ashamed1“You are such an idiot, I hate you!” my youngest spat angrily.

“Shut up, you jerk!” my son snapped in response.

Often, I find myself as the mediator to some showdown of verbal firepower between my three children. We try to focus on using kind words and not saying things that would hurt someone’s feelings. However, it’s as if the behavior is instilled in them and will be repeated no matter how hard I try to correct it. As a child, I remember bickering with my sister and at times raising our voices, but never with the amount of anger as my children display. Their behavior is most likely the effect of being exposed to the verbally abusive relationship that we recently left. Although I did my best to hide it from them, to keep them from hearing the profanities that most likely reverberated through the entirety of our house, they were exposed. Studies show that 90 percent of children in homes where there is domestic violence, know it is going on.

They are tiny sponges, absorbing everything around them, constantly learning through observation.

Domestic violence is a learned behavior. So for it to continue generation after generation, these abusers are exposed to it as children. They may grow up watching their father beat their mother, or vice versa. According to Safe Horizon, recent studies suggest that more than three million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year. The effect of witnessing parents verbally and physically abusing one another can be detrimental to the mental health and overall well-being of the children exposed. As mentioned in our post, Gang for Justice, these children are more likely to become abusive as adults or end up as victims of abuse. Thus it continues through the generations. Children that are exposed to domestic violence can also incur other adverse effects as adults, such as homelessness, poverty, depression, drug abuse, and poor physical and mental health. Giving children the best chance for success is one of the many reasons why we need to bring awareness to the impact of ALL types of domestic violence.

There is an unspoken pressure on us, in this Game of Life, to have a picture-perfect family with picture-perfect portraits plastered all over social media. I believe this is why most people stay in abusive relationships for so long. In most social circles, divorcing is greatly frowned upon, especially if there is no evidence that anything is wrong in the relationship. For the longest time, I was persuaded that divorce would have a terrible impact on my children, depriving them of an unbroken home. When in actuality, it was already broken. It is significantly more disastrous to their general health than divorce. Children need the stability of healthy relationships in order to thrive and become responsible and caring adults. Granted, there are some that overcome their circumstances, growing into the most incredible individuals you could ever meet. But it is rare, and they still must beat all odds, conquering obstacles that no child should ever face.

We try to focus on using kind words and not saying things that would hurt someone’s feelings.

Be wary of how a child interacts with siblings and peers. If they are constantly putting down their siblings, or refuse to accept responsibility for their own bad behavior, these indicate abusive tendencies. It is not too late to correct these behaviors. We can teach them compassion, love, and the appropriate way to treat others, but we first have to remove them from lifestyles that are abusive. I found that the most helpful outlet for my kids after the divorce was family counseling. They received a little one-on-one time with a licensed family therapist, allowing them an objective person to discuss all of their fears, feelings, and pains. Therapists can help them understand why decisions had to be made and help them understand their feelings about those decisions.

Parents set the foundation of the future for their children. They are tiny sponges, absorbing everything around them, constantly learning through observation. If they live in a dangerous home environment where the parents fight and argue and belittle one another, then they will grow up to believe that behavior is normal. As a child, we are greatly influenced by our parents. We look up to them. We watch them. We mimic them. And somewhere out there, there are three million children watching and mimicking abuse. One day they will abuse. One day they will perpetuate the cycle. We must stop this. Help us end the cycle. Children are our future, we need to instill in them love, tenacity, independence, and the ability to lead with compassion.

~Christa G.

Regular Exorcise

Regular Exorcise

“When are you giving me a check?”

“What check?” I asked, annoyed. I broke up with my abusive boyfriend in the San Jose International airport on our way back home from one of the worst vacations of my life. The return flight forced me to sit next to him, which gave him ample opportunity to continue harassing me. “You knew I had no money for this trip and I told you that before you even started planning it and you said that you would pay for it since you wanted me to go. So no, I’m not writing you a check for one of the worst vacations of my life,” I seethed. This was his typical M.O. Whenever he paid for anything, he expected me on my best behavior, he expected me to take any abuse he threw at me. I knew that before agreeing to the vacation. I knew that he would make my time absolutely miserable because he felt entitled to torture me. His abuse was perfectly justified in his mind. But I thought I would give him one last chance.

All I remember from that trip was the constant fighting, constant arguing, and constant yelling. I broke up with him three or five times, but he kept asking for a second chance, kept promising to improve himself. He kept failing. I cried in an airport restroom stall and went through security alone as he passed through himself, not caring. I found him sitting, unconcerned, near our flight’s gate. I walked up to him and said as calmly as possible, “Since I’m such a useless and incompetent girlfriend, you can find your own f@#*ing ride home tonight.” He merely glared back at me. I sat down several rows behind him, my hands shaking from the adrenaline rush. My parents were picking us up from the airport upon our arrival. I texted my mom to inform her that they would only have me to pick up.

The entire flight back he constantly pestered me, insisting my shorts were too short and that the passenger next to me kept staring at my legs. I finally accepted his offer to cover my legs with his jacket just to shut him up. It was humiliating. I’m sure everyone around us could hear him. I kept telling him I was done and he needed counseling. Once we landed, he grabbed my carry-on bag despite my protests and charged on ahead, my bag in his hand. I had to run to catch up and force him to give my bag back, afraid he would hold it ransom.

For three years, my memory of California consisted of my abuser’s power over me. It consisted of him yelling at me for not having the proper hiking equipment. He yelled at me for gasping when a car nearly side-swiped us (he said I should warn him instead of gasp). He yelled at me for not packing the right snacks for our hikes. He yelled at me for not being able to give proper directions while he drove us around town. He yelled at me when I insisted on going to a beach but didn’t know how to get there. He yelled at me for not helping him prepare an itinerary for the vacation (even though I knew that any plans I made would have been turned down or given him a chance to blame me for any mistakes). I only remember his hate and his disgust. Never love. Never compassion.

The amount of abuse I endured on that vacation was a hundred times worse and more concentrated than any time back home because he knew I had no where to run and that I would feel indebted to him since he paid.

Whenever he paid for anything, he expected me on my best behavior, he expected me to take any abuse he threw at me.

He even whined and complained about the few hours I was able to meet up with my best friend and her husband for drinks at a wine bar (he was allergic to alcohol, so he was bitter that he was naturally the designated driver for us). He tried to sabotage it by returning the excess canned food he bought at Target for our hiking trip. We were stuck in the store for thirty minutes as they scanned every last can, since he “forgot” his receipt, making us late for our meeting with my friend. I still wonder why he even wanted me on that trip when all he did was gripe at me. I have to remind myself that he never related to me as a person. He merely thrived on controlling me, an object to shape and mold as he saw fit. I was done being molded. I was done being twisted and manipulated. I wanted my life back.

For the past nine days, my husband and I have successfully exorcised the demons of my past experience in California. We spent our time lovingly together, enjoying every moment. We made no specific plans, leisurely exploring nearby coastal towns, eating and drinking by the ocean. My best friend and her husband kindly hosted our stay, providing us with a free bed. There was no arguing, no fighting, no yelling, no crying. Every minute was spent in utter bliss. I was able to see my best friend without suffering the resentment of my partner. We basked in the enormity of the world when looking out over the Pacific Ocean. We happily gushed to waiters and waitresses that we were on our “Honeymoon/One-Year Anniversary.” Neither of us tried to control the other. Neither of us held silent expectations or resentment. Hours were spent just gazing nauseatingly into each other’s eyes, radiating so much ridiculous romantic energy we could power the electricity for an entire city block. My palette has been cleansed of the bitter aftertaste my abuser had left behind.

I can now look back on California with fondness and love. My wounds are healing, one by one. Sometimes I feel guilty for talking about my past so much, for dwelling on unpleasant memories. But I realize now that those memories help me exorcise the demons that have plagued my mind for so long. To all who may suffer from these demons, talk about it, write about it, cry about it, even laugh about it. We must purge ourselves of the toxins these memories leave behind. Surround yourself with your loved ones. Focus on your wants, your needs, and your desires. We must not let our abusers continue to torment us long after we have left them. Enjoy life. Enjoy love. Live freely.

~Lindsey V.

Family Pets Suffer, Too

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My cat is my baby. He’s one of the family, and the biggest baby at that. He’s at my feet nearly every chance he gets. If I’m in the kitchen, he’s there, waiting for scraps. I spoil him and love on him more than normal because I’m making up for lost time. There was a short period of about two months that he was without me. I had to leave a situation that had been nearly debilitating to my mental health. I left my cat in the “care” of a person that didn’t even like him. I had no other option. For myself and my children, we had to get out. During the two months that he was without me, I worried. I wondered if he was being properly cared for. Was he still getting thrown off of the bed and up against the wall? Was he getting kicked out of the way? Was he being loved on and fed regularly? When most of us think about our pets or talk about our pets, we think of them as a member of the family. They are soul companions for those who live alone, they are “fur babies” to couples that don’t have children, and they have grown up with us from childhood to adulthood. They are loyal, and depend on us for all of their needs.

Animal cruelty is prevalent in many households that experience abuse. Pet abuse is one of many indications of domestic partner violence, according to a six-year “gold standard” study conducted in 11 metropolitan cities. In both domestic violence and child abuse situations, abusers may manipulate and control their human victims through threatened or actual violence against their pets.

According to the Humane Society, researchers have found that between 71% and 83% of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners also abused or killed the family pet. Another study found that in families under supervision for physical abuse of their children, pet abuse was concurrent in 88% of the families. Violence against animals is one of many indicators of distress in a household. Whether it’s due to lack of empathy, mental illness, or substance abuse, a person who fails to provide even basic care for their pet is more likely to neglect the basic needs of other members in the household.

From the time that I was able to understand human emotions, when I started realizing that my actions could cause reactions in others, I have been compassionate. I was a mediator, always trying my hardest to keep the peace. I treated everyone and everything with the same amount of respect, from my siblings, to my pets, right down to my baby dolls. I cared deeply for everything! I can remember getting upset with my cousin when we were kids because he stomped on an anthill. I thought, how cruel it was that he destroyed something they had worked so tirelessly to complete. It has always been confounding to me that people could be cruel to their pets. What makes them abusive? Were they abused as children? Are they mentally ill? Do they simply feel as though they need to have power over everything and everyone in their lives? Most likely they are suffering from more than one of those aspects.

Whether it’s due to lack of empathy, mental illness, or substance abuse, a person who fails to provide even basic care for their pet is more likely to neglect the basic needs of other members in the household.

Now that we are aware of a connection between domestic violence toward humans and animal cruelty, we can safeguard ourselves from relationships that could turn abusive in the future. A huge red flag that everyone should look for is how your partner treats their pets or your pets. Watch their behavior around your animals. Are they neglectful? Does your partner become irrationally livid when your pet exhibits normal animal behavior, like getting into the trash? Does your partner yell at your pet when they are aggravated? Have they ever kicked, hit, thrown, or beat your pet? They may justify the beating with a statement like: “It was the dogs fault, he got into the trash, he should know better.” But does that excuse the abuser and give them the right to kick the shit out of their dog? I mean that in a literal sense. On one occasion, I witnessed my dog being kicked so hard by my partner that it caused anal gland expression on impact. Why would I think that our pets would be treated any differently than I was? In keeping myself in an abusive relationship, I also kept my pets in a situation where they were subjected to animal cruelty. It wasn’t all the time, but it was enough that they suffered, too. If we can become aware and pick up on these indicators from the beginning, then we can save ourselves, our children, and our pets from being abused in the future.

These types of behaviors are not justifiable, they are not normal, and we need to spread awareness so that we can put a stop to the hundreds that are subjected to the atrocity of abuse every day. I spent over a decade coming up with excuses for the abusive behaviors of others.

No more!

We need to take a stand and fight back. We will no longer allow abusers to make victims out of us, out of our children, or out of our pets! Pay attention to the red flags. No matter what the offender may say to justify their actions, there is never a good reason to exhibit violence against another living creature. It seems like common sense, but abusers are master manipulators. They can justify their actions so well that it keeps their victims in a blind state for years. Watch out for the signs of a potential abuser early on to prevent yourself from falling into their trap. Share the love with everyone.

~Christa G.

Gang for Justice

gulabi gang plaid zebra

While I sit here writing this post, there is a gang of over 30,000 women in Northern India, wearing pink saris, brandishing bamboo sticks (lathis), fighting for women’s rights and justice. They are called the Gulabi Gang and their leader Sampat Pal Devi, is a formidable force. They were born out of one of the poorest rural areas where women are discriminated against on the account of being female and poor. In an area where child-marriages, dowries, and domestic violence rule the social construct, Sampat is tearing down these harmful traditions by means of persuasion, education, and sometimes force. If a man beats his wife and Sampat hears about it, she and her gang of woman warriors will travel to that man’s house with their bamboo sticks at the ready.

The treatment of women before the start of Sampat’s Gulabi Gang was appalling, with accounts of girls being burned, beaten, or sold as children wives. Sampat is now a feared leader, her reputation and her strong debating skills swaying those who oppose her to the side of reason. The birth of this gang began rather unexpectedly. Sampat witnessed a man beating his wife, she pleaded with him to stop but he beat her, as well. The next day, she returned with five other women and beat the man with bamboo sticks. This story spread. Women began coming to her, asking for her help. Soon she had a following of thousands. They proudly march through their villages in pink saris, fighting corruption and abuse. They consider themselves a ‘gang for justice.’

It just took one woman to stand up and declare that she had enough! So what will it take before we also stand up and declare that we have had enough? When will we wield our own proverbial lathis and become a ‘gang for justice’? I’m not suggesting we literally beat our abusers into submission. Although, to be honest, I have fantasized about that on occasion. But I am suggesting we take on a more aggressive approach. We must systematically work on eradicating violence and emotional abuse.

We march through the city in our ‘pink saris’ with our ‘lathis’ and we let the world know that this is no longer okay.

Our children are being indoctrinated with the toxins of manipulation and violence, stemming from a lack of education. We grow up in abusive environments, thinking it is normal. We repeat that behavior in front of our children, then they repeat that behavior to their children, and so the cycle continues, until it is part of our genetic makeup. I know this sounds radical, but bear with me. According to Safe Horizon, “more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year” and “without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation. Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults.”

How do we combat this sensitive and highly erosive problem? We speak out against it. We march through the city in our ‘pink saris’ with our ‘lathis’ and we let the world know that this is no longer okay, this is no longer normal. We let others know that there is help out there, warriors of our own that run safe houses for victims and programs that help build economic independence. We make sure our children know what a healthy relationship is. We make sure our children can witness a healthy marriage or union. Domestic violence should no longer be a hushed topic that is tucked away or snuffed out. All of its dirty little secrets should be brought to light, so the ugly truth is there for all to see.

It only takes one person to start a movement. Will you be the next Sampat Pal Devi? Will you speak out against abuse? Help us and our communities by refusing to give in to the oppression of abuse and the toll it takes on all of us. This is not an isolated issue. Abuse affects us all. It affects our schools, our children, our community, our work, and our future as a society. It is time we took a stand. Help us fight for justice!

How can you help? Share your own stories with friends and family, you never know who needs to hear. Share our blog to help spread the word. Leave a comment if you have your own experience or story to tell, you may help at least one person realize they are not alone.

*image pulled from Plaid Zebra

~Lindsey V.