Domestic violence has become one of the most controversial topics across social media. People take to their social media platform of choice to point the finger, place blame, question why persons remain in violent relationships, or express distress at the prevalence of domestic violence. Some courageous survivors have come forth using #whyistayed to bring a voice to their pain. With many bitter Facebook wars about the who, what, when, and why of domestic violence, the most crucial question has been left out.
How do we stop it?
I don’t have an answer for this–I wish I did. In fact, there is no singular answer to this question, but imagine how simple it would be if we could just say, “Don’t be violent against your partner…or anyone for that matter.” History has shown us that message is just not sufficient.
So we need to all ask ourselves: What do we need to do to keep this terrible thing from happening to us, to someone we love, to anyone? What role can we play in breaking the cycle of domestic violence?
Are you an abuser?
If your role is the abuser, you may or may not even recognize that what you do to your partner is abuse. You know that it happens, but you may not be sure why. You react to a hard day at work or accumulating frustrations with violence. You’ve had it reinforced by yourself, and others, that you can’t control your anger or that violence is the only way to express volatile feelings or force your partner to bend to your will.
Go to counseling. Use prayer, meditation, or whatever healthy, therapuetic method works for you, but know that violence against your partner is not one of them. You owe it to yourself to heal from the cycle of violence you’re in. Take steps to understand what has brought you to this point in your life and has kept you there. Only then will you be able to break away from the things that hold you back and really begin to heal.
Are you a survivor?
This wouldn’t happen if I just did exactly what he says. She wouldn’t get so mad at me if I were a better husband. He’s having a tough time at work. This is just the way love goes.
Have you said any of these things to yourself?
You may not recognize that what your partner does to you is abusive, but if you’ve said any of these things to yourself, it’s something to consider.
You are convinced that what is happening to you is your fault, that you deserve it. You do not. You may think that love requires that you stay and work things out. It does not. You may think marriage vows say “for better or worst” and that this is just a bad time—if you meant your vows, surely you must stay. You musn’t.
You are not to blame for what is happening.
You do not deserve what is happening to you and are not to blame even if you have made the decision to stay. You are far more than just a “victim” and the abuse you’ve faced doesn’t define who you are as a person.
It’s perfectly normal to feel afraid or to withdraw into your protective shell—even when that shell isn’t the safest place. When you’re ready, and you make the decision to leave, be cautious, plan well, and know that there is support available to you. Start with the House of Ruth.
Do you support someone involved in domestic violence?
If your role is the supporter, you may be a family member, neighbor, coworker, counselor, or even a stranger, but your role is crucial. Domestic violence is not just about violence. It is a cancerous cycle of humiliation, fear, and disempowerment. If you are a supporter of a survivor, then you have seen this happen repeatedly. Your role is a tough one because you must help re-empower a person without doing the very same thing that their abuser has done.
Try your best to give the survivor unconditional and non-judgmental support—which isn’t always easy when it may be impossible to fathom remaining within a violent relationship. You cannot force or manipulate your loved one to leave. They’ve had enough of their own sense of freedom stripped from away and must come to that decision on their own. Present the option and offer whatever support, safety, and resources you can. But, never force and try hard not to judge.
Do you play the blame game?
You are trying to make sense of a difficult situation, to understand why domestic violence happens. Sure, people who abuse are wrong and you think that much is obvious to everyone. So you typically don’t address the problematic behavior or person. Instead you place blame on victim, saying “well, they choose their partner and that’s what they get,” “she’s a gold digger and is staying for the money,” or “she hit him first.”
Victim blaming does nothing other than continue to humiliate, degrade, and ostracize a person who has already suffered enough. If you want to help, keep your blame silent and become a supporter of victims rather than someone who adds to the harm.
Do you just “mind your own business?”
If your role is the uninvolved, I conclude with you. There is a certain amount of privilege that comes with being able to ignore a problem because it doesn’t affect you or someone close to you. If domestic violence isn’t on your radar, consider yourself lucky because domestic violence is more prevalent than diabetes in the United States. But it’s still important that you not minimize how pervasive of a problem this is just because you do not see it as an issue.
Be careful with what you think to be benign jokes about abuse. Use caution when you discuss (this includes posting, sharing, and commenting on videos of abuse on social media) a matter that you find impossible to relate.
Even if you would never harm another, are you actions condoning abusive behavior even if it’s just a matter of view count? Are you words making light of a terrible situation?
It can be hard to follow all of the problems in the world. But, if you choose to speak or have an opinion on a matter with which you have had no personal experience, do so from a place of solid factual information and empathy–not out of entertainment or humor. You may not be one that abuses or has been abused, but your values and beliefs influence others. The uninvolved make up a large percentage of our society and for that reason, your voice matters. Choose the words you speak and the values you convey carefully.
Are you or someone you love struggling with domestic violence? Do some of these situations sound like your own? Are you ready to seek help? Let The Stone Foundation support you in this time of transition. We are a team of counselors dedicated to seeing you live your best and most fulfilling life. Contact us at 410.296.2004 or set up an appointment. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only, and should not to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola’s Counseling Practitioner Program. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention to residents of Baltimore City. She also has experience providing counseling to students at a local college for issues including grief and loss, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, anxiety, and trauma. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.