Friday, May 8, 1998

Forum

A Circle of Women

by Carol Lambert

I observe the eight women as they sit quietly in a circle filling out the information sheet. It has been six years since I sat with the first group of women with controlling partners. As they move on through the questions, they read “What message would you like me to leave if I am unable to reach you directly. If you prefer not to be called at home, please let me know.” My knowing this helps me to be careful, for I know they need to be. Other questions about controlling behaviors and restraining orders move them closer to the reason they are here. Here in an undisclosed location with the promise from each to keep it confidential. It is here that each woman cautiously made her way to sit in the circle.

After I explain the purpose of the group for women with controlling partners and what I hope to accomplish, one woman states “I am not sure if I should be here.” The woman quickly adds “I have never been hit.” She has no obvious reason to complain. Her dilemma is all too familiar. To not belong, might mean it is not as serious as she thought. Another voice responds; the woman who entered the room with a slight limp and two fingers in a support begins speaking. She tells the first woman, “I have been beaten. I have broken fingers.” “But,” she adds, “the emotional abuse is far more devastating and longer lasting.” As she explains, I can see she has not only assured the woman questioning whether she should stay; but also all the women are nodding. They all know what this woman is talking about. They glimpse at what they might have in common.

In an intimate relationship, control can take many forms. When one partner’s control of another becomes physical, the behavior is labeled domestic violence. When the controlling behavior is not physical, then the condition is hard to recognize, often minimized or even ignored. With no obvious physical abuse, women can be at risk of being captive in their intimate relationship for a very long time.

“I have never hit my wife” one man reports in his own defense. This statement is true. But this statement does not represent the truth about his wife's twenty years' experience with him. Next to the easy chair he often sat in was a table. Whenever she was not doing what he expected, he would move his hand toward the table. His gesture, ever so slight, would never go unnoticed, prompting her to do as he wished. For years, the top drawer of the table contained a gun.

I explain to the group of women that sharing why they are here and what they hope to gain from the experience is where we begin. I ask each woman to tell her story. To share how she came to experience the need for a group for women with controlling partners. I always feel privileged to be allowed to sit in, to bear witness to each woman’s tender narrative. Most of the women speak of their relationship as starting out with wonderment and gradually fading into confusion, fear and pain. As the women listen to the storyteller, I observe their serious expressions, reassuring nods, and at times, quietly shedding tears. I amaze myself with the sameness in their stories, like the hundreds I have now heard. As the bearer of their stories, my heart aches.

On April 26, the 8th Annual Walk for Women’s Lives took place in Concord to raise funds to support resources for female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Network for Women’s Lives, a local volunteer organization, sponsors the Walk and my groups among other activities. The Network for Women’s Lives is dedicated to eradicating domestic violence through education, outreach and advocacy. The Network welcomes women and men who wish to actively support this purpose. To obtain information or to volunteer call 287-4089.

Carol Lambert is a psychotherapist in private practice.