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The long shadow of domestic violence

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

A blonde lady reflecting on her journey through domestic violence

When I started writing this, it was going to be something else. My intention was a simple expression of support for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Yet, the recent heightened awareness around this issue brought up a lot of uncomfortable memories that I had been taught to ignore.


So I took my cue and started diving deeper, quickly realising that this chapter has quite literally shaped my entire existence. And on reflection, is where the awakening and healing journey I started 3 years ago, begins.


The last stop on a path to emotional healing

Determined to share an untold story of domestic violence, both physical and emotional, and its enduring effects, it was pointed out that I would face potential backlash. The hesitations and guilt resurfaced, reminding me of the unhealthy cycle of silence that has persisted for too long.


So, somewhere between what would have been my mother's 67th birthday and the six years since her passing, I decided to speak up, offering my perspective as someone raised in an environment filled with aggression, disrespect, and emotional chaos.


A long story short

My mother endured conjugal violence for over 25 years. A toxic blend of physical and emotional abuse that began before her marriage and quickly became the norm.


At just 28 years old she was persuaded to abandon any aspirations of a career. Financially it made more sense for her to stay home, a home that was soon moved to a more isolated countryside.


My father lived in an act of escapism that completely overpowered real life, bringing home only anger, resentment and unhappiness that was projected onto her, and then us.


Stripped of her independence and self-respect, she succumbed to depression, obesity, and self-isolation. The once rebel with a fierce appetite for fun, social connection and life, no longer existed, her spirit crushed under the weight of abuse.


There were many things she wanted to do and achieve, but she wasn’t allowed. Devalued, she gave everything she had left to those around her. She had been contained.


When she finally decided to fight for herself, it was in reality too late. Her lack of self-love, self-esteem and respect led to a lifetime of neglecting her well-being. She was so used to ignoring herself as a person that she ignored the signs. And then a few years later she was gone.


The violence didn't directly kill her, but it sowed the seeds of a profoundly unhappy life & self-neglect that more than probably contributed to the tumours that ultimately claimed her life.


Collateral damage

As a child, the trauma of witnessing domestic violence leaves indelible scars. Fear becomes a constant companion, casting a shadow over every day.


You start every day afraid that he’ll come home, that the incident from the night before is not over, that the slightest move or sound could be a trigger, that this could happen outside of the home.


Manipulated into fearing the consequences of speaking out, we learnt to suppress our emotions, hide behind masks, and accept a distorted reality as normal. The fear of judgment and the fear of recurrence creating a prison of silence.


You get led to believe that violence is a result of your own behaviour. Being controlled, contained and belittled overflows into every aspect of your life and you learn not to express yourself because you are afraid of what could happen if you do. At home I was taught that my worth was defined by my adherence to his norms, that my voice was insignificant, and that my pain was nothing more than a burden to others.


Beyond the bruising

The treacherous nature of this dynamic becomes apparent in the level of manipulation. Watching our father systematically degrade our mother, blaming her for his actions, locking us out of our home, cutting off all methods of communication with the outside world during an “episode”, we became prisoners of fear and self-blame.


As we got older, his need to empower himself by shutting us down worsened. If we created or built something that we were proud of, he would just ruin it, break it, or throw it away. If we dared try to stand up for ourselves, or our mother, things would get worse. We weren’t short of being pinned against a wall, thrown across a room, a black eye or being locked out of the house for the night, or longer. However, if were a good girl or boy, if we made no move outside of his control, then everything would be okay.


To this day I still feel guilty about his behaviour, so much so that I’ve stayed in contact, continually trying to convince myself that the past is the past. Unfortunately it’s not, and every interaction, even just an email, is a reminder and triggers a past version of myself into existence.


We learn by example

Inherited trauma becomes a pattern that echoes through generations. The scars I carried from childhood led me into relationships mirroring the dysfunction of my own family.


Seeking control, manipulation, and with a pervasive sense of worthlessness as my norm, I got into my first abusive relationship at just 16. I ran from each encounter that promised stability, unsure of how to navigate it. I was only comfortable in situations where I had no control, made no decisions, willingly submerging myself in the needs of others, ultimately neglecting my own.


Growing up in a chaotic environment, I had never learned about boundaries. Self-respect was something I was never taught to develop, and emotional management was like a language I couldn't understand.


I integrated damaging lessons: that a man need not respect his partner, that we should be afraid of being anything other than who we are told to be, and that we should be punished if someone around us is upset.


My one long-term relationship lasted only because I reverted to a submissive state, moulding myself into a version of the person that he was looking for. I masked who I was, sacrificing authenticity for a semblance of stability. And as I didn’t respect or value myself, he did not respect or value me either. All of which resulted in two unhappy people and a lot of toxicity poisoning whatever connection remained.


Family bonds, torn apart

As three siblings the trauma we experienced didn't bring us together; it threw us apart. Our relationship was never collaborative and always competitive. Without a foundation of love, respect, and support, we struggled to relate to one another. And we even managed to blame each other for what was happening around us.


Today, not one of us has a functioning relationship with each other. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we all live in different countries. Our memories differ and our experiences are varied. The aftermath affected each of us uniquely making it hard for us to understand each other. We are a constant reminder to each other of past trauma and we trigger each other in an unhealthy way.


Rebuilding our relationships would require a shared commitment to healing and understanding - a challenging road that we each would have to want to take together as much as apart.


There’s a lot to be said for accountability

Accountability in cases of domestic violence is complex, regardless of gender. There are initiatives and support systems in place to address it that include learning non-violent communication and cognitive restructuration. But real progress requires an aggressor to start by acknowledging their actions, admit to the harm they’ve caused, and to take responsibility for their behaviour. Unfortunately in this case, this will never happen.


Turning pain into purpose

This story, far from a blessing, has definitely been a profound lesson, shaping both the example I was given and the example I aspire to be.


Over the last six years, each of my decisions has been driven by a commitment to break the cycle and create a better life for my daughter. I decided that I don’t want her to feel my pain, because then it will be her pain too, and she deserves more than to be shaped by that. I also knew that to be able to build a long-term relationship in the future, I had to start by learning how to be myself without fear, to manage my emotions, to establish boundaries and how to trust.


This story is ours, but it is not unique. It serves as a call to action—an urging to recognize domestic violence as a collective issue that demands attention. Countless individuals endure its devastating consequences, hidden behind seemingly perfect facades.


By sharing these stories, we grow, and by listening, we break the cycle—one untold story at a time.


 

Resources


If you are a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone that is, or may be affected by this issue, here are some resources:

UK

  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

  • Women's Aid provides a live chat service and a directory of local services

  • SafeLives offers resources and support for those experiencing domestic abuse

USA

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

  • The Hotline provides support through call, chat, or text

  • JBWS (Jersey Center for Non-Violence): Offers counseling services for survivors of domestic abuse

FRANCE

  • Solidarité Femmes is network of 73 local organizations supporting women survivors of domestic violence

  • Emergency Aid: Victims of domestic violence in France are eligible to receive financial aid to help them leave their home under a new policy


If you are an aggressor in a domestic situation, or know someone that is, and would like to make changes, here are some resources:


UK

  • Respect Phoneline: A confidential helpline for domestic abuse perpetrators: 0808 802 4040

  • Safer Lives also offers resources and support for those who want to change their abusive behavior

USA

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Provides support for abusers seeking help to change their behavior: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

  • Futures Without Violence offers programs and resources for those who want to end their use of violence and abuse

FRANCE

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