Remember this old children’s rhyme? We would repeat it in defense of someone calling us names. Recently a friend asked me if I had seen the limited series Maid on Netflix as it resonated with her in a way other shows about domestic violence didn’t. I had not seen it, so I decided to watch it while traveling abroad this summer with one of my children. Maid brings a new perspective by tackling emotional and verbal abuse from the perspective of a relationship that doesn’t get physical yet serves as a cautionary tale by giving examples of red flags and abusive patterns of behavior. The main character in Maid is further crippled by her own childhood trauma and poverty, a stark difference from my friend, who works as a professional, is married to a professional, and makes a reasonable income. Yet the two are very similarly situated because like many others, they find it incredibly hard to leave their abusive partner. Maid’s main character has fewer resources to draw from and the state’s system further discriminates against poor women. Whereas my friend has many resources available to her, but she has her children to think about – children who are also victims of emotional abuse and my friend worries about how they would fare if their father was parenting them half the time.
Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence and includes behavior from another person that makes you consistently feel badly about yourself, like you just can’t be the real you. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “In general, a relationship is emotionally abusive when there is a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health.” Emotional abuse is not limited to a romantic partner, but can be perpetrated by a family member, friend, or coworker. Emotional abuse can make you feel guilty, ashamed, silenced, violated, uncomfortable or many other things. It is harder to identify emotional abuse since there is no physical sign for someone to see. According to my friend, she has been verbally abused most of her marriage, including being demeaned and being blamed for everything that was wrong in her spouse’s life; constant finger-pointing, both literally and figuratively. Sadly, she was starting to believe the words of her spouse about how insignificant she is and how no one would want to marry her if she left the marriage. There is also a sense of guilt – guilt for ending the marriage, breaking up the family, and feelings of being ashamed and selfish for doing that. What complicates things for victims of emotional abuse even more, is that many times, these fathers can be great fathers when they’re good. Children will describe them as intelligent and helpful, but this can flip on a dime.
The same children live in fear that their father will come into their bedrooms yelling, cursing, or pointing their fingers at them. This unpredictable behavior keeps the victim walking on thin ice and feeling responsible for the emotional changes of their abuser. “What we’ve known for decades is that anyone, absolutely anyone, can experience abuse by a partner,” explains Dr. Tami Sullivan, an associate professor of psychiatry and director of Family Violence Research and Programs at Yale University. “It cuts across every race, ethnicity, age, income, and education level, which is why it’s critically important for us to be teaching all people about what abuse is when they’re younger—that it is not only physical abuse. Psychological or emotional abuse can be just as detrimental to your health and wellbeing, and psychological abuse happens much more often.” If you believe you’re a victim of emotional abuse, please stop telling yourself that “it’s not that bad” and minimize the other person’s behavior. My girlfriend has been doing this for years and I keep telling her that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Getting out of the relationship will be tough and often, women are too afraid to leave. As Maid points out, it takes an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship for good. Regardless of what holds a victim back, getting out of an abusive relationship is such a feat of strength and determination.
If any of this resonates with you, please consider speaking with someone at the Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.
Author: Adena Bernstein Astrowsky
Author’s bio: Adena Astrowsky is a government prosecutor and author of Living among the Dead. She has received an Amazing Women award from the Phoenix Suns and National Bank of Arizona for her professional and philanthropic work. She is the mother of three teenagers and lives in Scottsdale. www.adenaastrowsky.com
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