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Why Don’t People in Abusive Relationships Just Leave?

Trigger Warning: Abuse, Violence, Rape


Talia Santopadre

My parents always told me that I’m always in some sort of trouble. This isn’t to say that I’m a bad person or that I’m drawn into these situations intentionally. I just am. Wherever there’s tragedy, you’ll see me. 

Looking back at it, it was probably because I’m overly trusting and naive, and that’s what abusers love: Vulnerability. I stayed in a relationship that relied on my inability to just see that sometimes, people want to see you hurt. I actually stayed in it for three years. 

My abusive relationship wasn’t the stereotypical one either. It started in high school. And while most people probably think that physical violence is usually prevalent when a couple lives together, it could literally be happening to your younger siblings, or the kids you used to babysit. I’d say that I’m a pretty strong person, but I went from a lively, fierce 16-year-old girl with a fashion sense and hobbies to someone I didn’t even know. A girl who knew how to fight would turn into someone who would cry if she was a tiny bit sore. And I tried avoiding it. I wore anything I could as long as it fit his image. I wasn’t even allowed to listen to my favorite music or shop at my favorite clothing brands. I wasn’t even allowed to have an opinion. I was told to quit all of my hobbies and leave all of my friends because any of that would cause him to snap. So to avoid any physical harm, I did as I was told. Not that it would even prevent him from doing anything. 

The worst part of that relationship was doing humiliating things. He’d blackmail me into doing disgusting, twisted acts that would make me throw up, because if I didn’t he’d hurt himself or someone else. He’d make me feel like the worst person on the planet if I shed a tear or expressed any physical pain. He’d show me the most traumatizing things on the internet that I’ll never be able to erase from my memory. It wasn’t so much the pain as it was how gross it all felt. 

Being manipulated and stripped of my autonomy, I had nothing left. I was like an empty shell at that point. I stopped caring about the school subjects I used to look forward to. In fact, school didn’t mean anything to me anymore. What mattered was that I was scraping by without being found out. My whole teenage world was turned upside down with different dilemmas and hours of being yelled at, so I really had no time for myself. When I got to college, I was stunned that there were so many people with lives, friends, and hobbies that I couldn’t even dream of. I had nothing but him and my brand new course load. But I think the course load helped. An important reason why I picked my major was because my friend recommended it to me, and I think he definitely knew what was up. It was everything I loved in one degree program. And when I was studying, I started having passions again. I had an awesome RA, I started looking into writing again, my roommates and I were close, and I had myself. 


white long sleeve shirt sitting on grass
Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

So when my boyfriend started expressing his distaste in my having fun and joining different organizations, I knew I had to fight. Because this is my college experience and I shouldn’t have to fear his tracking down where I was. Because I realized the freedom of having autonomy again. I took several tries to leave the relationship, and honestly, he tried his very best to get me to stay (including very illegal tactics), but I left. 

I think the reason why people have such a hard time leaving is that, in really intense relationships, the abusers are the only people the victims have in their lives. That’s how it works. We’re isolated from both the world and ourselves, and diminish into nothing but a host of a parasite, slowly sucking our souls away. And it’s really hard to start back up from scratch. 

The weirdest thing to me is that I’m out of it. I’m still in a constant state of fear and shock. I don’t think I’ve truly felt relaxed or comfortable ever since the relationship. But I’m always going to have the sense of relief in me, knowing that no matter where I am, or what situation I’m in, I’ll come out of it alive. 


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