(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 August 2010)
One of the reasons I have no tolerance at all for domestic abuse – whether physical, mental or emotional – is because I suffered terribly from all these forms of abuse for years while I was a child.
My father was nowhere to be found and my mother was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One moment she would be smiling and happy, the next one I would be flying through the air or my head would be slammed into a doorknob. The physical wounds all healed – eventually. However, the mental and emotional abuse took years to heal.
In fact, I’d say there are still parts of me that have yet to heal. I can easily talk about the physical abuse now, but still 25 years after leaving my mother’s house I cannot think of the details of the psychological and emotional abuse without breaking down in tears.
Those wounds run so deep that I often wonder if they will ever heal. The mental and emotional abuse from my mother has affected every single relationship I have ever had with another person – including my husband and children. I find it difficult to trust even the best of hearts and keep friends at arm’s length to protect myself from potential dangers.
One of the reasons I can read people so well today is because I spent all of my formative years carefully assessing minute actions to better prepare myself for the next onslaught of torture. The slightest facial movement or a quick intake of breath could be an early indicator for me to shield my body, my mind, my soul.
I have said all of this to explain why it infuriates me so when I hear people make light of the mental and emotional abuse to which women are subjected. When my husband, Paul, showed up when I was 15 years old, he was the first person in my life to care enough about my situation to help me deal with it in a meaningful way.
Those in my church turned their eyes the other way, family members would only speak up when they could no longer handle hearing the verbal abuse themselves and the rest of the world was just beginning to understand how important it was to intervene for the sake of the child.
There were so many days when I would be awakened with the torture in the early morn, bear it all day long and fall asleep from the exhaustion of it at night. Some days my nerves would have me physically shaking in fear and anxiety and I would try my best to hide it dreading more torture. Worst of all were the feelings of abandonment and rejection that never once in all those years left me.
How much is this exactly like what women go through each and every day? How many women live this life of torture? How many times a day is a neighbour’s head turned to pretend it is not happening? And when the woman finally decides she has to find help or she will die (I had those thoughts so many times), society mocks her, scoffs at her and casts her aside – validating what her abuser has said all along…she is worth nothing.
Do not mistake aggressiveness for authority. Just because a man brazenly hits a woman, yells at her, threatens her and demeans her, that does not indicate that he has the authority to do so. No man ever has the right to abuse a woman. Ever. A fact backed up by the law – a true authority.
There is also the assumption that women can be treated like slaves. They are expected to clean the house, do the laundry (wash, dry, press and fold), cook all of the meals and service the man’s sexual desires whenever he so demands.
When a woman does these things of her own volition, that is one matter, but when she is expected to do it regardless of her own desires – that is slavery. Women are not slaves. Slavery was outlawed decades ago and a relationship between a man and woman should be one of equal standing and mutual respect.
In modern society we finally understand that all humans are equal regardless of race, gender, creed or any other “differences” previously used to belittle varying sections of humanity. Therefore, domestic abuse is not a man’s right or privilege; it is barbarism. He is not acting as king of his house; he is just being a bully.
I cannot understand what causes people to abuse others – and believe me; I have spent years of my life trying to understand.
I know they do need help. But that is for someone else because my passion, understandably, is to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
I wish someone had told me that my mother was wrong and had no right to abuse her child, which is why I am writing this column today. I am here to let women know that it is not okay for a man to hit, to threaten or to demean you. It is not right. It is wrong. It is wrong. It is wrong.
Consider the impact abuse has had on my life, on all of my relationships, on how I see the world. The longer a woman stays in an abusive relationship – whether physically, mentally or emotionally abusive – the more wounds there will be. Who knows if all of them will ever heal?
What should a woman do if she is in an abusive relationship? Escape as quickly as you can. Get away. Run away. If you need protection, make the police (who are sometimes just as abusive to women) understand. It is their job and it is the law.
If you need help starting over, there are churches and/or organizations that can help. Most times, family and friends will help, too. But most importantly, run far, far away.