“Sorry that your mother dropped you on your head,
Maybe her mother dropped her too
In the end we all get dropped
We all get back and blue.
No one gets a free ride,
None of us is spared.”
— Mash up of Carly Simon songs.
This 70’s pop singer hit the nail on the head. Abuse is universally understood. We’ve all been there at one time or another, whether teased by schoolmates, picked on by a sibling, or harassed by a bully at work.
Abuse is when we are under someone’s thumb. We all know how bad that feels. We have probably all dished some out too, since the desire to have power seems universal, and any time one has power there is the potential to misuse it.
That is abuse in a nutshell: a misuse of power to hurt, scare, and control another.
What does abuse look like? It is on a very broad continuum, from telling someone to “shut up” all the way to the ultimate act of abuse, murder. And all kinds of stuff in between.
When abuse takes place in an intimate relationship, we call it domestic violence. But domestic violence is not an isolated act of abuse. It is a pattern of coercive control. It usually doesn’t start out with a beating. Early on in the relationship, there are comments meant to undermine self-esteem. The pattern continues with talking trash about family or friends, relentlessly criticizing. It can easily escalate to name-calling, throwing things, breaking objects, and eventually physical assault.
The verbal and emotional abuse can go on for long, long stretches before physical abuse occurs, so that by the time one is hit in a relationship, she never saw it coming. Victims have typically been under someone’s thumb for a long time before they realize what’s happening.
The abused are usually mortified to seek help; so it doesn’t help to ask her why she stayed. She stayed because of the pattern—the pattern of control, intimidation, and oppression, and not quite knowing how to get out of it. We collude with the batterer when we ask why she stayed, because what she hears is “You’re stupid”, “No one will believe you”, “It’s really your fault”, “You can’t do anything right..
Compassion is the antidote, that and simply believing her. She is a true survivor. By the time she reaches out, she’s been terrorized and has lived to tell about it.
Remember when you were under someone’s thumb, “dropped on your head” (figuratively or literally)? What did you need? Empathy, support, someone to believe in you, kindness, a hand up, someone to stick up for you. The abused, bullied, and battered all need someone who will believe them and support them.
Reminds me of a more hopeful Carly Simon song:
“All those crazy nights when I cried myself to sleep
Now melodrama never makes me weep anymore…
You showed me how to leave myself behind
How to turn down the noise in my mind…
Now I haven’t got time for the pain
Not since I’ve known you”
That is who I strive to be for the abused. For us … for all of us.
This blog post was created by the Shelter Our Sister Associate Director Lil Corcoran.