If you missed my previous post where I spoke about domestic violence then firstly, where have you been? Secondly, you can click here to read my very subtle entrance into the topic.
A post which I’ve been attempting to write from the perspective of domestic violence is related to the importance of language. Over the years, I’ve learnt that many people don’t know what to say when you tell them your story…….or they unwittingly say the wrong thing. Whilst it may sound extreme, unfortunately, the wrong response can cause someone to shut down…..like I did. Three years passed before I was able to start talking about it again; second time around however I chose more wisely who I opened up to.
I have put together a few phrases that I was met with, many years ago, whilst probably still quite vulnerable. I choose to believe that people were trying to be kind and included, what I assume to be, their intended meaning. I have also reframed some phrases into a more empathic way of talking to someone who has been through an abusive relationship.
“I always thought you were strong”
“I never thought you would put up with that”
Intended meaning: wow, it really can happen to anybody.
How I interpreted it: You are weak and pathetic.
Let’s understand better: Unfortunately those old Eastender episodes of timid Mo and that dastardly Trevor means people like me don’t fit into the proper stereotype of what abuse victims look like. I’m fiercely independent, smart (if I do say so myself), strong and pretty kick-ass. Therefore it’s probably quite important to understand, it literally can happen to anyone.
Reframing: This has really opened my eyes to how even the strongest amongst us go through really awful situations. I’m really sorry for what you went through; it wasn’t right.
“Why didn’t you just leave?”
Intended meaning: My mind is not allowing me to understand this.
How I interpreted it: It’s really your fault, you could have left any time and you didn’t.
Let’s understand it better: This is a really important yet difficult concept for many to grasp – domestic violence is a psychological process and unfortunately not as simple as “just leave”. Victims are often psychologically worn down into believing that they are the cause of their partner erupting. Many believe they will be killed if they ever leave (with an average of two women killed every week due to domestic violence, it’s a frightening reality). Add onto that cultural issues, financial control etc then it’s clear that there’s no easy answer to that question.
Reframing: Just don’t ask this one.
“I would never put up with that”
Intended meaning: It’s something I would never put myself through nor a situation I would want you in (okay, I’m being really generous here, I know)
How I interpreted it: You’re really, reaaaallllly dumb for having stayed so long.
Let’s understand better: I was that person once. I was pretty smug. I never thought it would be me. That’s how I can tell you that you will never know what you would do. True story.
Reframing: He should never have treated you like that; this is on him, not you.
“I never saw any bruises”
Intended meaning: I’m really trying hard to remember how you looked on all those occasions and nothing comes to mind.
How I interpreted it: LIAR
Let’s understand it better: Most abusers are actually pretty smart; they don’t leave visible marks because that raises questions. Emotional abuse has no obvious scars but is often more damaging and long lasting. I spoke to someone once who told me, “The punches got easier to take, it’s the words that slowly killed me”.
Reframing: Another one I was unable to reframe. ‘I believe you/I’m here for you’ would simply be kinder.
“But he’s so nice”
Intended meaning: I can’t imagine all this because of the shiny, happy surface he presents.
How I interpreted it: You’re not nice. You’re lying.
Let’s understand better: Most abusers are notoriously charming. They’re the church-going, mosque-going, smiling, helpful beings. If they didn’t have charm, they wouldn’t have managed to snag us in the first place.
Reframing: He’s a ——- (they chose to speak to you – you in turn get to choose a juicy word)
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
Intended meaning: I would have done something for you.
How I interpreted it: You made a choice to stay quiet so whatever you experienced was your own fault.
Let’s understand better: Victims of abuse don’t shout it from the rooftops that they’re being abused. Look out for your loved ones; the subtle signs that things aren’t right and question those moments that don’t add up. We often speak in riddles because it’s hard to vocalise or even understand the reality; we’re in a mentally vicious cycle with our abusers. Abuse thrives in silence. The more we create an open environment for difficult conversations within our family and social circles – the more likely people are to break their silence and leave dangerous situations.
Reframing: I think you’re incredibly brave for telling me now and I’m here for you.
*The image for this piece comes from one of my favorite videos, it’s short and you can watch it below*
If you’ve experienced comments related to domestic abuse and feel there was a more empathic way it could have been said then please share them.
Alternatively if you would like to do a similar post on a different life experience then I’d love to hear from you.