The following article is a guest piece by Jennifer Crystal Johnson. You can find out more about Jennifer and her work here.
Domestic violence isn’t anything new or newly revealed. The sad thing is, it’s been around for centuries and far too many women and men alike have to suffer through abuse from their spouses while their children are trapped in the middle.
“Mommy, are you okay?”
A two-year-old should never have to ask their mother this question when they see her crying, but mine did – often.
“Did Daddy hurt you?”
As if this isn’t heart-wrenching enough, there are countless children who witness this on a daily basis and countless who will later have emotional issues because of it, many times for the rest of their lives. Not only that – there are permanent consequences and long-term effects of domestic violence on the victims themselves, who often suffer from personality disorders and physical issues due to the abuse suffered in the past, be it emotional or physical.
The signs of an abuser vary at times, but there are certain things that are usually the same or very similar. Here are some of the most important and impactful things I’ve learned from personal experience:
1. Abusers are usually manipulative in nature. Abusers will intentionally seek out the naïve in order to be able to manipulate them.
2. Abusers tend to be controlling. If they absolutely have to have everything a certain way, give their partners grief over things like wanting to go to the store by themselves, or go through your things in order to find “evidence” that you’ve been having an affair when you haven’t, then the control issues indicate a high likelihood of emotional abuse.
3. Threats of violence are extremely common. This includes threats of violence to the victim as well as threats of suicide. Most people care enough to not want a suicide on their conscience, but if you do a little reading on social sciences, those threats are usually just a manipulation tactic.
4. Rape is rape no matter whether you’re a spouse or a stranger – rape is always rape. If you say no, feel disgusted, or don’t want to have sex and it happens anyway, that is rape. Period.
5. Abusers tend to have a short fuse. There are specific reactions that will usually take place as well, and those will usually be angry and sudden, even if the reason for the reaction isn’t that big a deal to most “normal” people.
6. Abusers will alienate you from your friends and family. Once they know even a small detail about the dynamic you have with your family, they will pick at the negative aspects in order to manipulate you into no longer speaking with them
7. If you ever feel afraid of staying in the same room while you’re on the phone because you don’t know how the other person will react to something you say or a look on your face while you talk, then there’s something wrong.
With that being said, I’d like to move on to how keeping a journal and writing through issues can massively impact the successful overcoming of domestic abuse, and how it may have saved my life.
We all know that when we put something down on paper it tends to be more real for us. That’s why we like to write to-do lists, goals, and other things we feel are important; whether it’s simply to keep a record or to brainstorm doesn’t matter.
I know not everyone has a writing background, but putting it down on paper can really help in taking a step back and looking objectively outside of that specific emotion. Writing it down and getting it out can be just as important as looking through it again and figuring out ways to solve the problems at hand.
I consider myself extremely lucky that my abusive spouse was in the military… he was gone enough for me to take a step back and be myself within the pages of my journal, even if my exterior had to play the perfect “wifey” on a constant basis while he was there. You know the drill: if the house isn’t perfect and dinner isn’t on the table, be prepared for one angry and insult-hurling husband.
Keeping a journal allowed me to document when I was angry, sad, what happened, and to look back at it and realize how wrong and messed up some things were. Likewise, it allowed me to realize when I was just being childish; let’s not forget that I wasn’t even of legal drinking age by the time I filed for divorce the first time. Of course the memories will always be biased from my own perspective; I can’t even begin to imagine what he was thinking throughout a great deal of that marriage, nor do I want to put myself in that position. However, I was able to learn a great deal from my own journals as I became an adult, and that has been priceless.
Some of the aftermath and the long-term effects of domestic violence are what worry me now. The initial recovery period was filled with flashbacks, panic attacks, fear, paranoia, and jumpiness, and for me that lasted about 2 years after I left, although it would return in odd spurts here and there. Sometimes I still have weird reactions even now; I don’t think that will ever change. The most disturbing aspect is that many victims and survivors of domestic violence often experience health and emotional issues much later in life, everything from IBS to chronic pain to depression and heart disease. Even more disturbing is the aftermath that children end up facing.
Because they are often too young to fully comprehend what’s going on, witnessing abuse as a child can have massively disturbing effects on their emotional well-being during and long after the abuse takes place.
My daughter was terrified of my father when we arrived after fleeing the situation. The first time she met him when we returned, he was wearing his military uniform; she wouldn’t go near him for 3 days. Not long thereafter, I was at a friend’s house with her and she was playing with my friend’s son. He did something to prompt a raised voice from his father, which sent my daughter running into a bedroom and hiding in a closet in the dark.
Things like this raise a lot of concern for me about the future of my children because of this
time in our lives, as short-lived as it might’ve been (in comparison to other similar relationships). Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do for them in any immediate sense besides being honest and keeping it simple and factual. So no; I don’t talk badly about our abuser. I stick with events and let them draw their own conclusions. When they’ve asked me why I left, I tell them because we weren’t right for each other.
You bet that if I see any kinds of red flags once the kids get older and start dating I will call them out, though. They shouldn’t have to repeat the pattern just because statistics say they’re more likely to. I can help them be empowered and strong without having to watch them suffer through a dehumanizing and controlling relationship.
Learn from the mistakes of most victims: call the police. Even though you’re afraid of the reaction your abuser may have, call the police. Even though you don’t know what’s going to happen next, call the police. And even if they end up simply being a mediator during an argument, they will then have a little notification of how the household is and that you may need help in the future.
After I fled, my ex reported me and my two children missing. Several friends saw this on television and notified me of it. He also reported the car stolen, the kids kidnapped, and me as insane after I left in an attempt to get the police to bring me back.
My father had the foresight to call the police first to let them know we would be fleeing from a domestic violence situation. It worked – the police knew what was going on and didn’t bother coming after me at all.
Writing was at the core of my strength for years. When I was 15, I began writing in a journal every day. This developed into writing poetry and prose, so I was consistently writing each day in my journal. I would always go sit at Denny’s and get my corner booth so I could face the entire room and watch people. I was 16, loved my coffee-and-cigarettes cliché, and thrived in the social environment.
Once I was married, I almost stopped writing. I actually did stop playing the piano after several instances of odd and guilt-inducing comments from my spouse, which has affected me a great deal. After winning trophies for your talent as a child and then being told your work is offensive in some way to the person you love… well, it stinks. Plain and simple.
But I did keep writing.
My journal, in fact, was my only accessible friend. Any time I had an actual person as a friend, he would accuse me of having an affair or, if it was a girl, would want to have a three-way with her. I didn’t want either of those options, so friends were few and far between, especially after he scared away the rest of the friends I had before we got married.
My journal was where I found the release I needed from all sorts of crazy emotions.
I even ended up writing a novel based on this story over the course of 5 years. It was more for my own sanity than anything else and I’ve been debating about publishing it, but it helped me to face and analyze what had happened. I didn’t even know that there was a name for spousal rape until months after I’d already left him.
If you have intense conflict and emotional stress to deal with, keeping a journal is an amazingly effective way to get a handle on everything and keep control. There’s a name for that: journal therapy. Even though I never “officially” had a therapist who encouraged me to keep a journal, I always knew that there was a reason I loved writing in my journal so much. It helped me to survive, helped me to heal, and helped me to move on to a point of functioning on a daily basis. Of course nothing is perfect, but we’re all happy – that’s the most important part.
Even though I have no idea what else is in store for me or for my kids later on in life, I hope to be able to understand whatever happens and deal with it in a positive way. There could be consequences that are still years away that will have to be overcome, but for the time being, life has settled down and maintained a semblance of peace for the past several years. No matter what the future holds, I’ve proven to myself that I can rise above, that I can have a healthy relationship (2 years and going strong now), and that I can be a successful person even without a 9-5 or a traditional family.
For information on domestic violence, journal therapy, or healing after abuse, the internet has a lot of resources for specific areas or in general. The abuse cycle can and will be stopped if we work together to help victims escape and live healthier lives. No one asks for an abusive spouse. People usually want one thing out of life: happiness. Being with someone is seen as a way of being happy, but believe me – no one knows a more profound loneliness than the partners of abusers.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the domestic violence hotline or the police in an emergency. Pushers get pushed – let’s push back on domestic violence.
If you have a story of your own to tell, then please feel free to submit it to the first annual Soul Vomit anthology through Broken Publications. The submission guidelines and detailed information can be found at www.SoulVomit.com.