“Well, he never really hit me. He was just mean, so it wasn’t as bad for me as it was for you.” As if to say verbal abuse doesn’t hurt as much, if not more than physical abuse.
“Well, when you think about it, you were with him twice as long as I was with my abuser, so I shouldn’t complain.” As if to say it only counts when it’s longer than the next person.
“She should feel fortunate that he never laid a hand on her! How did YOU make it; YOU are so strong!” As if to say she doesn’t have a right to feel the hurt from the verbal bashing she endured then further degrade her by saying she is weak.
There can be an infinite numbers of ways to word it: the art of semantics being forged with the aftermath of domestic abuse. I find myself stuck on this thought a lot the past several weeks: why do others invalidate our pain in comparison to others or, worse yet, why do we sometimes feel compelled to invalidate our own pain when we share stories with one another? Why do some of us brush off our suffering as trivial or unimportant because we think someone else suffered more?
I am frustrated by this. Deeply. While I do have to admit that there are so many who were forced to endure so much more than I was, to me it comes down to a simple, undeniable fact: we were violated. We were violated by the one person in this world who should have sought for and nurtured our peace of mind, our security, our safety, our dignity. This was done to us against our will in the one place on the face of the earth where we should have been most at ease: our own homes, away from the dangers of the world. Our living rooms, our bedrooms. Kitchens, bathrooms, dining rooms. The walls of our homes were torture chambers, while on the outside the rest of world saw a quaint ranch-style house with a meticulously cared-for garden.
How can we as outsiders to another’s experience count their bruises, emotional and physical, and hold them up against our own? How can someone who’s never been through it hold us up to each other and attempt to do the same? How can any of us look each other in the eye and say, “You don’t have a right to suffer and feel hurt that way, because you didn’t go through what she did.” Or be cruel to ourselves and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel our hurt because maybe it wasn’t as bad for us?
I remember hearing comments like that from Kevin. “I didn’t hit you as hard as I could.” “Stop with the fake tears. People have it worse than you, they don’t have time for that s***.” Maybe that’s why it frustrates me so much. Because we spent so much time struggling to survive through our horrors to get away form the pain and abuse, and even though we get free, it still haunts us now. The only difference is now it comes from within ourselves.
Has our value for ourselves become so eroded by our abusers that we would dare invalidate our right as human beings to feel? To experience and express? To react and process and reconcile all that occurred? To be treated with dignity and kindness and love and compassion? Has the poison of the non-stop verbal barrage of insults tainted our reasoning so far beyond the point that we no longer want to acknowledge our own humanity? Our worth, importance, value?
So many questions, so few answers. But an answer I do have: we are not worth any less than the next person, and we need to stand up and accept that we are allowed to process this anger, hurt, fear, frustration, confusion, grief, sadness, despair, suffering, torment, chaos, agitation, discomfort, and put a voice to it. However we may need to so we can get our closure. We are allowed to say, “I, too have suffered, and you are not alone. Please let me walk with you.” This is the point.
So if anyone reading this post counts her/himself among those who are witness to a fellow survivor invalidating the abuse they suffered, the next time this comes up, this is what I want you to do. When someone says to you, “It wasn’t really that bad for me. He/she only XXXXXXX me,” look back at them. In the eye. Pause so they know you see into them, not past them, around them, or through them. Look them straight in the eye, and tell them, “Thank you for acknowledging my struggle. But you were violated, too. And I am thankful that YOU got out. We can be here to support each other.” Don’t brush it off and change the subject in an attempt to dodge an awkward moment. Intercept it, and turn the other’s invalidation of their self worth into a validation.
If you find yourself being the one invalidating what you endured, stop your mouth. Think about how what you say about your experience can affect your feelings of your own self worth. And change it to something positive. Instead of your reaction to someone else’s story being, “Wow, you went through so much more than I did/You had to endure it for so much longer. I would not be strong enough to make it!” say, “It hurts to hear another person say they have suffered abuse, because I have been harmed, too. But we were both strong enough to get away.”
We are not weak. We are not invaluable. And we cannot invalidate our worth anymore.