Monday, January 28, 2013

I Was A Very Strong Woman

There's a book I love called A Ring of Endless Light. I love it because I understand the characters, I value and respect them, and I appreciate the relationships between them.

There's this one scene where Vicky is talking to her grandfather about Zachary. I wrote up the scene here (click for link). 

"The thing is- he needs me," Vicky says, as she talks about Zachary. Zachary's needing her is the siren song that can pull her away from everything else she might love and might hold dear. And Grandfather cautions her that that is not healthy. He doesn't caution her with those words- he doesn't see it in terms of health. As a Christian, he instead puts into perspective based on vanity and the vanity a person has in thinking that they can bear the burdens that are meant for others.

Today I was home sick, so I decided to devote some time to watching TED Talks. I watched one given by Leslie Morgan Steiner entitled "Why Domestic Violence Victims Don't Leave." You can watch it below:

There was something she said that struck me- struck me and made me shiver. I felt resonance because what she said made sense to me. It's something I think, too. (For clarification's sake, not about my husband. But it's an attitude I understand.)

She said "I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I 

was a very strong woman in love with a very troubled man. And I 

was the only person on earth who could help Connor face his 


We provide context and narrative to the situations in which we find ourselves. We either internalize or externalize. Leslie didn't want to say, "My husband is doing things that are harmful and dangerous. He is threatening my life. I may love him, but I need to leave him." Instead, she wanted to say, "My husband is a troubled man, but it is my duty to prove my fidelity to him. I will stand by him, through thick and thin. I will be there for him, because I am the only one who has the key to him- the only one who will be able to help him heal. This is my special task, and I must fulfill it." 

There is an idea that especially those of us who have been rejected, who have felt ourselves to be outcasts, hold ourselves to. The idea is this: We will never reject anyone. We will not leave them behind. We will remain loyal, no matter what. Even if the person isn't showing us proper respect or kindness. Even if the person treats us badly. We will stay, until that person makes us leave. Or, until we find the courage to leave, depending on how bad the situation is. 

We cannot bear to see in ourselves the slightest shadow of the attitudes that hurt us so deeply, so profoundly. Therefore, we leap away from these choices. We need to be better people, in our minds, to ourselves, than the people who hurt us. But because of this, we limit our options. The only role that we can play is that of savior, and we must put up with hurtful or harmful behavior because to challenge it is to reject others, which is something we must not do. We can't see both sides to the story. The only story that we can be part of is one where in the end, it will all come right. We will be loyal until that loyalty is rewarded. We will be strong. We will be Beauty saving the Beast. We will love our partners back to health, and all will be well.

Except for the times it doesn't work out that way. The times where we need help in realizing that despite denial, that narrative isn't the only way things could work out. The times where we need to be told that it is not strength that keeps us with this person, but a simple inability to conceive of any other options. To us, there is no other choice. Because leaving is admitting failure- and we cannot bear to fail. Leaving is rejecting someone we care about- and we cannot bear to reject them. Leaving hurts us- and we cannot bear the pain. 

Until the time comes when we learn why we cannot bear to stay.

And by then, it's usually too late.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think part of what makes that such a powerful idea is that it's not wrong, it's just not right in all situations. That's an attitude that will help a marriage stay together if, say, one spouse is going through moderate level issues, or even major issues (a major depression, to take an easy example).

In real life, a husband or wife whose spouse is suffering from some issue or another will often inflict pain on their spouse, or find other ways to make life very difficult. Helping someone isn't usually "why thank you for helping me" - more likely it's "I'm going to hurt you while you try to help me."

If the healthier spouse says "well, that's emotional abuse and I'm not going to take that" and then gets divorced... that's going to lead to divorces that didn't necessarily need to happen. We all have issues. The alternative is to help them get counseling and hope it works, but that's not always easy either.

This is the more serious side to the idea that you and your spouse are "bashert" - that you're supposed to help each other deal with their problems when they're hard.

The problem comes when someone's issues get serious enough to lead to true and dangerous abuse. Then an attitude that prevents divorce turns into a cruel prison. But it's a powerful prison because it's true in other places.

The more emmes a lie has, the more powerful it is.