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Why They Stay

My next door neighbor of fourteen years did something a week ago that astounded me, surprised me, and made me more proud of her than I have ever been. She found the courage and strength within herself to leave her abusive husband. She made the decision that she had enough of the verbal beat downs, enough of the days of having him in her face screaming and yelling about what a failure she was, and enough of never feeling as though she was worth anything.

I have been frustrated and furious with this girl over the years because I never understood why she chose to stay with someone who treated her so poorly. As a child abuse survivor who didn’t have the choice to leave and escape my abusive household; I couldn’t understand why an adult, who had the means to leave and the choice to leave, would willingly choose to stay in such a bad situation. I didn’t understand why a grown woman would allow herself to be called fat, ugly, useless, and lazy by a man who supposedly loved her.

Me, and many of the neighbors in our quiet little neighborhood, attempted to step in and help this girl numerous times over the years. We would call the police during one of his screaming fits; only to watch in despair as she would refuse to press charges and giggle everything away as a “disagreement that got loud”. I tried to get her enrolled into college to help her make something of herself; but she always found an excuse to avoid that trip to the registrar’s office. I gave her the contact information for Dove and other domestic violence agencies, only to hear a week later that she never even bothered to dial that 800 number.

Every opportunity we tried to give this girl to get her out of that house failed because in the end, she refused to leave. She refused to accept that she was anything more than the names that her husband called her on a daily basis. She believed she was nothing because she was told daily that she was nothing, over and over and over. It didn’t matter what I told her or what anyone else told her; all that mattered were the words that were being screamed into her face again and again.

I sat and racked my brain more than once trying to figure out why in the world this girl chose to stay. She had so many friends and family members willing to take her in and help her get away from this man; yet she refused their help. Why? She didn’t grow up with abuse, she didn’t get bullied and hurt as a child, so why is she accepting it now as an adult? What in her brain is telling her that it is OK to sit and be mentally and verbally abused day after day?

Then it hit me; she wasn’t always this way, but he was. I knew that her abuser had been married before; and was divorced because of mental cruelty on his part. I knew that his ex-wife had called this girl and warned her of his abuse. I knew that his own mother told this girl that he was “just like his father” and that verbal abuse just came with being in a relationship with him. I knew he grew up with a verbally abusive father and that he was continuing the cycle of abuse with every single woman he was with.

Over the fourteen years I knew this girl, I saw her change from a bubbly, happy girl who thought that she was head over heels in love to a depressed, sobbing, mess who couldn’t escape the hell she was living in. I watched as his control over her grew and grew until she was jobless, vehicleless, penniless, and completely reliant on him. I heard him scream at her for hours on end, just to make her giggle the next day with “I Love You” texts and sweet little poems. This abusive man took a bright, happy girl with the world in front of her and broke her down to absolutely nothing.

That’s why she stayed; not because she wanted to, but because she believed that she had to. She believed that there was no one out there who would love her as much as her abuser did. She believed that she was too dumb to go to school. She believed that she was ugly and fat and that no other man would even give her a second glance. She believed that she couldn’t survive without her abuser.

The day she moved out, I held her tightly in my arms in my front yard, whispered how proud I was of her and told her to run and never look back. After all of the years of screaming, tears, and pain; she had finally decided to take her life back and try and find happiness away from him. After fourteen years of abuse, she still had enough strength left in her to know that she deserved better and that she wanted better. After fourteen years, she was going to finally have control over her own life.

Her abuser moved a new girl into the house the night my friend moved out. A new girl, his “dime” piece as he likes to tell my friend, but in reality, we all know she is his new victim. It will only be a matter of time before the “honeymoon” period is over and she is sitting in the same chair my friend did, with the same tears rolling down her face, as this man screams at her for hours on end. He will break this new girl the same way he broke my friend and his ex-wife, and I know from experience that there is little I will be able to do about it.

It’s sickening to know that grown adults like my neighbor exist and that they continue to prey on people that they think they can break and control. It’s heartbreaking to know that there are grown adults out there, living through the same abuse I did as a child, but who feel as trapped as I did. And it’s extremely frustrating to be on the outside looking in, unable to do anything because the victim refuses to accept help.

I am so proud of my friend for finding the strength within herself to leave. I’m so proud that she realized what a beautiful person she was and how much she had to offer someone who truly loved her. I’m proud of her for taking her life back and living like a survivor instead of a victim.

National Domestic Violence Hotline : 1-800-799-7233

Why They Stay

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Why They Stay. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jul 2017
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