Why do so many of us fall into a trap of being conned by those closest to us? Whether it be a sibling, a parent, a spouse, or a friend, we seem to be blinded by love or by their sweet words and promises. Yet from a young age, we are taught about “stranger danger” and to be wary of those trying to scam us out of our hard-earned savings or cheat us into buying a worthless car. We are told to never trust a TV evangelist or a door-to-door salesman. Our mothers are constantly warning us to never walk alone at night and always have mace handy. “Stranger Danger” is something that is preached to us at home and at school. In our mind, we are conditioned to believe that the most harm that can come to us is from a stranger. But the sad truth is, we can receive more harm from our “loved” ones.
Why is that? Why are we warned about the dangers of strangers over the dangers of those we think we know best? How long has society just accepted domestic abuse as a part of life? And how many of us have thought it would never happen to us or anyone we know?
For years, domestic abuse was a hush topic, even more so than it is today. Victims were blamed for the abuse or shamed for it. There were no laws or orders of protection that would help the victims. And there were no shelters. Hundreds of years ago, it was even legal for a man to beat his wife, just as he could beat his apprentices and children. In some areas of the world today, it is still a legal practice. This is because women and children were considered property. They had no individual rights and were solely dependent on the man who “owned” them. When women began to have more legal recognition and gained the right to vote or to own property themselves, then the law began to change its attitude toward domestic abuse. The first shelter for battered women was opened only as recently as 1973. And, even more recently, The Family Violence Prevention Services Act passed through Congress in 1984 (one year before I was born). So there’s probably many around my age or older whose parents never gave them a talk about domestic abuse.
I was never shown the Power and Control Wheel. Sure, I knew that domestic violence was totally a thing and definitely a danger to look out for. But I wasn’t told specifically what signs to watch for. I knew what attributes to look for in a man—responsible, caring, handsome, polite, and funny. The problem with that is, they all start out that way. They are charmers. They say and act exactly how they think you want them to and when they have you where they want, the truth seeps out. Little things, here and there. Little comments that begin to undermine your sanity. My ex, when we first started dating, claimed he loved to cook for those he cared about. He started out cooking all the time for us. Then it eventually morphed into him complaining that he always cooked for me. Then he tried to train me to cook for him. Then I could never cook right or cooked too loudly, waking him up while he was napping. In the beginning, he was on his best behavior.
In our mind, we are conditioned to believe that the most harm that can come to us is from a stranger.
My lack of education in regards to abuse was no fault of my parents, they also were not told of the dangers of verbal or physical abuse. And those that may have experienced abuse themselves, may have just assumed their abuser was a rotten egg. There was no information floating around in the cosmos, warning people of the pattern of abuse. There were no courses at school warning us of how damaging domestic abuse could be to ourselves and those around us. We were shown videos on how to say no to sex and drugs—don’t even get me started on my thoughts about the state of sex education in our schools. We were shown presentations on the dangers of drinking while under the influence. But there was never a presentation of domestic abuse, no questionnaire, no Cycle of Abuse diagram, no Power and Control Wheel, not even a pamphlet or brochure. I didn’t even know emotional abuse was a thing, until I googled it in an airport restaurant immediately after breaking up with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I had only ever heard of physical abuse. I did not realize emotional manipulation was something to watch out for in a relationship. I just thought some people could be shitty to one another. I had no idea that there was a name for it or that there was a clear pattern of behavior, or even the damaging effects it could cause both mentally and physically.
This needs to change. We have to educate our kids about abuse. The biggest danger out there can come from those we trust, those we let in to our lives. I don’t want our children to grow up fearing intimacy. I don’t want us to spread paranoia. The more information we give on abuse, the more informed our kids will be in making life-changing decisions. Let’s teach our children and the children in our communities that domestic abuse is no longer acceptable and we all have the power to stop it.