I am heavyhearted that I am writing this post. It pains me to see us treating each other this way. One thing that I have a difficult time with is being witness to other survivors of abuse attempting to “one up” each other and prove who experienced the worst circumstances during their abuse. Don’t we all remember how WE felt when we were being invalidated and dismissed? What gives any of us the right to do that to someone else? Regardless of any of our circumstances, we are never entitled to invalidate someone else’s story. Minimizing another’s survival story – whether or not this is done publicly – can re-traumatized them and push them back into silence and shame. Depression. Self-loathing. Shame. Silence. Why on earth does this even happen? How is this even a thing?
“Yeah, you think that’s bad, but how about this…..?”
“Well at least you weren’t <insert action here> like I was by my abuser!”
“Are you suggesting that is as bad as this?”
- You cannot compare your physical abuse against another’s physical abuse.
- You cannot compare your physical abuse against another’s emotional abuse.
- You cannot compare your emotional abuse against another’s physical abuse.
- You cannot compare your emotional abuse against another’s emotional abuse.
- You cannot compare your abuse endured as a woman when perpetrated by a man against a man abused by a woman.
- You cannot compare your abuse endured as a man when perpetrated by a woman against a woman abused by a man.
- You cannot compare your abuse endured as a woman when perpetrated by a woman against a woman abused by a man.
- You cannot compare your abuse endured as a man when perpetrated by a man against a man abused by a woman.
None of us have the same exact story or same exact circumstances. We have varying degrees of emotional response to trauma – some are more sensitive to the damage caused and have a harder time recovering. Or some of might not be as sensitive but have a huge lack of support around us. Or some of us might have a hard time coping AND a chronic lack of support causing us to struggle more. Maybe some of us have survived previous trauma. Maybe some of us have health conditions making the situation more stressful (and dangerous).
Domestic violence – regardless of the method(s) used – occurs in all cultures, religions, economic groups, social standings, education levels, and orientation. It occurs in multi-million dollar homes, middle class, and profoundly poor communities. It occurs in heterosexual and same sex relationships. Men can be abused. Those with disabilities and the elderly can be abused. Resources are limited and not everyone has equal access to them. Some communities might have a harder time accessing services because each demographic faces its own unique challenges. It doesn’t matter if it’s from stigma, lack of funding to adequate services, or no services at all. Whenever someone cannot safely access those services, they continue to be at risk.
Arguing your point is not a healthy way to raise awareness. Me talking about experiences as a woman being abused by a man does not equate me to saying men cannot be abused. It means that I am a woman who was abused by a man, and I cannot talk about my experiences from any other viewpoint than the circumstances in which my abuse occurred. I understand that there are some stigmas of being abused in other circumstances that I do not have to deal with, and I understand that this can make it harder for those of you for whom this is a reality to share without fear of being mocked or ridiculed or dismissed as a liar. However, raising your voice in anger at other survivors is not the way to address the issue. I understand there is stigma against male victims of abuse, and I also understand that I can never truly know how this feels.
How can we change this?
- Stop using “allow” and passive acceptance language in your writing, speeches, memes, panels, conferences, and casual conversations. Recognize that abuse was done to all of us by force – this means under coercion – against our will. Recognize that being rendered in a state of not standing up for ourselves is directly resulting from gas lighting, manipulating, intimidation, and conditioning. NONE of this – and I mean absolutely NONE of it – equates to ever allowing anything. Using this language equates to accepting blame for part of the abuser’s actions, but there is a problem with this. The ABUSER is the one that CHOOSES their behavior. They alone own the responsibility for harming another person. They do it because they WANT to, not because we forced them into it. Banish this language from all points of your dialogue.
- Stop requiring others to qualify their abuse. We are not all physically abused. Verbal and emotional abuse leave horrific amounts of damage in their wake, and they are often dismissed because they are not accompanied by black eyes, broken bones, flesh wounds, or other marks. It is ALL abuse. ALL OF IT. And what happens to us is not any more important than what happens to another victim/survivor of abuse. It’s just different.
- Recognize that we can only tell our stories from the point-of-view that is occurred. This means we have a tendency to generalize and use pronouns in our dialogue that mirror our circumstances. For example, I am a woman who was abused by a man. Much of my writing uses male perpetrator/female victim pronouns. It does not mean that I am invalidating male victims and survivors. It does not mean that I am invalidating those victimized in same sex relationships. It means that I can only share openly my vulnerability as a survivor from the point-of-view of a woman being abused by a man. I have no right to speak for anyone else – and I truly want each of you to use your own voice. This is but one part of the miracle of all of us surviving intimate partner violence. We create a collection of diverse experiences that increases the likelihood that we each will find stories we connect with that help us see that we are not alone, and that is a HUGE part of healing. Our differences make us stronger.
- All of our stories matter, because we were all hurt by someone who claimed to love us, we all have survived and have the gift of being ALIVE to rebuild our lives. Is it a hard process? Absolutely. But my story is no more important than someone else’s. Each of us has the power to use our voice. Do not silence someone trying to share theirs. We ALL matter.
- If you notice a lack of information pertaining to your situation – such as being a male survivor of abuse, a LGBTQ survivor of abuse, a d/Deaf/HoH or disabled, elderly, poor, rich, educated or not survivor of abuse – become a source of that information so others can help you build a community. We all have a responsibility to other victims and survivors to be a source of encouragement, support, and guidance. Sometimes, we must become the resources that are lacking for change to occur.
- Do not be afraid to tell another survivor that you cannot relate to what they went through. Instead of invalidating what you don’t understand, ask them questions about things they endured, how it affected them, what it was like to escape, how scarce resources were, and where they were able to find help. Encourage them to share their stories with others, and THANK THEM for being open and vulnerable to you as they share. Remind them that they are strong, courageous, and amazing.
Last, just accept and support and encourage each other. We don’t always have material or financial resources to help, but we are never short on compassion. It is free to give, and it can make all the difference in someone else’s story.