The Ray Rice story rolls on. As you may have seen, some of that is about his wife, Janay, and why she has stayed with him. The talking heads on tv are very good at speaking for her, as if they know her. I have heard several people say, “she is doing this because of_———” fill in the blank with money, denial, fear, etc. Those people don’t know her and don’t know why she married him after the elevator beating, or why she stays with him now. They are just speculating, but at her expense.
There are many reasons why women stay with their abusers. I have written before about the fear and love that both impact decisions.
But, there is far more to the process than what meets the eye. There is biology that plays a significant role.
When a person is traumatized, the freeze, flight, and fight mechanism becomes activated. When that happens, the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain shut down. During that time, information is not stored or organized in the memory the way non-traumatic information is. Much of what happens is randomly stored, so the person has no narrative memory for what happened.
The part of our brain that is responsible for creating a narrative out of our experiences (the left prefrontal cortex) tries to fill in memory gaps. If you tell yourself a narrative, you begin to believe it. If you blame yourself or feel like it’s your fault that you were abused, that becomes your narrative.
If it was your fault, why would you leave him? Why would you want him prosecuted? You do not have the narrative that he is responsible and he should be punished. Those of us who watch that video of the assault In the elevator, develop our own narrative. But, we are not in fight or flight mode or traumatized. We are operating from a rational, reasoning part of our brain. I see that video and think he should be arrested and charged with a serious felony. Bur, my brain is not in trauma mode when I am putting the information together.
The story the victim/survivor tells herself, may also be supplemented with what the abuser tells her. He may be the person helping her fill in the memory blanks. He is not operating in trauma/survival mode.
Once she puts a narrative to her experience, it may be the narrative of loving her partner, being her fault, she contributed to the problems, or other messages that do not make him responsible or accountable for the violence. If that is her narrative, why would she leave?
So, let’s be very careful about victim blaming in this case and others. The fact is that biology comes into play and that process highjacks memory and rational thought. The narrative she is working with is not your narrative. It is created through the process of trauma. Janay Rice is staying with her husband. That is how she put the narrative together. Give her your support and understanding.
And, for just a moment, think about how you would feel is the most horrible moment of your life was filmed and shown hundreds of times on national television.