Insidious Abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Most often, people associate domestic abuse with physical battering when, in fact, there are many different forms of abuse:  Verbal, Psychological, Emotional, Financial, Sexual, and of course Physical.

I have heard many in the field of domestic violence for decades say that the effects of psychological abuse is the most difficult to recover from, since it is much more insidious, more difficult to understand, more self-blaming, and takes place over a long period of time.

One in four women in the United States will be physically and/or sexually abused in her lifetime.  One in two will suffer psychological abuse.  Many women don’t even identify what they are experiencing as abuse.  Here is a story of one such woman…

Imagine being so hopelessly happy that you have found the man of your dreams in your mid 30’s.  Fun, mannerly, charming, attractive, great sense of humor, financially stable…and then one day, out of the blue, he looks at you and says, “What are you, stupid?”  Your world turns upside down in an instant.  You know it’s not true, but over time, as the words get harsher, angrier, and more frequent, you start to believe it.

You think, he’s just working too much, he’s overwhelmed, tired, and maybe, just maybe, it’s your fault.  Time goes on, you are vacationing in exotic places, being adorned in beautiful jewelry, eating in fancy restaurants, going to concerts, and everyone outside the home thinks you are the perfect couple, so happy, so lucky!

But inside the home…sadly…another story.   You are slowly, insidiously, turning into someone you don’t know.  You are never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, thrifty enough…on and on.  You close your heart because you can’t close your ears to the words…you still love, but you don’t trust.

You put all your time and effort into trying not to rock the boat, think carefully about what to say, how to say it, when to say it…analyzing your every word and movement.  Those in the inner circle wonder how you are staying, why you are staying, but they don’t say a word.  You know they see it, you can see it in their eyes, their tone of voice, and you feel like a fraud, a fake, and slowly sink into a state of confusion.

You try to figure out when is the right time to speak your truth, to make your point, to gain the strength to make the decision you know you must make.  You will have to give up your safe financial future.  You worry about who will hire you, will they hire you, if they hire you can you do the job, which friends will disappear, who will take care of you if you get sick, how will you pay the medical bills…how will you pay your bills, period! Retirement years are not too far away; you don’t want to be dependent on your adult children.  The financial ties are strong, complicated, and thread together closely.  Is it really worth unraveling?  The years continue to tick by…

One day, you decide, without having it all figured out.  The financial freedom is a façade.  The price to pay is too high.  Courage, support from loved ones and professionals, faith, oh yes, lots of faith, get you through it.  The love and pain will never quite go away, but one day at a time, you feel yourself moving forward.  Your world is so very different, but you adjust, you experience joy in the challenges, and in time you are empowered, and compelled to share your story with others.  That is the freedom you’ve been searching for…your truth, with no shame attached.  It’s just life, and you are in another season…one you have made your own.

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