How do we make it stop?
I’ve lived it. I see it. I hear about it all too often.
But I don’t know how to make it stop.
I’ve lived through two horribly abusive relationships.
I have pictures from my first marriage. I have pictures of the bruises he left behind. I have pictures of the hole he punched in the wall an inch from my infant son’s head. I have pictures of the welts left on my arm from where he shoved me up against the wooden edge of the bed. I have pictures of an actual footprint on my leg where he kicked me. The physical bruises heal. The emotional scars don’t.
When people saw the bruises they felt bad. They said it was awful. They understood why I left. Physical abuse is horrible to live through. It is terrifying. It is debilitating. It is demoralizing. But in some ways it is easier than emotional abuse, because it can be seen. It can be defined. And it is not tolerated.
My second marriage was also abusive, but it was emotionally abusive. An emotionally abusive and controlling relationship is hard. It’s harder to identify. It’s harder to recognize. It’s harder to explain. It builds up over time. It is a series of doubts, manipulations, and incidents that sneak up on you.
It is hard to realize what is happening, identify it, name it, and get out of it. It feels weak to say, “He’s mean.” There is no bruise to say, “Look what he did.” In the end, it is the realization that it is bad, unhealthy, and wrong. I have scars from my second marriage. I have scars of fear, of self-doubt, of intimidation. I have scars from the emotional abuse.
I’ve lived through it. Both the physical and the emotional abuse. I’ve heard about it from other women. I’ve heard stories of intimidation, stalking, and manipulation. I’ve heard stores of lies, deceit, and falsehood. I’ve heard from other women who have experienced similar types of abuse. I’m surprised saddened by the sheer number of women who have experienced some type of emotional abuse.
Working in a middle school, I see it in our young girls. I’ve witnessed the terrors of young girls who are already getting themselves into abusive relationships. I’ve witnessed these girls believing it is their fault. I’ve witnessed them being taken advantage of for being kind, compassionate, and wanting to fit in. I’ve witnessed the extremes they go through to feel “loved” and “accepted.”
I see, I listen, and I cry. Sometimes with them, always after they’ve left. I cry for the innocence lost. I cry for the wanting. I cry for the pain and desperation in their eyes.
What I don’t know how to do is make it stop.