Let me start by saying that Mary J. Blige is one of the most empowering female hip-hop artists of the past two decades and her songs have seen me through many a relationship; the times to celebrate and the times to re-evaluate my choices.
“Mr. Wrong” is a song that speaks to all of us. We have all been there; been in that relationship where you know you aren’t getting what you need, but you still feel that desire, feel that commitment and want to be with him regardless of the cost to yourself. So if we can all understand this feeling, this draw to the painful, why can’t we understand the cyclical nature of abusive relationships?
What is it about that relationship that makes us say “she should have left…she should have known better”? Is it the physical violence? Is it that point where we all say to ourselves “if anyone hit me, I would leave him no matter what!”
But most domestic violence relationships don’t start with physical abuse; they start with the emotional. The emotional abuse leaves just as much of a scar and trains the heart to be more and more vulnerable to the physical abuse as the abuser escalates. So how do you know when it goes from just the sort-of emotionally abusive of “Mr. Wrong” to the gateway abusive and cyclically escalating abuse of intimate partner violence?
Is it when we convince ourselves that “even though he breaks my heart so bad…we got a special thing going on”. Is that when we tell ourselves that if it gets worse, we’ll be able to leave? That this consuming feeling we have now that “even if I try, no, I never could, give him up cause his loves like that”, will change?
Then it does…
…It is just a bit worse this time; no big deal. He didn’t mean to hurt my feelings when he called me names and then he took me out to a nice dinner on Saturday night, so he must have felt bad about it and won’t do it again.
…He just broke the window this time. It wasn’t on purpose. I just made him so mad because I wanted to visit my family this weekend and he loves me so much, he needs me to be with him.
Drake summed it up perfectly, it’s “a terrible pattern…it goes up and down, it’s just up and down; she’s crying now but she’ll laugh again..” Something the victim convinces herself to be true and a belief that the abuser relies and thrives on.
So if abusive relationships start off so ‘innocent’, how do we know when to get out?
As, on average, an intimate partner violence survivor attempts to leave her situation 7 times before successfully doing so, it is vital that we educate ourselves as a community and understand victims’ mindsets. We must do this so that we can not only recognize the signs and increase prevention, but so that we can also be that support, that strength, for our loved ones when they are ready to explore their options.
Throughout the escalating cycle, abusers have been using isolation and manipulation to make their victims believe that no one will understand what they are going through, and that no one will love them as much as he does. When a victim tells us her story and we respond with “Well, what are you thinking? Leave that man! How could you stay with him?”, we are proving the abuser right. We are showing that victim that we don’t understand, we don’t support her, and even worse, that we are judging her and she is alone in this.
Instead we can utilize safety planning resources to help empower survivors to leave their relationships and re-build their lives. We can direct them to resources, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, for personalized safety planning, local resources, and emergency assistance.
We must understand the mindset of victims and understand that being caught up in these relationships is not so foreign as we might wish to believe.
We must remember, it is not so different from loving a “Mr. Wrong”, and we need support from our communities to be ready to move on. In the words of Mary J, we’ve done “enough cryin and don’t need no more drama in our lives“.