by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 12 December 2006)
We rightly spend a good amount of time focusing on the negative effect of domestic violence, rape and child abuse. However, in the process we seldom take the necessary time to talk about how detrimental mental abuse can be for women too.
Of course, it goes without saying that physical abuse spawns mental abuse because violence produces a mental state of fear, anger and mistrust. Physical violence creates a tainted filter through which a victim views almost every aspect of life.
Likewise, mental abuse is just as debilitating. Mental abuse includes humiliation, harassment and threats of punishment or deprivation. In short, it is the constant use of degradation against another person.
I have seen some men boast about how they would never lay a hand on their wife, but turn around and assail her with words that should never be spoken in a civil society amongst good-hearted people.
All too often, that woman will cower in fear, never thinking for a moment that she should take a stand for herself. The patriarchal institutions of society insist that the woman must simply submit herself to such abuse or she may burn in hell.
A person can only take so much verbal and emotional abuse before they break. Low self esteem, crafted by long-term degradation, eventually caves to the intimidation of a monster and humiliation becomes a way of life.
I am not going to suggest that women do not mentally abuse men as well since this is obviously not the case. However, most men will eventually walk away from a relationship that is mentally abusive, while abused women often have no where to go and no way of taking care of themselves or their children.
It is an absolutely terrifying thought when a woman realises she must make it on her own, but like I have told women over and over again, it is better to face the fear of an unknown future that she has created with thoughtful care than to face the fear of a known abuser that has no intentions of changing.
Mental abuse comes in so many packages that it is hard to pin down just one mode of inflicting such horror. As I have already mentioned, incessant humiliation is standard in such relationships. However, there are subtle methods of mental abuse that many would simply dismiss as trivial even though the end result is just as catastrophic on the victim.
For example, I truly believe it is a relationship crime to assume that only one person in a marriage has aspirations and dreams. I have seen it time and again, the man demands the right to pursue his dream while the woman has no choice but to tag along if she wants her family to stay intact.
The outcome of such selfishness is never good. The constant denial of the woman’s aspirations to the deference of the man’s desires makes the woman feel as if her desires mean nothing. She begins to think of herself as a diminished individual who deserves nothing more than to be treated with such condescension.
A healthy relationship encourages both individuals to strive for their own personal goals, it supports the endeavours of both people and it would never force one person to do something that was explicitly unwelcome just to support the aspirations of the other.
When a woman agrees to remain in a relationship that completely negates her aspirations while the man devotes all energy to his dreams, she becomes but a shell of a person – she loses her heart and her soul. All life drains from her and she will find it difficult to regain control of her life again and start anew.
There is no doubt about the horrifying effects physical abuse has on women. However, mental abuse is just as debilitating and can have lifelong repercussions. The best thing to do if you find yourself in a mentally abusive relationship is to simply walk away.
Sure, you could stick around for another year or two just to see if the abuse continues, but will you still be a whole person when that trial period is over? It is not worth the risk.