Abuse in any form is never okay. It is not to be taken lightly nor does it need to be “justified” as abuse based on a certain level of harm (physical or otherwise) or number of instances. It is also not to be claimed lightly. It is a big deal. When I was growing up I never would have told you I had been abused. There were no visible bruises, cuts, or wounds on my body. It wasn’t until years and many sessions of counseling later I realized I had experienced years of abuse and the scars from it were not physical.
Abuse is not always easy to see.
I mentioned in my last post that I would soon put together some examples of the “red flags” I saw growing up that indicated something violent could erupt in my household. With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness month it seems only appropriate I would post this now (yes, a little late since it’s the last day of the month).
Even a seemingly “All-American Family” can be living in hell.
I think it’s important to look at this in the context of the following definition, according to the Department of Justice:
“We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”
A few disclaimers:
- I am going to go through some examples of what domestic violence/ abuse looked in my life. I am by no means an expert – only sharing my experiences.
- My experiences are not going to be the same as any or everyone else’s. They are also going to be generalized rather than extremely specific because 1) that would take a very long time and 2) could potentially bring a huge roller coaster of emotions I am quite honestly not ready for at the moment and, 3) I still have to be careful the information I share because it is public and could be considered negatively prejudicial were there to ever be another trial.
- This is not meant to strike fear or convince you that there’s an abuser around every corner. It is meant to raise awareness. To encourage you to look closely & ask questions. Even maybe to let you know you aren’t crazy for wondering if your friend might be in an abusive or potentially violent situation.
It’s very easy for me to wonder at times why my mom didn’t just leave Marty. In hindsight, had she explained even some of the inner workings of our household and her marriage I think there would have been many willing to help her. I can’t say for sure but I would guess she stayed because she thought it was the right thing. She thought that by staying in her marriage she was honoring God. She thought the way our household was run was for our best. I’m not sure. As I’ve said before – I don’t know what her marriage to Marty looked like for the first 11 years or behind closed doors. I know Marty had more financial freedom while she did not (despite their joint bank account and income). I know she had been disconnected from all family but her parents (who she and Marty helped take care of) and was fairly private with others when it came to her home life. Let’s make one thing clear though:
Her death was not her fault.
Even looking at the inner workings of our household it may not have seemed like an environment that could grow potentially violent. The big overarching monster of life growing up was excessive control & fear. Marty needed control over us, and our minds. He loved the game of manipulation. In the moment, it was hard to see. Some things even seeming like they were supposed to be in our best interests (too much of a “good” thing). In hindsight there were some patterns of behavior that became clear were part of Marty’s game:
- Extreme control over what we ate with strict rules that, at times didn’t make sense or were only bent when he wanted them to be. No sugar, dairy, red meat, or highly processed foods along with the frequent reminder that I would need to watch my weight when I got older because I was “bigger-boned”.
- With Marty as one of my sports coaches I was reminded often that I should have a very toned stomach and body along with being in better shape than any of the other girls on my team. Generally, I needed to be thinner & in better shape than I ever happened to be.
- Excessive emphasis on religion to invoke fear & obedience. You needed to memorize your Bible verses before you were allowed to eat (sometimes you missed the opportunity all together). You needed to do whatever “dad” said otherwise God would be angry with you. No questions asked. Ever.
- Generally strange encounters that left me confused (behaving inappropriately, waiting for me in my pitch black bedroom to have a “conversation” regarding my behavior, etc.)
- Being shamed whenever the opportunity presented itself (my favorite was when I told him I thought he was having an affair and he said he couldn’t believe I would think he’d do that to our family. Then being told for the following weeks how much that hurt him and the woman I’d accused. Anytime their “friendship” was brought up my suspicions were used to re-guilt me. They had an affair for 4 years)
One of the biggest themes in our house, though unspoken, was fear. Marty was so very controlled in his emotions I only ever saw him become extremely angry maybe twice. Yet, I feared him. I feared he was capable of something sinister. Of course I felt guilty (and disloyal and potentially unhinged) for this but I couldn’t shake it for the 14 years I lived with him. We walked on eggshells in the house because we did not want to disturb the sleeping monster. There were really two worlds in our house. The one that my mom, brother, and I existed in – it was messy, there was yelling, and we broke “the rules” (never told “dad” of course) – then the world Marty lived in. When he was home, we lived in his world. That’s how he wanted it: control of our minds, actions, and emotions. It was hard to see when in the middle of it. It was our normal. And yet, when his world(s) started spinning and the balancing act seemed it was about to crumble he felt he was losing control and resorted to violence.
I wasn’t hit. I wasn’t punched. I wasn’t burned or given any other visible wounds. I still feel the need to justify my upbringing as “abusive”. It still feels foreign to label it as such at times. Yet, it was psychologically & emotionally volatile.
Nobody who has experienced abuse is to blame for it.
If I could show you the scars on my heart and mind that I still have to re-train from those years there wouldn’t be much healthy tissue visible. I would tell you I still feel a painful rush of adrenaline at the sound of an unexpectedly loud noise. That my nerves are shot anytime I’m surprised. That it took years for me to be okay hugging others. That it took years to experience emotion because I had learned it was best to not feel at all. That anytime I do something wrong (or potentially displeasing to another) I immediately begin to respond in flight mode for fear of drastic consequences. That I still have trouble maintaining a healthy balance when it comes to food and self-image. The list goes on.
Something I must remember: It was abuse and it was not my fault.
My examples may seem silly or even hard to correlate with abusive behavior. Some of the things I listed could have even been good. Here’s the thing: all of those were used as a means to control, incite fear, and manipulate. That’s the problem. That’s the abuse. The abuser dictated the violent outcome that may not have seemed obvious given the patterns in our household. Even “invisible” abuse can lead to domestic violence.
There are more examples and more I could say but I’ll leave it here.
It’s hard to admit someone else had such terrible control over you. It’s hard to admit one act of domestic violence altered my life forever. It’s hard to admit the effects are long lasting.
It’s easy to tell you today I am so glad for where I am, who I am, who made me, and the bright future I believe to be ahead.
*If you have further questions about anything, I am always available via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org*