Campaign domestic violence: Abuse in a relationship

In this short film we address the physical abuse of an adult woman. 

Magali is beaten regularly by her husband. It is humiliating and painful but she resigned herself to it. Recently their daughter Samantha has neither been safe from the physical violence and a painful boundary has now been reached for Magali. She is trying to find a way out of the situation but finds this difficult. Together with expert Dianne Lucassen (transformational coach) we take a fictitious look into the life of Magali. 

What happened to me that it could come this far? I still remember so well that I promised my mother that I would never be beaten by someone. I looked on how my mother changed. The more she appeared to disappear. She was there – and I saw her bruises – but she was not really present. 

Realising that you are in a hopeless situation

Life can happen to you sometimes. You are right in the middle of it and then suddenly you are caught by the realisation that everything went completely different from what you envisioned. It is not easy to break through an unhealthy pattern. There are so many customary expectations and habits that a step to the left or to the right takes an effort.

“I swore to her that I would never be beaten by anyone. I looked on what it did to my mother, how she changed, as if she slowly disappeared.”

Prejudices and taking back control

As an outsider, whether you are a neighbour, counsellor or family member, you perhaps wonder how hard it can be. You can decide to leave, right? Is that not your duty and responsibility as a mother. You could at least ask for help because there are aid organisations. In general it is not difficult to give an opinion but if you are really in an unhealthy relationship, then getting out is a difficult process.

‘I often promised myself that I would leave; that I would pick up my things and would go. In the beginning because I thought I also deserved to have a happy life. Later because I wanted to set a different example to Samantha. And yet I did not do it. In the end I am also to blame for his anger and frustration. Sometimes I catch myself challenging him, making him angry, because I can no longer deal with the tension. I try to do that at moments when Samantha is not around in order that she does not need to witness the violence, does not need to feel what I always feel; the humiliation and helplessness. 

Magali takes control by picking the time of the violence and protects her daughter this way. She knows that he will leave the house after a fight and will go the cafeteria because he no longer has a fixed job.

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“I feel so powerless! I want to leave but how? I cannot pay the rent if I am on my own and how should I then take care of my little girl?

Where will I go when I leave? How can I pay the rent on my own? How do I explain to Samantha that I deprive her of her father? Now, well now, I can explain it to her. He really did go too far. I let this happen. I did not pay attention when she woke him up on the sofa. How do I tell someone that I am afraid that my child is taken away from me? How will people look at me when they know everything? What will they do if I cannot even look at myself? ​

Shame

Magali turns her head, tilted downwards, her shoulders drop down because of her feeling of being worthless, not being good enough. Her body translates her feelings and her thoughts: ‘You are not good enough, you are worthless’. She is holding the phone in her hand whilst she is looking at Samantha’s bruise. She let her daughter down. She failed. She should have prevented this and she failed. There is nothing that she can do right. Her stomach cringes, it is almost impossible to breathe, the same thoughts keep repeating themselves. She does not dare and puts down the phone again. 

“It is my fault! I noticed too late that she accidentally woke him up when he was sleeping on the sofa. I let it happen. I should have noticed. He hit her so hard. I am really completely useless!”

No longer able to think clearly

The shame of Magali is so overwhelming that she is no longer able to act or think. This is an effect of intense shame; you truly believe that you have no worth at all and that you make no constructive contribution to life. What do you think  will happen when you tried to protect your daughter against seeing and hearing the violence – by first taking the hit yourself whilst thinking you also deserve it – and that you fail doing this? Exactly. The shame deepens and confirms what you already knew: ‘You cannot do anything’. A scientifically researched consequence of intense shame is that you can no longer think clearly. Hence, how realistic is it that as an outsider, a neighbour, counsellor, we keep pointing to the individual responsibility? How realistic is it that outsiders judge, condemn and impose requirements? 
 

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Recovery starts at making true contact

‘I feel the look of my colleague at work and I know that she knows. She saw the bruises’. Magali is profoundly ashamed and directs her look downwards as much as she can. At the same time she feels a very small glimmer of hope when her colleague rubs her back. She notices that it gets too much and she tries to restrain her tears. It is nice and scary at the same time. She would rather disappear. But she allows her colleague to intervene whilst her thoughts are with the image of her daughter. 

Relationship work

The colleague responds to the signal of shame; making contact. And she does this intuitively in a physical manner and this creates a connection that is not possible with language when the shame is experienced too intensely. Above all, our responsibility, as an outsider, as a neighbour, family member and counsellor, is to make true contact.
 

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