. He supported her dreams wholeheartedly. How could Jane refuse?
By fall semester, Jane noticed though that her time seemed more strapped than before. Jack now demanded a lot of her time, much of which was no longer about school. When she would protest going for a bike ride, or out to a club, again, Jack would become enraged. She couldn’t understand his anger. She thought he understood her goals.
Another time, she and Jack went to an engineering conference where Jack conducted a seminar. Afterward was a dinner for professors and other very educated partners to engineering. Jane, feeling somewhat intimidated by all the knowledge in the room, escaped to a balcony outside for a breath of fresh air. When Jack came looking for her, she was in conversation with a young man she knew from the graduate program. The rage in Jack’s eyes showed something she’d never seen before. That night he locked her out of their condo, or was it his and she was just a temporary tenant?
The next morning, as Jane entered the school building, a large bouquet of flowers devoured her small cubby. Jack’s actions over the next few weeks truly emulated his apology — nice dinners, allowing her time to study, the affection, the attention, the love.
And this is how the cycle began: his rages packed with insults, intimidation and humiliating actions, moved into the wonderful man she fell in love with, then back to fear of setting him off again, and she inevitably always did. Jane could never figure out how to please Jack, what made him love her so much one second, then berate and abuse her the next.
This is a typical story that a victim lives every day: the nervousness of making a mistake, of continuing to fail turns into a rollercoaster of emotions that keeps a victim constantly second guessing her actions. A victim believes the apologies, believes the promises to change. Some abusive partners do, but many don’t, once they are off the hook. A victim also believes they can fix their partner. That their partner will finally see how the abuse hurts her.
Domestic violence doesn’t immediately start in a relationship. It is a gradual progression. Many victims describe an intense dating period with extreme emotions. When some warning signs are revealed, they are easily dismissed by victims because they see this other more amazing side of their partner. As the relationship gets deeper involved, it becomes more intense, but now it’s not as happy. Victims describe feeling anxious and deep desires to please their partners, but never quite seem to get there. It’s like they are always chasing that initial dating period but seeming to get further and further away from it.
Domestic violence is complex and confusing for many people dealing with it. For more information or if you suspect you may be a victim of dating abuse or an unhealthy relationship, including domestic violence, call the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program at 264-9075. All services are free and confidential.
Carmen Hubbs is director of the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program.