Domestic violence and abuse. If you are lucky, it has never touched you.
And I say lucky, because it really can happen to anyone.
You may be sitting there thinking: no, I would never get involved with someone who could treat me like that. But do you really think that is how abusers present themselves? Do you think you are shown that side of who they are right upfront? No. Abusers lure you in. They are nice. They get you hooked, believing in them before the first bit of abuse is ever delivered.
If you haven’t experienced abuse, or know anyone close to you that has shared their story, I’d like to give you some things to think about.
Not all Abuse Is Physical
The physical abuse is easier to see, to understand what happened. We all understand what a bruise is, how it gets there, how it hurts, and how it heals. But mental and emotional abuse is so much harder to see, to understand, and recover from. So many times, they wish they had just been hit — they’d have preferred it, to the emotional abuse. Sometimes, victims of mental and emotional abuse wish there was something to show, something they felt would give them credibility. Without that evidence — the broken bone, the bruise, the visible wound — it comes down to hoping someone will believe their story. An ugly story about someone who presents themselves to the world as a really nice person.
Words hurt. We tell our children at an early age that words can’t hurt you. But we know that’s a lie. Words DO hurt. Even worse, they can get in your head, make you question yourself, question your value, your judgment, your decisions, your decision-making. Slowly, you stop believing in yourself. It’s an insidious process, that descent into devaluing yourself.
Into that vacuum steps the person that created all that doubt, all that second-guessing, all that certainty that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s easy to start seeing yourself as the person they portray you as. You slowly start to substitute their wants, their opinions, for your own. It’s just easier than contradicting them and dealing with the blowback. Because the blowback may be huge. It can involve loud, angry, violent outbursts, or a quiet decimation of the soul. But standing up to the person who has taken over always involves blowback. It’s how they keep control. And control is everything.
What Can You Do?
The next time you are dealing with someone who seems so timid in the presence of their partner, who seems to always need to defer to the other, always needs to consult, or even just seems afraid of the reaction of their partner — take a moment to think about what you are seeing. You may not be seeing a timid person. This could be someone mentally beaten down. You may not be seeing someone who isn’t capable of making a decision, you may be seeing someone who fears making the wrong decision for a reason.
We judge pretty quickly. We base those judgments on what we have seen and experienced in our own lives. But if you have never seen or experienced mental or emotional abuse, you have no idea how insidious it is. How much of your life it takes over. How it makes you question yourself.
So, if you see someone who seems to fit that image, don’t judge — help. Listen. Give them a reason to open up. Let them know that it’s okay, they aren’t to blame for their circumstances. It’s a slow process, the losing of yourself. But the first step back, the first step out, is to have someone to talk to, someone who listens and lets you know that you are ok. They need a voice that contradicts the other one that tells them everything they do is wrong and they are worthless. Coming from someone you love, that voice is loud. It can take awhile to overcome that voice.
But It Can Be Done
With someone to hold your hand and tell you that you aren’t crazy, you are right in thinking the other person is wrong, that your feelings matter, that you are a good person, that you are a valuable person — then, you can step out into the light. You can stand up for yourself. You can stand up for what you deserve.
It takes strength to stand up in the face of someone who has turned your mind against you. If you haven’t seen it or experienced it, take my word for it. And be the person to help another stand up. It doesn’t take much. Just an open heart and an open ear. Surely you have that to give.