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What is Choice?

If you look up the word choice for a definition you will get so many alternatives to its meaning and many different contexts in which the meaning of the word choice changes.

So when it comes to explaining why many victims that do not live with their abuser appear to choose to continually return to the scene of the crime only to be abused again and again is not a simple explanation and neither is the implied choice of the victim.

I can only speak from my personal experience of being a child that was continually abused by my father well into my teenage years when some would consider that I was then old enough to make the choice to say no, to leave home, to run away or to report him to the authorities.

I have heard this said by many people who do not understand the impacts of abuse and so many more people that really struggle to understand how grown women or men stay with a partner who is beating them sometimes so badly that they end up in hospital fighting for their lives.

In many cases when these women or men are asked to press charges against their partners they refuse stating that they couldn’t do that to him/her as they love them and they accept the show of remorse and the promise by him/her that they will never do that again.

I believe to explain this you have to understand how self-hatred, guilt and shame play such a huge role in removing the belief that you have choice, that you can say no, that you can run away or remove yourself from a dangerous situation or relationship.

When I finally said no to my father, I can honestly tell you I did not believe I had choice or that by me saying no, the sexual abuse would end. I also can’t tell you how much I suffered as a result of saying no, and the self-inflicted pain and mental torture that made my life a living hell from that day on.


What I can say however, choice is only there if the person themselves believe they can make a choice. The word itself implies that you have the ability to see what’s happening to you and all the possible alternatives and then pick which one is the best for you. It not about if the choice is difficult or painful or the possible consequences of making such choices, its about having the ability to think you can make one.

To me, that ability to see choice is totally dependent on your ability to see yourself as something worth saving.  Someone who deserves better, has a right to not be hurt, abused, tortured, diminished in any way. You need to see yourself as someone who matters in the world.

How many of us can honestly not only say that but mean it. Unfortunately, it is these very beliefs that are removed by the abuser as soon as they begin their grooming process. The grooming process can happen to anyone in any walk of life and at any age. It is this grooming process that allows the abuser to corrode the very things that makes us human.

The saying that ‘you can’t love someone else until you love yourself’ used to get right up my nose. I always felt I had no problem loving others in fact most of the time I didn’t think I had any difficulty being kind and generous with my friends and partners. It is only now that I actually understand why that saying is true.

I never made a true connection with anyone on any level other than superficial. I was operating out of my damaged self and avoidance of any real emotional pain was my end game. I didn’t know this was what I was doing, I always just believed that people will always let you down, everyone will always put themselves first, no one really cares about anyone other than themselves, and so all my relationships begun out of need and lasted because I focused on their issues and not my own.

I now believe that those who are abused by someone outside of their family have all the emotional hurts that victims of all abuse carry, without question. They feel just as sick, dirty, stupid and weak as I did. I bet they even believe that the hate they hold for themselves is more justified and have no difficulty taking on the views held by society. I can even bet they believe that what happened was their choice and not that of their abuser, that is how deep an impact the grooming process has on all its victims.

By Paula Kavanagh 

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