Abuse comes in many forms. Unfortunately, our society – in fact, most of the world – is currently not really ready to properly deal with the most common and insidious forms of abuse. But first, let’s start with what SHOULD be the easiest.
If a husband severely beats his wife, most people would think it’s a no-brainer for the victim – in this case, the wife – to simply leave, right? Easy Peezy, problem solved. But wait… let’s muddy the water a little.
What if the victim decides to stay? Do they now somehow bear some form of ‘fault’?
What if the victim is a male and the abuser is a female? Is this situation no longer really “Abuse” because, hey… he’s a guy, right? What girl could actually hurt a guy?
Or how bout this: Is there a degree of physical hurt that a person must inflict on another person before it’s officially considered “Abuse”? Where is the official “Line”? Is a shove “abuse”? How about a slap to the body? What if he just grabs her arm really hard and leaves a bruise?
And finally: Should the country or state or city you live in make a difference when it comes to determining when “Abuse” actually occurred?
And remember, Physical Abuse is supposedly the easiest and most definitive form of abuse. But did you know that physical abuse is actually the least common form of abuse in abusive relationships?
The most damaging, longest-lasting, and sneakiest forms of abuse do not involve punching or kicking or the causing of physical pain. They are the constant use of: verbal abuse, demeaning and disparaging language, words and assertions that steadily and definitely chip away at a person’s self-worth and self-esteem. It is the practice of regularly belittling someone and questioning their decisions and choices until they feel that their individuality is no longer important and only worth exactly as much as what they are told it’s worth, and no more.
Is this form of abuse gender-specific? Is it age or country or culture specific?
More directly > Should any person ever have complete control over another person in a relationship?
What dreams did you give up because someone else (a parent, a partner, a ‘friend’, a boss…) told you that you weren’t capable? Does someone constantly make you think that your dreams are stupid or worthless? That “Now” is not the time for you to chase your dreams? That your dreams should be last in an arbitrary order of priority?
Do you deal with someone who feels that if they yell louder than you, they’ve won the argument?
Do you deal with someone who feels it’s “fair” to use whatever they know about you, no matter how personal, to get their way, no matter how badly it hurts you?
Do you deal with someone who regularly uses their anger as an excuse for the horrible things they say to you? And perhaps afterwards, do they make YOU apologize for making them angry? Make YOU apologize for “making them” say whatever horrible thing they said or do whatever horrible thing they did?
Do you deal with someone who regularly demands to make most (if not all) of the decisions in a relationship?
Do you deal with someone who thinks it’s okay to use threats and ultimatums in ANY situation?
Do you regularly feel the need to sacrifice your Self – your future, your happiness, your self-worth – because someone else is being used as a mental hostage? (i.e.: staying in an abusive relationship to supposedly protect the children; staying with an abuser because of the fear of embarrassment for you or your abusive partner.)
To be honest, our world has a very hard time understanding abuse – especially if it’s not physical abuse. When you don’t see blood or cuts or bruising, most people instantly doubt that any “real abuse” took place. And then there’s the naïve notion that an abused person can simply walk away from an abusive relationship. Normal America really doesn’t understand how that option seems so impossible for so many.
And what if a victim actually builds up enough courage to open up to someone and tell them their horror story? It’s so disheartening for an abused person when they finally take the leap and reveal some of the abuse they deal with on a regular basis to someone they trust, only to hear that person dismiss them with “You just need to try harder” or “He really loves you. I think he wants to be a better person, if you’d only give him a chance.” They seem to be incapable of hearing and absorbing the terrifying reality that someone who abuses another person repeatedly for years and years isn’t just going to change their behavior overnight, or in a month, or in a year.
And then there are the common so-called “Support Systems” that sadly often serve to make abusive situations MUCH worse: clergy, family, counselors, hospital staff, and others. Many people in these roles really don’t know how to effectively deal with domestic abuse, especially if it’s not necessarily physical abuse. And they definitely don’t know how to properly counsel someone who is being mentally or emotionally abused on a regular basis. For most, their fallback plan is normally to send them back into the abusive situation, fill our their forms, and then move on to the next person. Family members tend to take sides, and often it’s not the side of the victim. Or, a family member who was abused themselves will say simply “I made it through, and so can you. Just stay in there!”
Victims of abuse often lose many of their friends and some of their family, if only temporarily, when they begin revealing the extent of the abuse they’ve been enduring. When the victim reaches out to some of those closest to them, they are often met with common tropes like “Marriage is for life, so you just have to keep trying”, or “My son loves you and could never really hurt you. You just have to try harder to understand him” or one of an infinite number of other dismissive rationalizations. For these people, dealing with the truth that a loved is a victim of crimes that cannot be easily quantified by physical damage is the most difficult thing they’ll ever face. And this ignorance only serves to make the victim feel even more alone, it makes them doubt the severity of their abuse, it makes the victim doubt their self-worth even more than they did before.
Nearly all of the world’s societal and cultural norms make getting out of an abusive relationship enormously hard, and in some countries, those “norms” actually empower the abusers, they make emotional and physical abuse “normal” and acceptable, sometimes even to the point of murder. For a chilling example, look-up “Machismo Murder”.
We’ve made so many advances in a wide variety of technologies and mindsets, but even in today’s world, a MAN who is the long-term VICTIM of mental, emotional, or even physical abuse is unlikely to find ANY supportive friends, family, or entities to turn to. It is a worldwide perception that men are too strong to be abused in any way, so if they “choose” to stay in that toxic environment, it’s their own fault.
On the flip-side, there are those who know someone who is in an abusive relationship but they feel completely helpless because there’s little they can say or do to help their friend or family member to get out of that relationship, especially if the victim is not ready to leave. In many ways, it’s like dealing with a loved-one who is a drug addict. No amount of love or strength or intelligence can force an addict to quit drugs if they’re not ready to give it up. The same goes for our loved-ones who are victims of abuse.
Victims stay in abusive relationships because they don’t see any reasonable path out of their situation. It is that sense of futility that often leads victims of abuse to consider suicide as a “reasonable means of escape”. And the bigger sin of our society is that if a person tells anyone that they’re considering suicide because they’ve been in an abusive relationship for years, the common knee-jerk reaction is to view the VICTIM as sick and needing mental counselling, but the abuser and the abusive relationship are rarely even considered as things that need to be addressed.
I’ve had many reasons – for many years – to discuss mental and emotional abuse with others, to try to educate them and to incrementally try to change the views of those around me regarding the many misconceptions of abuse. But it’s still something that needs to be addressed on a larger platform, in broader venues, and across all cultural and gender boundaries. Laws need to be changed, effective support systems must be put into place, and visible paths of escape MUST be created that are so bright and so obvious that victims of abuse not only see them, but they feel inspired and welcome to utilize them.
Do YOU understand what “domestic abuse” really means, beyond physical abuse? Do you feel you SHOULD know what it truly means? Do you know what the signs are of someone in an abusive relationship? Are you ready and willing to help?