For a woman who has experienced abuse from her partner, her memory of the abuse is an important guide for her as she moves forward. What he has done in the past, he is likely to do in the future. Surviving life with an abusive man often means mentally putting abusive episodes to the side and not dwelling on them. Living with an abusive man is chaotic. The man’s abuse itself follows a bizarre cycle of honeymoon, tension building and explosion. Often a woman has not had a chance to really process one explosive episode before she is thrown into another one or into a time of extreme honeymoon. And so an abusive man might do something really quite awful but the woman may put the memory of that explosion off to the side because the man has already moved on to another phase of the cycle. As a woman moves forward, it is crucial that she find some way to remember these abusive incidents.
Some women keep a journal of the abuse. They write out the hurtful things the man does and says. This is a great strategy if keeping a journal is a safe thing to do because it helps to preserve the woman’s memory. Other women tell a trusted friend or family member what is happening and that person writes it down for them and keeps the information private. Many women, over the years, have told me that looking back in their journals or hearing a friend recount abusive events is very helpful for keeping the memory of the abuse accurate and alive.
Women often minimize the abuse in their minds. They do this for many reasons. They want their relationships to work and have probably been taught to focus on “the good” not “the bad”. They are distracted by more urgent matters like raising their children or in extreme situations, the memory is so awful they subconsciously set it aside because it is too painful to recall.
But remembering past abuse is very important if a woman is to try to protect her physical and emotional well-being moving forward. Sometimes at the point of separation, an abusive man will become very apologetic and make promises to never behave abusively again (honeymoon behaviour). If the woman is unable to recount past abuse in her mind, she is liable to think that it was “not too bad” or that she is “making too big of a deal” of his hurtful behaviour. This is when remembering becomes very important.
The best indicator of a person’s behaviour is their past behaviour. If, in the past, the man has lied or broken promises, he is likely to do that again. In the past, if he has been willing to do anything to get “his way”. He is likely to do that again. Remembering who this man is, based on his past behaviour, not who he says he is, is crucial for a woman’s safety.