Ending cycles of abuse is difficult when children normalize behaviour in the family home.
Teaching men, women and children to spot signs of abusive behaviour and symptoms of abuse is one way we can equip the people we love with tools to recognize that they may be facing abuse, or acting in an abusive manner.
There is no perfect outline that can tell you whether someone is acting in an abusive way, or a perfect description of what an abuser may look like. Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. It usually starts small, maybe even undetectable and can move up and down the spectrum.
When you’re in the midst of it, or have never learned what a healthy relationship looks like, it can be easy to miss the persistent and lingering undercurrent of abusive behaviour.
The first time I really learned about abuse and what it can look like, outside of dramatized TV recreations, was while sitting in a high school CALM class. I took it over the summer months so I wouldn’t have to waste a whole semester building a resumé. I never imagined the impact that summer school class would have.
A simple photocopy handout opened my eyes to things I was witnessing and experiencing around me.
One bullet point in particular stood out: “It may feel as though you are always walking on eggshells, even during periods of calm.” I reread that line several times blinking away tears, afraid that a classmate might notice my reaction.
How could something so huge, so silent and gnawing be summarized in such a simple sentence?
It continued, “You are told that you are the reason for their outbursts. They may give or withhold affection to achieve a desired outcome.”
When you grow up in an environment or spend enough time in one, often the only thing you can do is adapt, rationalize or normalize events and behaviours. Even if you feel as though something isn’t right, it doesn’t always mean an individual or youth has the power to change the situation or escape it.
More heartbreaking is that some may choose to never leave an abuser – love, even when unnurtured or withheld, is a powerful thing.
Now more than ever before, there are tools and resources available online that can help people understand the nuance and wide variety of forms abuse can take. Abuse doesn’t only take the form of physical or sexual abuse.
Other abuses can take the form of financial control, threats of sexual violence, threats of withholding access to children, humiliation, destroying property or personal items, emotional neglect and verbal degradation.
It is vital to keep in mind that people choose to abuse others. Any stressors they experience may help “explain” the abuse, but it never excuses it.
It is an individual’s responsibility to take ownership and responsibility of their actions. It is their responsibility to seek and obtain help. From my perspective, promises of change only go so far. Acts of violence always speak louder than apologetic words.
The month of November has been declared Family Violence Prevention Month across the province.
I encourage everyone to carve some time out of their month to learn more about family violence, how to support those who may be facing violence in their home and to learn signs of abuse.
Without any counselling or psychology training, I was once under the impression that if you just kept pointing out to an individual that they were being abused, they may see it and act on it. That was naïve and simplifies the deep-rooted aspects of abuse.
I now believe the best way you can support someone in an abusive relationship is to be everything that abuse is not. Be love – unconditional love. Be supportive and encouraging. Reassure them that they are enough, that they are strong, that they are capable and have the power to make their own decisions.
If you suspect a child of being neglected, abused or sexually exploited, report it through the Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-5437 (KIDS) to get help. If you believe a child is at risk, it is crucial to report it.