written by Suzi Jacobson, Stepping Stones advocate and 12-step bookstore manager

The regular exercise of making personal decisions is not something that many of our Shelter residents have practiced in the recent past. Most have had their independence seriously curtailed by an abuser. It is the regular practice of those who commit intimate violence to be suspicious of their partners and to limit the partner’s access to the world beyond home. Rarely have survivors had their own money, a car or a phone to use. They rarely enjoyed any sort of communication with, much less visits from friends or relatives.

Abusers impose as much isolation as possible on their partners and as a result, the only personal decision-making survivors have had is an imagined sense of power to keep the peace. So they cook the abuser’s favorite meals, keep the house spotless, wear clothing that is pleasing, keep the kids quiet and out of the way. and so on and so on. If the survivor was allowed to go to the grocery store, the partner went along or imposed a strict time frame for the shopping.

Inability to make and act on one’s own decisions is a severe limitation to independence. When that condition changes, everything changes! It is such a joy to watch survivors start making healthy, independent choices. I have seen the results of going back to school for a GED, getting a Bachelor’s degree, finding a job that means earning money that belongs only to the earner; being able to pay for kids’ back to school clothes and supplies, cook meals that are one’s own choice, sit down and relax with a book or a video, maybe buy a small treat “just because.”

Respondents to an online question, “What does independence mean to you?” said these things:

  • You don’t answer to someone else.
  • You determine your own schedule, values, and priorities.
  • You stand alone.
  • Being able to depend upon yourself.
  • Not being a victim anymore.
  • Doing things without manipulation.
  • Self-reliance.
  • Living a fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle.
  • The ability to say no. Not having to ask for permission to live my life.
  • Choices.

May you be ever independent and surrounded by people who love you just the way you are.
Peace to you, SJ