I still remember the day when a young lady in my Deviant Behavior class said “I would never let that happen to me,” when we were discussing domestic violence.

It brought back feelings of shame and embarrassment - the feeling that there was something wrong with me because I was a victim of domestic abuse. The truth is it doesn’t matter where or how you were raised, what you do for a living or how much education you have. The chance that you will meet an abuser during your lifetime is extraordinary. It is a common misconception that victims are in some way emotionally flawed, weak or “damaged” if they end up in abusive relationships. No one is immune to the risk of becoming involved with an abusive partner. Unfortunately, abusers don’t walk around with a capital “A” on their t-shirt. Abuse is complex, and there is no shame in falling for an expert con artist.
The good news is that it’s possible to protect yourself and your loved ones by using a “Self-Preservation Philosophy.” The Self-Preservation Philosophy encourages us to use knowledge, empowerment and strategies for assessing and managing risk in relationships.
(1) Knowledge is power: Learn to recognize all forms and patterns of abuse (e.g. verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, economic, and spiritual). (2) Armor up: Developing high self-esteem, being financially independent and having strong family and community support add strength to protective factors. Healthy coping skills, the ability to embrace change, believing that nothing is insurmountable or impossible and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses also add to your inner wealth. These protective factors help determine how we deal with the emergence of an abusive partner.
Having low self-worth can make a person more vulnerable to initial compliments of an abuser and more hurt by their insults when the false charm falls away. Dr. Nathaniel Branden puts it this way, “Positive self-esteem is the immune system of the spirit, helping an individual face life problems and bounce back from adversity.” (3) Assert yourself: Being assertive and confident in personal boundaries decreases your chances of being “targeted” by an abuser. Your version of “no” should be definite and leave no room for a change of opinion or compromise.
(4) Develop healthy mistrust: in the Grimm Brothers’ version of Little Red Riding Hood, Red is warned not to talk to strangers. At first, she ignores the wolf but relents when he says “can’t you even wish me a good day?” Not wanting to be rude she talks to the wolf, and we all know how the story goes from there. If someone approaches uninvited, we do not owe them anything, not even a “valid reason” or an excuse. Wanting to stay safe shouldn’t be perceived as being rude.
(5) Make a list: Include your likes, dislikes, moral principles, and goals. Keep it to yourself; sharing this information draws a map for a potential abuser of what they should do to win your trust.
(6) Practice zero tolerance: Before entering into a relationship, make up your mind beforehand that you will end it if your needs are not met or at the first signs of abuse. Decide you won’t become so attached that you sacrifice your principles or your safety. Practicing zero tolerance gives you control of your own destiny.
There are good people in the world, and when you find someone who proves their worth, it is okay to let down your guard and revel in the experience of love. The purpose of the Self-Preservation Philosophy is to create a strong core guided by self-respect instead of a need to please others. If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or at our website www.csna.org.
“Stop Signs” by Lynn Fairweather

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