Lily Online Magazine has been a community partner with Empowered and Beautiful, a domestic violence support network for many years. Started by Joi Partain a domestic violence advocate who herself survived a horrific life threatening attack by her then boyfriend. Along with Helen Johnson an avid activist on breaking the silence on domestic violence, also a survivor, they have provided daily support, words of wisdom and most importantly education on recognising and surviving abuse. Both Joi and Helen have kindly written and shared their stories of survival which I’ve published in past issues. You can read Helens story here https://issuu.com/lily_lifeandstyleod/docs/lilyissue7final Joi’s story can be found in this issue https://issuu.com/lily_lifeandstyleod/docs/lilylifeandstyleodfashioncover
The following article contains a ‘Trigger Warning’ for survivors of emotional and sexual abuse and emotional abuse by proxy. Written by Helen Johnson, Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocate and Vice President of Empowered and Beautiful, Domestic Violence Support Network in the United States, it explains some of the most fundamental issues and experiences of Domestic Violence and unfortunately examples of abuse that are not in anyway unique, in fact they are textbook examples that those of us advocating for DV survivors have heard over and over too many times.
Just be Nice
Just be NICE….This was one of the MAIN statements that kept me feeling too guilty to set and enforce boundaries with people who used my empathy and ‘niceness’ or agreeability against me. Just be ‘nice’ to the family member who treats you and your loved ones like crap... ‘Be nice’ to the boy who hurts you in class, and grabs your body without your permission. ‘Turn the other cheek’, ‘Forgive and forget’, ‘Don't antagonise him’, ‘Keep the peace', ... of which there truly is NONE when you are consistently sacrificing your own needs to ‘take care of’ (enable) someone else.
There are so many common phrases that people use to gaslight themselves and others to ‘keep the peace’ and force you back into idealising an abusive person in an attempt to get the abuser to feel ‘good’ about themselves again, and keep them from being abusive (to themselves or to others) again.
But here's the thing.... That's what they WANT. No matter what, you are NEVER responsible for someone else’s decision to lash out and behave abusively.
So, here's the answer…
I won't be ‘nice’ to people who are not kind to me, or to those I care about anymore. I won't ‘keep smiling’ when my chest hurts, and I know that I am avoiding speaking the TRUTH out of fear. Abusers COUNT on us to be QUIET. They count on us to be too afraid to hold them accountable. They will attempt to manipulate you into giving them what they want again. This is what works for them. But it doesn't have to work with us anymore. Fear is a GIFT that lets us know when our boundaries are being violated, and we feel unsafe.
Remind yourself to pay attention to behaviour, no matter how many pretty words someone might use, or how many flowers or gifts they give when they are grooming you again. Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear - Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence wrote ‘Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait. We do NOT have to be “nice” to (be agreeable with) anyone’.
We should simply be KIND and kindness INCLUDES being kind to one's SELF, as well. The most common gaslighting (meaning to manipulate someone or yourself psychologically into doubting their own sanity) statement there is are the words ‘I'm FINE’. These are the words that put me on edge to hear, because I knew without a doubt that something was very, VERY wrong.
Once we are able to recognise narcissistic behaviour, it becomes a whole lot easier to stop taking responsibility for a toxic (or abusive) person's choices to behave abusively. Stop buying into an emotionally unhealthy narcissist's version of reality! They don't even believe half of the things that they say. They simply parrot some other abusive schmuck they learned it from, because they weren't original enough to develop their own unique personality. They can continue to subscribe to their warped version of reality, but it doesn't have to be ours!
Time to Stop Keeping the Peace, and create our OWN
One place where an abuser often learns this behaviour is their own family but it can be well hidden from observation by the outside world. According to Psychology Today ‘In narcissist families, the dynamics can be seen or disguised. The dysfunction displayed in violent and abusive homes is usually obvious, but emotional and psychological abuse, as well as neglectful parenting, are often hidden. While the drama is not displayed as openly to the outside world, it is just as, if not, more damaging to the children. Reviewing these dynamics, one can see how this kind of family can look pretty but be decaying at the same time.’
So in fact playing along with the ‘Be Nice’ and ‘Keeping the Peace’ expectation is only facilitating the ongoing dysfunction. Psychology Today goes on to elaborate ‘If you recognise your family in this description, know that there is hope and recovery. We can't change the past, but we can take control of the now. We do not have to be defined by the wounds in our family systems. As Mark Twain defines the optimist, I see the recovering adult child: ‘A person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness’. We can create new life that will flow through us to the future and stop the legacy of distorted love learned in the narcissistic family. If we choose recovery, we can defy intergenerational statistics.’ You can read more on this article here
Is there REALLY two sides to every story?
So when that's all said and done how do you then deal with the "There are two sides to every story” comments?
Every once in a while, someone will pop up with this phrase in an attempt to downplay or excuse abuse. It is important to note that abuse is NEVER okay, not for ANY reason.
My first serious boyfriend was beaten by his alcoholic father a lot as a child... not a very original scenario sadly. His father would chase him around with a baseball bat, and his siblings would laugh at him, because at least it wasn't ‘their turn’ to be on the receiving end of the abuse. He withdrew emotionally, and then began to behave passive-aggressively, taking his anger out on others. When I first met him, I was not at all interested in dating, I was very young but eventually he began his ‘grooming’ behaviour. He did all the usual courting behaviour taking me places, I didn't know what love was yet, at the time, but I cared deeply for the broken boy who told me all about his troubled and abusive home life. He was angry at his father for verbally abusing him and beating him, especially more than he abused his brothers, and (as far as I am aware) he never laid a finger on his sisters, but didn't have to in order to abuse them verbally and psychologically everyday.
I sunk deeper and deeper into feeling sorry for the broken boy who shared his pain and shame with me, but at some point that broken boy forgot what it was like to be beaten and otherwise abused by someone he loved, or he at least did not care that he was enacting the exact same type of abuse onto me. He was angry that he had been a victim and wanted to feel the false version of ‘power’ he felt his dad had over him.
So where did that leave me?
I felt so sorry for my abuser, and I felt responsible for not being able to ‘make him happy’ the way I once did when he still idealised me, and ‘loved’ (was infatuated with) me, and used me as an escape from his sad reality. He didn't start out abusing me. It began slowly, and was introduced in small increments. At one point, my abuser either turned off his ability to empathise with others, or just revealed that he had none at all. He only felt sorry for himself. I tried desperately to ‘fix’ the broken boy.
The bond that we formed before he raped me was intense. So intense that I still felt sorry for HIM, even after he violated me, my trust, and my body. I even stopped crying after he told me to "Quit making him feel bad" because I never wanted to hurt that broken boy, even after he broke me. I felt responsible for his pain, I felt ashamed for making ‘him’ feel bad about his abusive behaviour. He slowly began to introduce more and more abusive acts after that, usually while using the excuse that he was "just joking", and I was once again "being too sensitive". In reality, he did not want to accept any consequences for his poor behaviour, and he was holding me personally responsible for his happiness, or lack thereof.
Yes. There are two (or three, or sometimes more) sides to every story... But in ALL of those sides, no matter what someone's excuse, abuse is NEVER okay. In all of those sides, we ALL have a CHOICE. I was also abused as a child, but I chose to try to ‘fix’ someone else besides myself, and he chose to try to ‘break’ me, instead of fixing himself.
What made us choose to do different things with our pain? Perhaps the ability to empathise was the only difference when it boiled down to it. The red flags were all there in the beginning of our friendship, but I had no knowledge of how to identify abuse and manipulation yet. I only knew how to try to ‘help’ (enable) others, and how to adapt my own reactions to abuse, so that my abuser (hopefully) wouldn't get angry again. I learned to walk on eggshells to try to ‘fix’ an angry boy, in hopes that somehow, he would eventually stop trying to ‘break’ me.
So, what now? Whenever I encounter an abusive person who is angry with me for calling out abuse when I see it, I think of this quote from the Matrix "You have to understand. Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it." This is the reality of an abuser, especially one from a dysfunctional and emotionally or physically abusive family.
However our job as survivors and activists is to keep shining our light out to other survivors, and break the silence by addressing the issue of domestic violence EVERY TIME we see it, no matter how ‘trivial’ it may seem to some, because Love should NEVER hurt.
Written by Helen Johnson
Domestic and Sexual Violence
Vice President, Empowered & Beautiful
Domestic Violence Support Network
All advice in this article is provided with an extreme caution warning. Victims of abuse often experience a range of abuse including but not limited to intimidation, control, threats, financial control, damage to family, relationships and finances via gambling, alcoholism and substance addiction and abuse including prescription drugs, sexual assault, verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Victims, friends, family and colleagues of victims are advised to exercise caution when dealing with any form of domestic violence. Statistically 1 in 3 Australian Women will experience violence by age 15, the greatest threat to a victims safety is when trying to escape their situation. Domestic violence does not discriminate, victims of abuse include, men, women, children and other family members, friends, colleagues and those from all levels of economic backgrounds and cultures. Whilst we advocate breaking the silence we urge Victims to seek support and advice and always put their safety and children's safety first.
See below for places where you can access support.
Domestic Violence Statistics in Australia
Many believe Australia is the lucky country. However as the below statistics demonstrate, a dark veil of hidden violence is at epidemic proportions in this country. The vast majority of dangerous, abusive and violent behaviour that occurs in the privacy of people's homes is committed by men against women. Violence against women is now recognised to be a serious and widespread problem in Australia with enormous individual, community, social and economic costs.
(Info provided by www.domesticviolence.com.au)
The following basic statistics help demonstrate the prevalence and severity of violence against women:
• On average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.
• One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
• One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
• One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
• Women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.
• Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.
• Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.
• Violence against women is not limited to the home or intimate relationships. Every year in Australia over 300,000 women experience violence - often sexual violence - from someone other than a partner.
• Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year.
• Young women (18-24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.
• Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor.
• Domestic or family violence against women is the single largest driver of homelessness for women, a common factor in child protection notifications and results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across the country.
• The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year, with projections suggesting that if no further action is taken to prevent violence against women, costs will accumulate to $323.4 billion over a thirty-year period from 2014-15 to 2044-45.
My family member is abusing their partner! What do I do?
Coercive control: How can you tell whether your partner is emotionally abusive?
Apologies and Excuses
Abuse Misconception - At least he doesn't hit me.