Nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors. While college students are not typically equipped to deal with dating abuse, the majority say they do not know how to help someone who is experiencing it.
Meet my friend, Lauren, an Avila University graduate with degrees in Psychology and Business. Lauren pursued her career with the desire to support others who've been severely compromised by abusive relationships, like her.
When Lauren was 19-years-old, she met someone at Pittsburgh State University. In the beginning of their relationship, Lauren was treated like a queen. All was great in their relationship, until something unknown triggered a different side of him.
After a year into their relationship, the apologetic boyfriend loosened his filter and became controlling and verbally abusive. Beatings and throwing objects began two years into the relationship. The first time he slapped Lauren developed one month of apologies and begging for Lauren's forgiveness. The time between physical and verbal abuse became shorter and shorter as his apologies for his behavior turned into blaming Lauren for making him hit her.
Why couldn't Lauren leave this relationship? She went on to tell me this:
"Nobody knew about the abuse because I wouldn't tell anyone. When there were visible signs of abuse, I made excuses. My family and friends all believed we weren't right for each other, in spite of how kind he acted when around them, versus how he treated me. He did not want anything to do with my family and that was hard for them to deal with, being this meant I wasn't around as much either."
Lauren seemed to defend her relationship, though it was abusive. This is unfortunately normal for people to do, especially minds with hearts as big as Lauren's. She fell in love with all of his good parts and had a hopeless hope that he would return to being good and kind and fun. This sounds familiar doesn't it? Most people are willing to stay in a toxic relationship and or situation simply because it is familiar and they fear change. Having hope the person would change supports staying in such toxic familiarity. Are you in a situation or relationship you believe to be toxic? People rarely change unless something dramatic brings the shift, so protect yourself with boundaries and sometimes, distance.
She stayed with him because he was familiar and she loved him. Lauren went on to discuss how the abuse worsened when she was just about to leave the 2 year relationship.
"I was 21-years old now and finally decided to meet with him, prepared to break up with him. We got into a fight where he threw me on the ground. I got up and told him I was done with this. I walked to my Red Honda Civic and he followed me, jumping into the passenger seat before I could drive away without him. Driving around the neighborhood, hoping he would ask to go back home or get out of the car, tension rose when he took out a 357 Magnum and shot me, then shot himself."
(LEFT) Lauren before her shooting, (RIGHT) Lauren after her shooting, blind and without a sense of smell.
It never crossed Lauren's mind, that the man she thought she'd spend the rest of her life with, would ever try to kill her. He died in the horrific incident, while Lauren fought for her life, losing her sight completely, and a level of her ability to taste and smell.
"How could anyone think the person they are spending their life with, would try to kill them? I thought there would be anger problems we'd need to work through, maybe another beating, but I never ever thought he would put a gun to my head and pull the trigger. I wasn't someone who was careless about the relationships I pursued, but for him, I did make excuses for the physical abuse. I was stuck, and it only got worse."
Lauren couldn't recall the exact moment where she decided to leave him, she just knew she wouldn't let him win with continued abuse. Since the attempted murder and suicide, Lauren has used her blindness as motivation to improve her life rather than to dwell on what happened to her.
Not as naïve as she claims to have been before, Lauren expresses that she grew up thinking everyone was generally good, but her experience taught her to have more boundaries and to be more guarded, specific about who she would accept relationships with. She is stronger for it, now! She went to a KC Local domestic violence shelter to speak with others, not only to help herself, but to support others who have been through similar situations. She also joined a group in her college, to be a contact for young women that may be in need of one-on-one support. To no surprise, many have reached out to Lauren for support and even used her story to get out of two consecutive abusive relationships, when seeing the signs of a future out of control spiral. Lauren takes a lot away from helping others; it has put purpose to her chaos. She encourages everyone to talk about their hard experiences, for abusers thrive on the silence of their victims.
Lauren and I met at Avila University. I assisted her in a Psychology class, and that's when I fell in love with her strength, stamina and laughter, after all she'd endured. Lauren and I would go shopping or to Bible Studies or coffee together. Her husband has been there all the while, showing what true love and a healthy relationship looks like.
Lauren met her husband at a Blind Training Facility in Kansas City. He had surgery that let him blind for three months, and possibly forever. He began training with the hopes to keep at least partial sight. He attended training sessions once a week, and on Lauren's first day there, we met and hit it off. The beautiful couple have been together, married with pets and children ever since!
Though Lauren really liked this man, she noticed his kindness and patience was breaking down her walls, and that kind of scared her. She felt more relaxed around him, but before him, were tall and thick walls meant to protect her from people like her ex-boyfriend. While Lauren still has thick boundaries for her relationships, she is able to connect with people well. She is bold, direct, transparent and fun, but will always live with some anxiety due to her relationship with her ex.
Lauren knows that her husband has zero tolerance for abuse. He was married before we married, and his relationship with her was not the best, but through it all, he never hurt her. This assured me that he wouldn't ever mistreat me. Lauren has personally witnessed her husband putting himself at risk, to stop an escalating fight between an unknown woman and her boyfriend. He is not okay with mistreating a woman verbally, physically, or in any way, and will stop it at any cost.
Lauren closed our interview with these statements, that I found very eye opening and encouraging! Let us learn from her perspective and treat others with such respect in our words and actions.
"I don't like the word handicapped at all. It implies to others that I'm lesser than someone else. I am not lesser than anyone. I am actually stronger with more determination that before I was shot. I have graduated college with two degrees, and am starting the master's program later this month. I have learned how to adapt to blindness, how to function in the world without sight and smell. I refuse to let things hold me down.
I feel that people who experience loss, due to abuse, are able to move forward in life, overcoming anything! Most people do not cope well with loss of vision, or any of their major senses, let alone, thrive without them. I know this is a strength of mine and I wish to lead others in such positive psychology.
Though you've experienced hardship, and have all the reasons to be bitter and angry the rest of your life, pushing people away and doing life alone, I advise that you wouldn't. Rather, talk with someone about the abuse, get the healing you deserve so that you would not let the experience consume you, but propel you. What is gone is gone, and what lies ahead has to be worked for."