It had been years since Susan heard from her ex-husband. He would send the occasional random text message with some type of mime or joke, but nothing of substance until today. Today’s remarks came across brash and accusatory. He demanded a face-to-face meeting with Susan and made a threatening remark if she refused.
Puzzled by his sudden verbal attack, Susan anxiously began rehashing the last several weeks and questioning her responses. But what she failed to do was assess the potential threat. He knew this about her.
He knew that if he could get her on the defensive, her guard would be let down. Unbeknownst to Susan, he was already stalking her. By the time he reinitiated communication, he already knew her routine and had planned his attack. He reached out to her only because he thought she caught a glimmer of him and he wanted to throw her off his scent.
Still brewing over the bizarre text messages, Susan walked around foggy. She struggled to concentrate at work and was too ashamed to let her family know he had contacted her. As she was leaving her office late one night, her ex-husband approached her and physically attacked her. The damage was significant physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As part of her healing process, Susan decided to form a better strategy for what to do when she is afraid. Here are a few of the things she decided:
- Recall past abusive behavior. A person’s previous actions are sometimes the best indicator of future behavior. This is especially true with physical abuse. Once a person has crossed the line of physical contact, it is easier to do it again and again. Susan made a list of his past abusive behavior, this became an indication of what he might potentially do in the future.
- Look at the victim’s response. In Susan’s case, she had called the police two times prior to his violent actions towards her. He was arrested but she dropped the charges because she felt guilty so nothing appeared on his record. Her past response was to minimize his behavior, make excuses for him, and not press charges. He knew this and counted on it.
- Examine the cycle of abuse. Most abusers follow the same predictable pattern over and over again. First, they are charming, nice, and seem to be unthreatening. Then out of nowhere, there is a verbal attack that startles their victim. While the victim is still in shock, they attack physically. This is followed by blame-shifting, insincere remorse, and a promise to not do it again. Then begins the honeymoon phase until the next attack. Having been removed from this pattern, Susan had forgotten his tactics and allowed her guard to be let down.
- Talk to someone. Had Susan talked to her family about the text message, they would have reminded her about his abuse pattern. They also would have reiterated their concern for her safety and cautioned her to be careful. But Susan took the communication personally, minimized his threats, and did not say anything to anyone.
- Be aware of feelings. Susan was ashamed of all the trouble her divorce caused her family and wanting to keep the damage to a minimum, so she was silent. In the past, her ex would blame her for any misfortune that he experienced. She would take on unnecessary responsibility and feel guilty for things that were not of her causing or choice.
- Anxiety is a friend, not a foe. Anxiety is like the engine warning light in a car. It is a signal that something is out of place and caution needs to be taken. Suppressing anxiousness can be detrimental. Instead of absorbing the warning inwardly, Susan should have looked outside of herself to see why she was so wound up. Looking back over the incident, she did remember seeing her ex-husband just prior to the attack but immediately dismissed the thought. She later realized that the uneasy feeling she had was her subconscious trying to warn her of the potential danger.
- Better safe than sorry. Having forgotten that old familiar saying her mother used to teach her as a child, Susan unwisely left her office late at night with no one else present. It was hours later before she would be found by a security guard. Instead of asking the guard to walk her to her car, she left that night tired, confused, and alone. His text message should have caused her to be hyper-vigilant rather than shocked.
Susan’s awareness of her shortcomings did not replace his guiltiness for the attack. In no way did she assume responsibility for his behavior. This time, she did press charges against him. In her efforts to emotionally heal from the event, Susan needed to feel empowered that she could do something proactive in the future. She did not want her previous victimization from the past destroying her future.