Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Content note: Discussion of abuse, especially emotional. Oh, and also some made up words in the first sentence...

As I've written about before, my mom is a breast cancer survivor, but due to the pinkification, sexification, and politicalization of breast cancer awareness raising, I'm not really keen writing about that topic. Besides, in the sea of pink this month, it can be easy for another incredibly important awareness campaign to be lost.

October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is a cause which is very close to my heart.

As I've alluded to before, I grew up in a household where verbal/emotional abuse was commonplace. So commonplace that I didn't even understand the full magnitude of the situation, the scars I carry, and their effect on my life until much more recently.

Breast cancer--because it is made out to be all sexy--has actually achieved relative visibility in our society. I feel that most people know that you should perform routine breast self exams always and begin receiving regular mammograms at age 40. (And when people don't know this, I hope that the campaigns which educate them emphasize the person's life which is at stake and not "save the ta-tas" nonsense.)

But domestic violence and abuse, on the other hand, continue to be very invisible in our society. They're not so sexy as "I <3 boobies" so we're not talking about it. When it comes up, you'll still hear people saying things like, "Well what goes on in their marriage is none of my business!" I find the invisibility to be particularly true of emotional abuse which is often seen as "not real" because there is no physical damage.

Despite the invisibility, violence and abuse are extremely common, which illustrates just how important awareness raising is. Especially because the people who are often hurt the most are vulnerable populations like teens. I mean, when you are 13 and no one has ever talked to you about what a healthy relationship looks like, how are you supposed to know? You might mistake someone exercising control over you as love. "Knowing what's best for you" can sound a lot like love if you've never heard that healthy relationships aren't supposed to include control and/or manipulation (and you don't even know what manipulation feels like.)

Misty Clifton over at Shakesville has a great resource up right now which I suggest you check out. As she says,
Emotional Abuse It is real--not being hit or raped doesn't mean not being abused. Emotional abusers isolate their victims. Emotional abusers will use emotional blackmail, guilt, and shame to get victims to stay and may threaten suicide if they leave. They verbally assault with name-calling, mockery, public & private humiliation, and threats. They may expect their partners to ask their "permission" to do things. Emotional abusers can also be ones who constantly "know what's best" and blows up/rages if their partner doesn't submit to their "advice" (control). Economic abuse is a sub-category of emotional abuse: abusers use the finances to exert control over their partners.
Children who grow up in abusive environments are especially vulnerable to abuse in their own intimate relationships in the future. Without knowing any different, we can come to accept what we saw in our own homes. That is why awareness is so critical. Without it, I truly don't know where I might be right now. Speaking to my own specific case, I grew up in an environment where one person's will constantly dominated everything that occurred. We walked on eggshells when he was home and we were jubilant when he worked late. I didn't know that love is never demeaning and it never includes name calling, mockery, and humiliation. (So, for example, I often teased my friends way too hard in an effort to show affection.) I didn't know that feeling like I was never good enough and feeling like I was constantly on audition to be worthy of someone's love wasn't healthy. I didn't know that it's abusive to use money to control someone. It wasn't until I started seeing households where kids weren't treated this way that I suspected something was amiss. And although I came to understand in my teen years that I never wanted  that type of relationship for myself, I didn't even fully comprehend that I grew up in an abusive environment until my mid 20's.

It's still scary to admit that. Even thinking "I was abused" feels weird, but it's true.

Our cultural narratives state that families are supposed to be wonderful and give you all kinds of warm fuzzies and we're all supposed to put our families first. But for many of us, the reality of what occurs behind closed doors is frightening and damaging. And until you know that 1) it's not your fault 2) it shouldn't be happening 3) and you are not alone, it feels horribly embarrassing to even admit.

I mean--I'm several years into processing the realities of my childhood and I still feel very raw talking in these terms, but I think it's really important.

Anyway, my point is that as you buy a pink wristband or share some silly status on Facebook, stop for a moment and give National Domestic Violence Awareness Month some attention too. Share Clifton's piece above--you might educate someone into a "light bulb moment." Just understanding that the sadness and fear you live in isn't how it has to be can be an incredibly powerful moment for someone. 


  1. Thank you for being brave and selfless enough to share your personal experiences to help educate and empower others!

  2. I didn't know it was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Thank you for posting this and for being brave in sharing your own experience with abuse.

    Regarding emotional abuse - on one of my blogs I wrote a post on emotional abuse that's gotten a larger than average number of hits so far (it's here)... it's an issue many people are quietly looking into even if it seems to be beneath the radar. There are many people struggling with a current emotionally abusive situation or from the effects of one (often after growing up in an abusive house) and they're looking for ways to understand their experience, find others who share it, and find ways to heal. I agree with you - unfortunately there's still this idea that "real abuse" must involve physical contact. (Also, emotional abuse is a part of any physically and/or sexually abusive relationship.) There needs to be more awareness of its destructiveness.

  3. You're incredibly brave for sharing your own story. I really appreciate that this awareness post is not about the obvious choice. My mom died from her battle with breast cancer, and I hate October and everything it stands for. There is so much wrong with the ways breast cancer awareness is spread. Thank you for choosing to write a post on a deeply important, and much less discussed, issue.


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