The news, a few weeks back, of a woman’s body found in her St.Paul’s Bay residence, three months after her demise, has shocked the nation. Janet Harvey’s decomposing corpse was found covered in blankets, in the same residence where she lived with her husband Russell. The autopsy later revealed that Janet had died of natural causes, though the mystery as to why her husband failed to report her death to the authorities at the time remained unclear.
Weeks later a grim picture of an abusive relationship has emerged. Former friends of Mrs Harvey paint an incriminating picture of her husband; going so far as to claim that he not only physically abused his wife but was an alcoholic, workshy, lazy, aggressive, a liar and thief. According to her friends, Russell Harvey was a scam artist who despite having fathered several children by different women and had never married, in Janet, who was fourteen years his senior, he had found a lifetime’s meal ticket which afforded him the lifestyle he yearned for.
According to these same friends, Janet was an intelligent woman, owned her own property, had a good income from her pension and was financially stable. Sadly, this tragic tale is by no means unique. A look at the news emanating from our courtrooms and from NGOs dealing with domestic violence and abuse, is more than enough to confirm that there are hundreds of women who despite being intelligent and strong in all other aspects of their lives and can carve their way into the world without any help, they still fall prey to the Russell Harveys of this world. This simply begs the question; why do women fall for these errant partners? And even more importantly, why do they tolerate the physical or emotional abuse, lying and cheating and all the ensuing humiliation this brings about?
Of course, there is nothing new in such baffling behaviour in women who really should know better; and it’s not just regular wives and girlfriends who struggle with the dilemmas of living with the partner from hell. From President’s wives (remember Hillary Clinton?), Hollywood starlets to famous female artists (Whitney Houston perhaps?) history is peppered with examples of wronged or abused women who were prepared to forgive and forget. So, what compels such women to engage with such ruthless, heartless men in the first place? Why do some women make it their life’s mission to single out the biggest creeps?
According to experts in the field, there are some basic issues in a woman’s psyche which will ultimately dictate her choice of partner. Her level of self-esteem is pivotal in this; if she feels good about herself, a woman will generally choose a mate who can communicate to her both verbally and non-verbally that she is cherished and respected. If her self-worth is low, a woman will inevitably seek someone who only reinforces her negative self-belief, which can sometimes lead to grooming, abuse and control by her unpalatable choice of partner. But what is even more baffling, is the age-old phenomenon of women returning to their abusers, even when the opportunity to end this kind of relationship arises.
Going back to a man who has treated you badly, time and time again is known as ‘repetition compulsion’ – with some women going so far as ending one destructive relationship only to enter into another, always attracting the same type of controlling, violent man. It seems as if these women feel a need to be un-rejected by the man who emotionally rejected them in the first place. It seems that there is an insatiable need for the woman to re-establish her self-worth in the eyes of the man who shattered it. To the rest of us this might seem as a puzzling conundrum, but to these women, self-esteem cannot be restored in any other way with anyone else – or at least that is their general perception.
Speaking to women who were or still are in this situation, one gets the sense that they hang onto such damaging relationships because they can’t face the alternative. Staying in a situation one knows well, regardless of how painful it is, gives a kind of comfort in its familiarity. This is where the human condition comes into play; people are by their very nature resistant to change, even potentially positive change. There is of course, always the hope that the partner will mend his ways and stop inflicting more bad treatment; something which rarely if ever happens without expert help and intensive counselling.
The late, great Whitney Houston, who had endured a terrible marriage to singer Bobby Brown, once sang, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”. It is this self-love that is the first, essential step for women who want to break free of toxic relationships; re-directing the love wasted on an abusive partner to loving the self. Women need to ultimately develop the confidence to risk true change, stop being imprisoned by their past and quit trying to seek validation from others. At the end of the day, it’s far easier to change your own behaviour than to change someone else’s – something which Janet Harvey and countless other women have learnt at their own, bitter expense…