Victims of Abuse May Be Too Good To Leave

May 6, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

Are you abused because you are you a good wife/husband? A good child? A good employee? What else are you besides "good"? If you don't know, then you could be stuck in your abusive relationship for a very long time.

Good wives and husbands go about fulfilling their roles as they believe a "good" person should. But guess what? If you describe yourself as good, then you must keep a counter-balance in sight - you must keep someone around you who provides the bad because good cannot exist without something bad with which to compare itself.

This is problematic for both groups of abuse victims: the ones currently entrenched in the abusive relationship and the ones who escaped it. Being good keeps you glued to current bad behavior and causes you to unconsciously seek it after your escape.

Why do they stay? Because they're good people. Why did he marry that type of woman? Because he's a good person.

No More Good People, Please!

In front of me is the book "The Survivor Personality" by Al Siebert, PH.D.

Dr. Siebert says that to survive and thrive beyond our dysfunctional relationships (and other hardships), we must be willing to behave in whatever way the situation calls for. To survive, we must be flexible with our ideas about our Self. When we limit ourselves to being good, we cripple ourselves mentally and emotionally.

Our parents laid out the rules for what it meant to be a good child: don't be selfish, don't cry, don't complain, don't be "bad". Bad kids argue, steal, and disobey and nobody loves them. Don't be bad.

The "good person" mentality follows us into our adult life. We do as we're told at work instead of putting forth a better idea, we suck up abusive nonsense from our spouse, we dutifully listen as our mother calls us stupid and lazy. We're good people because we don't make a fuss.

Being a good person is the wrong kind of person to be just the same as being a bad person is wrong. Dr. Siebert proclaims that it's time to give up the "good noun" labels we place on ourselves and just be simple people who do the best we can within any circumstances we find ourselves.

An Alternative to Good that Isn't Bad

The alternative to being good (and putting up with someone else's hurtful behavior) is to understand, in Dr. Siebert's words, that it is okay to display "pessimistic optimism, ... tough sensitivity, selfish unselfishness, loving anger, ... cooperative non-conformity, responsible rebellion, ... and many more paradoxical combinations."

So if we can show those behaviors, then we can definitely find better words to describe ourselves than "good".

When I was living with my abuser, I flat out told him I was siphoning money ($20/month) into my own account in case I had to temporarily leave the house due to his temper. I explained that I may need to buy gas or breakfast in case I didn't feel safe to come home right away. I was honest with him, like a good wife.

Being a good noun in this case was also stupid. I would have served both of us better if I hadn't said a thing - if I had lied. He wouldn't miss $20 a month, I would have been able to leave more often when the strain was too high to stay, and he surely wouldn't have thrown me over that table.

If I had stopped trying to be so "good" maybe he wouldn't have been so "bad". I'm not excusing his behavior, but what did I expect him to do? Smile and hand me $40 to start my new account? If instead of asking myself what a good person should do I had told myself "Sometimes I have to lie to protect myself," well then, things would have worked out a lot differently that day.

What Are You?

I no longer want to describe myself as a good person. I want to be curiously cautious, mysteriously transparent, and internally extroverted. I want to be able to say things like "I transferred $9600 out of our joint savings account the night I left" without feeling the urge to explain myself because the actions may sound bad.

I am more than good or bad. What kind of person are you?

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, May 6). Victims of Abuse May Be Too Good To Leave, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

March, 19 2016 at 5:24 pm

I love my husband very much but I don't know what to do and where to turn. I am 57 years old and we have been married for 27 years. Our children are all grown. My husband is an alcoholic who stopped drinking January of this year. I though his verbal comments would get better but I am now not allowed to have a normal conversation with him and express my views without him thinking I am being combative, controlling and pushing my agenda. I come from a loud Italian family and my voice isn't the quietest. He mocks my voice, mannerisms, emotions, tells me I should never have been born (I was adopted so this is especially hurtful) He has started to devote all his non-working hours to following his religious path and expects me to do the same. I am very lost and need help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
March, 21 2016 at 5:44 pm

The kids left, and it's time for you to go too. Your voice and mannerisms are the same as they've been for the past 27 years, so he's digging in his nails, trying to drag you down so you don't leave his nasty self. AND, as many do, he's going to use your religion against you. Or at least, his version of your religion against you.
You were born for a darn good reason, and that reason was not to live with a foul spouse your whole life. You're 57? How does spending the next 40 years with him sound to you?

January, 26 2014 at 9:18 am

Never heard it put this way before Kellie! I am a good girl who has recently been doing things for my safety and future that good wives don't do and it is so hard! It feels so wrong- it seems to go against my personality and there is the fear of him finding out. It is eating me up inside. I am even feeling afraid to post this or include the details of my plans. I relate to this post and all the comments. I have read your book and am working my way through your archives and it is giving me support through a very turbulent time, though I don't always feel safe enough to comment or write you. There are probably many others like me, taking solace and drawing strength from your work, who remain incognito- on their behalf- Thank You.

Confused No Longer
March, 6 2013 at 11:28 pm

I shouldn't have been so dramatic before. I was writing while I was weathering one of his "punishment storms" during those I easily fall into despair and don't think straight. I couldn't possibly end my life. It would devastate my kids and other family members. (Also he'd more than likely end up with the kids and their situation would be worse!)
I have decided that I have put this man and his needs first in my life for too long. I need to be a good mother to my children and by allowing this to continue; I am not. I have also realised that I shouldn't have to live a life under the stresses of fear and being controlled. Thank you for your advice and for your blog, through it I have been able to recognise that I am in an abusive relationship. I think I knew from the start but if I had to admit it then it would mean that I would have to do something about it. Does that make sense?
I will be giving him an ultimatum; family counseling, or I will have to leave. I will make it clear that although I love him, I cannot tolerate his abusive nature and if he does not want to try and get help (not holding my breath on this one) then I have no choice to take myself and the kids out of the situation. Scary! Especially since he's being so kind and loving at the moment. I have to fight against the temptation of once again just settling for this side of him and hoping it will be ok. It won't. I used to choose not to linger on the bad times, 1 Corinthians tells us not to bear a record of wrongs against those we love, but now I understand that it is talking about the mutual respectful love that non-abusive relationships have. Now especially, while he is busy smiling and telling me how much he loves me; I will have to re-play those traumatic times where he has threatened us and terrorised us so that I will be strong in my resolve to follow through with my decision.It will be difficult, financially he has a hold on me and he knows it, I also feel bad when I think about how much this will hurt him, it goes against my nature as well as my faith which teaches forgiveness and compassion. BUT I know now that his behaviour is unacceptable even to God. My faith will see me through, God has surrounded me with amazing friends and family. I am not alone! May God bless you for revealing the truth to people. Know it and it will set you free!

March, 6 2013 at 1:59 am

Dear Confused,
I read your comment- I understand competely what you're saying; I could have written your comment.
I feel the same about my husband. Sadly though now, when I ask myself "Do I love him", more and more my answer to myself is "No". Nevertheless I feel that I can't leave him. I don't know why not - I don't depend on him for anything - I have a job, money, a place to go to, a family who love me, we don't have children. But there is something that compels me to stay here.
While I am being a "quiet wife" my husband is so charming and loving, and like you I ask whether he really is abusing me. But the minute I express my own personality in someway (e.g.disagreeing with him or asking him where he's going) he's horrible. He's like a child - he sulks, swears, slams doors, insults me.... He's told me so many times that I will get home one day and he will have just packed up his things and left to another area so I won't know where he is, he'll change his phone number and I'll never see or hear from again. He said he's done it before to "too many girls" (who are, aparently, always more beautiful and clever than I am).
On Sunday I had a monster migraine but he asked me to give him a massage. When I said that I've got a migraine and just want to lie down quiet, he was so horrible - he told me to leave and that he didn't want to be married to me anymore. Then he wouldn't speak to me for about an hour. A ridiculous over-reaction! Really I should have laughed at his childishness, got my coat and gone.
But, when he's like this I plead with him to stop, to be nice to me. I cry, which he can't tolerate. After, I think "Why didn't I just walk out the door, why did I demean and belittle myself?" I hate myself. These episodes leave me drained, physically and emotionally, and it takes me days to get over them. I have panic attacks and my doctor prescribed anti-depressants. I think I would be happier without him but for some reason, for the same reasons as you I think, I can't go. I despise myself for that.

March, 3 2013 at 7:48 pm

I thought I was alone. I have been waiting 12 years for my love and faithfulness to him to penetrate the anger and insecurities that drive his controlling behaviour. Now I am simply confused. He hurts me and then makes up for it, I cling to the hope of 'maybe this time'. Do I love him? I don't want to hurt him, I feel sorry for him and grateful for the slightest kindness he shows. I know how pathetic I sound. I put him first in everything, I tell him where I am going and I have panic attacks when I see missed calls or texts from him, my heart pounds and my mouth goes dry. Everything is fine as long as I toe the line. I even question whether he is really abusing me; don't all couples argue? Yes, but I know not all the husbands tell their 10 year old daughters that "your mother is a f*** up." Then the rationalising the justification of his behaviour: he has issues, if he could only work them out. He does change when I speak to him and he's calm. Lately I've been thinking; people say you die and go to hell, well what if it's the other way round? what if to get out of hell you have to die?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
March, 5 2013 at 5:49 pm

The abuse you suffer clouds your vision. Your abuser wants you to believe the only way to leave is through death. God knows mine drilled "our vows" into my head hard and often during our first years together. I thought that we WOULD be together until death did we part. I prayed for him to die. I prayed for me to die. I thought about dying and how to do it so it would have the least painful effects on our children. The abuse led me to believe that it was HIM or DEATH and blinded me to alternative solutions. You named yourself "Confused" for your comment. I think you are confused because despite what ABUSE tells you, you know there are other options. You're confused because the other options don't seem as doable as staying or dying...and ABUSE doesn't want you to consider any alternative.
There are plenty of other options. You can stay but detach yourself (not much fun, not the best for you or the kids, but it's an option). You can stay until you just can't take anymore but believe leaving him is better than dying. You can stay forever, just as you are, and believe you live in hell (change nothing). You could leave him. You could separate from him for a year and return if he meets your conditions and you still want to take him back. You can leave in the middle of the night with the kids and live on the run. You can leave when he isn't home and file for divorce. You can do anything, any combination of things, in any order you want. But death is not an option. Don't let the Abuse Demon take your life.

February, 28 2013 at 12:43 am

I know I have commented on so many of your posts but I am just loving them. I love this! I am so caught up in being a 'good' person and always doing the right thing by everyone, all the time that I forget to be good to myself. I am so hung up on my past mistakes (I seem to think noone else makes mistakes...or if they do they are excusable. However, mine are not)...that I don't move from my situation. I am so 'stuck' in wanting to show the world that I am good, that I am too scared to leave because I don't want to hurt him. I don't want my family to think I am selfish, I don't want my coworkers/ old school friends to know things I have done in my past.
It's ridiculous! I'm far more complicated than 'good'.

June, 10 2012 at 12:26 pm

I was simply "Too Good To Leave" - This I knew while abused and have been told by my own family also. Reason - I was Married, I have to be loyal to my vows and see if it becomes a healthy relationship over time. How much time? I thought lets see where we are in 5 Years BUT
the Abuse/Marriage Lasted Only 3 Years because he decided he is a victim of abuse and deserves a better wife.

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