No One Deserves Abuse: A Personal Account of Intimate Partner Violence

Camille Euritt | Women's Issues | Commentary | April 24th, 2018

"Don't say it's a roller coaster when life's really a fun house or life's ups and downs are really just rounds and rounds."


He left me with the impression that I was inadequate. That is not something that I indigenously believe, but what my lover (he was more like a hater) imparted. It was complicated. The struggle to recover my self-belief became exacerbated by the fact that I preferred to silently absorb his cruel remarks than risk ending the relationship. Having a "cool" partner, at first, boosted my self-esteem. Yet that effect changed when he started to belittle me with personal attacks. I had no recourse. I had never been treated like this before so I unknowingly tolerated actions that were abusive without calling him out. My voice was muted like a blown-out candle and my soul was crushed.

I met Rey at the improv cafe where he worked. He was involved peripherally in the community. By serving the improvisers food and drinks he got to know and deeply resent them. Who knows what his damage was or the emotional baggage that resulted in such unresolved anger? When we would talk about the improv scene, he became aggressive, describing his desire to "hate-fuck" my teacher, a strong, vocal woman I admired. He said this on more than one occasion which increased the tension within our relationship.

We used to go out to eat. As we were waiting for our food, I would dance in a flamboyant way. Rey had a visceral reaction of fear. He was embarrassed and looked around the room in frantic despair even though it was a nearly empty restaurant. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable, but I wanted to enjoy myself and be free. He expected me to stop due to his insecurity, but I didn't. His discomfort only showed me my point of leverage: I should be uncontrollable. He punished me later in the parking lot by restraining me against the car aggressively.

In privacy, he would threaten me with a fist. This gesture evolved into more escalated attempts to control my body similar to the manner in which he pushed me in the parking lot previously. When I challenged him on his right to use force he always excused himself by saying that being tough is just "how he is," and talked about his childhood experiences that necessitated dominating others.

He said that I was emotionally unstable, a statement that had a gas-lighting effect on me. Besides this manipulation, he made strange comments, that in another context would have led me to question his relationship with reality, but I had no ability to think that introspectively at the time. I never really understood him when he said I was a "witch," but the overall creepy tone of his comments left me feeling uncertain about what was happening. This threatened my ability to think for myself. The result was that he predicted my behavior and emotions and I would perform them accordingly against my own wishes.

One day, my erratic restaurant dancing ceased to be Rey's trigger. With the extinction of my point of leverage, I lost my power to subdue him by embarrassing him and he took control. I remember thinking that I felt like I was in hell. I could no longer endure the way he controlled and vilified me in such a dehumanizing manner. I became overwhelmed by my suffering. So, I escaped as soon as I could (literally jumping from his car at a traffic light) and vowed never to go back to "hell" again. Once I ghosted him, he never sought me. I assume that his life continued to revolve around beating people up, but with just a little more isolation until he could entrap his next victim.

Achieving greater well-being after this crisis period took work, because I had to overcome my fear of new people and learn to trust again. Building relationships would require more self-disclosure than I was used to as a shy person. Plus, I needed to unlearn my image of love and better imagine what a relationship could be. My therapist helped me locate organizations in the community that serve people with mental illness and would restore my confidence.

Everyone deserves a peaceful existence, free of violence. Any person that has been abused can attest to the traumatizing nature of treatment that degrades you. I used to think that something was wrong with me, just like my abuser used to say over and over. Unfortunately, my encounter with Rey led to hospitalization and a diagnosis which further marginalized me. That is because many people believe that those with mental illness are "crazy" in a malevolent sense, but people are more complex than any mere label used to stigmatize them. It is fairer to say that every person is a product of his or her environment. We cannot control what happens to us and that means we should not punish people for the ways that they have learned to adapt to their environment. What may look "crazy" on the outside may greatly meet that person's needs.

The social work concept of person-in-environment has helped me to realize that the culprit of my abuser's chauvinism was partly societal. Since people don't live in a vacuum, it is probable that my abuser learned his behavior by reinforcement and that many actors had a chance to influence him along the way. Evidence shows that the experience I have had is a pattern repeated in many women's experiences. Intimate partner violence is systemic, and people treat each other disrespectfully in relationships all the time. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010, one out of four women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner. An issue of this magnitude deserves urgent intervention. When males systematically learn to use coercive tactics in relationships, it reflects the ideology that women are not equal or worthy of respect. My abuser always justified his violence with the excuse that that was how he had been raised. As a society, we must reject this excuse and all excuses to abuse by teaching young people about equality, respect, and healthy relationships.

Social norms play a huge role in the perpetuation of the problem but changing social norms can also be the solution. If a bystander would have stood-up for me, that would have made a difference. If someone would have negatively reinforced Rey's coercive relationship tactics growing-up, that would have worked. If I knew what abuse looked like that would have made a difference as well. There is a lot that could be done, but it just takes one person to interrupt the cycle of abuse and give the victim back her power. That person is the "bystander." We all have the opportunity to help someone when we sense an unequal and uncomfortable dynamic between partners. It makes a huge difference to the victim when someone tells him or her they deserve different treatment by defending them against their abuser. Intervention can include causing a distraction that stops the behavior in the moment, calling the authorities, or directly confronting wrongful treatment by challenging abusers. Will you speak-up for the vulnerable, erratic dancer at the pizza parlor or let her boyfriend hit her in the parking lot?

Camille is a prospective MSW candidate at the University of Southern California particularly concerned with the issue of violence against women.