I recently read an article called “What It’s Like to Witness Domestic Abuse as a Child” by Claudya Martinez, and all I could think about afterwards was how abuse leaves a mark on more people than we realize. And I don’t mean more people get abused than we realize (although that’s probably true, too). I mean that each instance affects more people than we think.
Because not being hit doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt.
Here’s an excerpt from Claudya’s article that gives an idea of what I mean.
Over and over, I would hear her scream my name between blows. I was 5, maybe 6, years old the first time I remember it happening. He was hitting her. There was no doubt about it; he was hitting her hard because I could hear the sound of his closed fist as it pounded into my mother’s body.
My beautiful mother was being beaten and screaming my name, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help her, but I knew I couldn’t call the police. I can’t explain to you how I knew this, but I KNEW that calling the police was not an option because in my family, we didn’t call the police. We just didn’t. (read more)
How could that not affect a child? How could that not affect anyone who heard it or saw it?
Helplessness. Confusion. Guilt. Fear. A need to obey. Even after reading her article, I can barely imagine the horrible storm of conflicting emotions she must have been experiencing as she listened to those blows and those screams. What damage did it cause inside her mind? How would it influence and shape her reactions to every life experience afterwards?
Because that’s how the mind works. Emotions, behaviors, and thought processes get ground into it with repeated experiences. And the stronger the experience, the stronger the impression.
But with no visible marks, the cause isn’t visible.
Teachers might notice that she jumps as certain sounds. Loud sounds. So that’s understandable. Dates might catch a wary expression on her face when they get angry or yell about something. But it goes away quickly. Classmates might notice that she doesn’t talk about her home life much. Still, she’s new to town. She’s probably shy.
All little things. All easily explained away.
For some, unknown reason, humans are amazing good at hiding their pains and problems – even from themselves. Which is why in all types of abuse (physical and emotional) can be hard enough to recognize its affects on the direct victim – the person directly abused. Let alone their friends, family, coworkers, doctors, etc.
No wonder we don’t realize how widespread the repercussions can be!
Except, even though it makes sense for us not to realize it, we need to. We need to recognize that people who see others being abused are also being affected. And we need to spread the word. So that when women are beaten in front of their children, they know that the children are being hurt even if no hand is raised against them. That waiting for that visible show of abuse isn’t needed before taking action.
We need to spread the word so that people who struggle with the issues that witnessing abuse can cause know that it’s all right to acknowledge that damage. That they don’t have to feel guilt or self-blame because they weren’t the ones who were hit or belittled.
Abuse may only cause visible damage to one person, but that damage sends a shockwave through everyone it touches. “No man is an island” and no abuse is so isolated that it affects no other living soul. No matter what type of abuse. No matter that the person isn’t the direct victim. It’s not faking, and it’s not a ploy. Not all damage is visible, and not all abuse is direct or deliberate.
Who do you know who needs to hear that?