“But you’re such a strong woman…” – Part 1

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The silhouette in this picture is me, back in 2014 when I was a bodybuilder.

Shortly after my breakup which was less than 2 months ago, I found myself having to disclose to colleagues that I had left an abusive relationship – and I was being looked after by the police and women’s aid.

The reason being is that on the night after the police removed him from my house, he sent me a very angry email and copied-in a number of my colleagues.

In his words: “I have taken the liberty of copying in your colleagues, so they can see what kind of character you are.”

You will be wondering how he got their emails in the first place, as did I. It came to me the next morning – once I got over the initial shock of it. I remembered that towards the end of the relationship, he was very disapproving about my various social and networking engagements.

One of the rules he put in place was that I was to give him three weeks’ notice if I wanted to arrange anything and he set up a shared calendar. I tried to make it work.

There was a series of work-related events that was going to happen outside of office hours. I was worried about not being able to give him 3 weeks’ notice of this, so I forwarded him an email thread where colleagues and senior management were in discussions. I did this to appease him and let him see the evidence that the date was never in my control.

The email thread included email addresses of my colleagues in HR as well as colleagues who are responsible for Community Safety (ironically their remit is to support of victims of domestic abuse).

Naturally, when colleagues received this angry email they took action. I was immediately contacted by the head of HR who provided all the reassurance I needed at the time. I took a week off work and when I returned they arranged for me to see a therapist. My therapist is amazing.

I am so grateful to for the support of my employer. I chose to work in the not for profit sector, partially because of my values and also because it is a good move for someone with my challenges and vulnerabilities. However, I didn’t ever anticipate needing this kind of support and understanding from an employer – and they really showed up for me.

So this is how I ended up disclosing details of the relationship to colleagues. A few of them took me out for coffee as they wanted to know more. They asked things like where I met him and was I ever beaten and how did it escalate so quickly in such a short space of time.  

BTW – he didn’t beat me, but he did hold my face down on the bed and threaten to punch me.

The two phrases that has consistently come up has been:

“this really surprises me” and

“but… you are such a strong woman!”

Each time I have been stumped. I don’t know how to respond to these comments.

Are they saying something about me? Is there a deficiency on my part that I ended up here? Do I project a false image to people? I don’t have a filter. I am autistic and have ADHD so I am not very good at masks or pretending I’m something I’m not.

Or, is this about him? It is that he is so clever and calculated, that he can make a “strong woman” fall in love with him, and then take the liberty of hurting her and destroying her world? This is my therapists theory.

I think it does say something about how people’s perceptions on the matter is limited, and somewhat one dimensional. Is it reasonable to conclude that the majority of people think that victims of abuse, coercive and controlling behaviours – are weak?

I am still trying to understand and process people’s reactions. There is still work to be done on this.

There will be a part two.