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Gayle King Shows Another Example of What Not to Ask Trauma Survivors

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

During a recent interview with Gayle King, FKA Twigs was asked why, if her relationship with Shia LaBeouf was so abusive, she didn’t just leave.  In response, FKA Twigs beautifully shut down the attempt at victim-blaming and turned the tables by saying:

 “I’m not going to answer that question anymore because the question should really be to the abuser, ‘Why are you holding someone hostage with abuse?'”

As someone who spent eleven years in an abusive relationship, I am intimately familiar with that line of thinking.  Often when I talk about what I endured during that time, I get asked why I didn’t just leave.  If he was such a horrible person, why did I get involved with him in the first place?  It is such an easy question to ask from the outside looking in, but is a lot harder to explain when you are trapped on the inside.

The over-simplified answer is that abusers don’t begin relationships with abuse.  Often they lure you in with beautiful lies, coerce you into letting down your guard, then systematically groom, gaslight and manipulate you until your self-esteem is destroyed and you are solely reliant upon them for reassurance and validation.  Abusers will isolate you from family and friends, so that you have no safety net to turn to, and convince you that all the abuse you have endured in the relationship is somehow your fault.

 None of this is sudden or easy to spot as it is taking place.  It occurs slowly over time.  Argument by argument, things slowly escalate, with love bombing afterwards and promises that it will never happen again.  By the time you realize the depths to which you’ve sunken, it almost feels too late.  You’ve pushed away some people because your abuser has convinced you that they didn’t have your best interests at heart, and others have walked away because you didn’t listen when they tried to warn you against your abuser. You’ve been told that you made your bed and have to sleep in it, as if you willingly chose to be abused.

FKA Twigs hit the nail on the head when she said, “People say ‘It can’t have been that bad else you would have left.’ But no. It was because it was that bad that I couldn’t leave.”

Your entire world feels different when you are in the midst of an abusive relationship.  You feel trapped and alone, with nobody to turn to and nowhere to go.  Your self-esteem is depleted, and often you are thoroughly dependent upon your abuser in other ways, whether financially or otherwise.  You feel ashamed for being so foolish.  You feel unlovable and broken.  Your abuser has convinced you that you’re lucky to have them, and that nobody else would want you or love you.  If not for them, you’d be alone and those lingering doubts remain.

Did I somehow ask for this?  Is this really what I deserve? Am I really as horrible as they keep telling me I am?  Are they right– Am I really nothing without them?  Can I even survive on my own?

And the victim-blaming from people outside your relationship makes leaving even harder.  People rarely ask the abuser why he was abusive.  Instead the blame is usually shifted to the victim, forcing them to face a barrage of attacks simply for being too trusting, too loving, too insecure and too injured to leave.  Even worse, some people will minimize the abuse, accusing the victim of exaggerating, attention-seeking or making false claims out of retaliation.  Sadly, often victims of abuse remain silent simply because they cannot handle anymore aggression, especially from people who are unsympathetic and accusatory.

The truth is that nobody goes into a relationship asking to be abused.  Nobody chooses to be manipulated, lied to, gaslighted and hurt.  And nobody wants to be a victim, or to be seen as weak or broken.  It takes a great deal of courage to leave an abusive situation, and even more to openly speak out about it, whether to promote awareness or push for accountability.  As a society, we need to stop asking victims why they stayed in an abusive situation, and as FKA Twigs so eloquently put it, we need to start asking the abuser “Why are you holding someone hostage with abuse?”

Lead image courtesy of CBS YouTube channel.

Originally published: February 19, 2021
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