Having worked with victims of domestic violence for over fifteen years of my career as a registered nurse I thought I knew what I needed to know about abusive partners. I had gone through my professional training, I had worked as an emergency room case manager in addition to working in some of the best and cutting edge Level I trauma centers in the United States.
I was smart, skilled and resourceful. I thought I knew what I needed to know to spot an abuser; However, nothing could have ever prepared me for the tornado that ripped through my life the day I found myself with an abusive partner. The person who would groom me in order to gain my trust and pretend to love me just so that he could INTENTIONALLY hurt me and destroy my life. That was something I could have ever seen coming.
The concept of someone intentionally trying to hurt you while at the same time claiming to love you in order to get their needs met is hard to wrap your mind around. It is something most people, including myself, could never fully understand, relate to or even imagine anyone would actually do. Yet, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 4 in 10 women and 4 in 10 men have experienced at least one form of coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
There was a time earlier in my life, like so many others, I held the belief that victims could simply leave an abusive partner at anytime. On some unconscious level I suspect, I held another flawed embedded belief. That belief was that if a victim was emotionally and psychologically abused it wasn't quite as bad.
“After all there really weren't any threats of physical harm that would keep them there right?” I once thought all of the above things. I was wrong.
As a young girl, I had seen so many images of what domestic violence is supposed to look like. There were countless images of bruised and battered women on bus station posters, splattered on billboards and scrolling across television public service announcements. How could I not know what domestic violence looked like?
I knew about the power and control wheel. I had studied it many times. I had it memorized, word for word. Working in the emergency room, I had given copies to my patients countless times It wasn't until I ended up with an abusive partner that I really understood the many tactics and forms of domestic violence
Many times abuse victims end up in our emergency rooms and healthcare systems with broken ribs, lacerated spleens, lacerated livers and blackened eyes. It is obvious to anyone who can see, that the victim has been abused. Those visible signs of abuse are the outside indicators to other people that someone has been hurt, victimized or traumatized. Although these physical signs are alarming, the fact is, the abuse actually started long before the first punch was ever thrown.
What about the victims, whose's mental perceptions are intentionally being altered and manipulated by someone who says they love them? Is that somehow not as bad? What about the victims who are being psychologically terrorized with subtle, hidden veiled threats every day? Is that not as frightening?
What about the victims who are emotionally raped and no one seems to believe you or to care? Is that somehow less damaging? What about the victims who are afraid to leave because they know the abuse may escalate? Is that not as dangerous?
What about the victims whose wounds are on the inside? Are those wounds not just as destructive, damaging, debilitating and in many cases potentially deadly?
It is for those victims, whose voices are silenced that my words have been crafted to share. If their pain and anguish could speak to you, there are two things they would like everyone to know.
The first thing to remember is, just because a victim has not been physically hit YET doesn't mean they aren't already being abused. The second and probably the most important thing to remember is, domestic violence isn't just about being physically hit. Domestic violence isn't just about broken ribs, blackened eyes, and busted lips.
Domestic violence is about a broken spirit, broken self-esteem, broken self-worth, broken self-dignity and broken human rights.
Once those things are stolen and hijacked from the lives of victims and their children, sadly many of them will never get them back again. That is the ultimate price of domestic violence we as a society can not afford to continue to underestimate.
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Tracy Brack is a domestic violence advocate, registered nurse, speaker, and freelance writer. She is a member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She has traveled throughout the United States and worked in some of the countries top Level I trauma centers including Yale Hospital. To learn more she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.