I recently started a new job, and like any new employee, I did a lot of observing during my first couple of weeks. There’s nothing really special to report about the building itself, but two rooms have given me pause almost every time I am in them: the break room and the bathroom (and not for the reasons you’re thinking).
Both the break room and bathroom have the warning signs of relationship abuse posted in places that force you to read them (on the mirror and right above the microwave). The first time I read them, I felt like someone had socked me right in the gut. From warning sign #1 and on, I found myself mentally checking off behaviors I experienced in past relationships:
- You met during a crisis, and your partner “saved you.” Check.
- Your partner abuses alcohol or drugs. Check.
- Your partner is jealous and possessive. Check.
- Your partner criticizes, humiliates, and/or yells at you. Check.
- Your partner blames you for how they treat you. Check.
- Your partner makes you feel like you can’t do anything right. Check.
- Your partner makes you feel like you are wrong, crazy, stupid, or inadequate. Check.
- Your partner repeatedly and wrongly accuses you of cheating. Check.
- Your partner ignores you, gives you the silent treatment, or hangs up on you. Check.
- Your partner blames all arguments and problems on you. Check.
- Your partner puts people down, including family and friends. Check.
- Your partner has a bad and unpredictable temper. Check.
And so on…
It’s not that I didn’t know I had been in multiple abusive relationships. Four years of therapy helped me realize that. What made me feel so overwhelmed by the posters was the stark reminder that I was once the girl those posters are targeting.
I am a huge advocate for therapy because it definitely helps bring about the healing process, but therapy is not a miracle cure. I can’t speak for others who have experienced abuse, but for me, memories of those days have a tendency to burst through my psyche at unexpected moments — like when I’m warming up my lunch and start reading posters about abusive partners.
Those memories are tough because they are usually accompanied by a surge of emotions that are difficult to process: anger, embarrassment, guilt, sadness. Sometimes those old feelings of inadequacy, defeat, and depression even start to resurface. And when you’re finally able to wrangle those emotions under control, you’re left with the knowledge that you have been forever changed by someone you thought loved and cherished you.
Be a part of the solution
Whether verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual, abuse is never acceptable. Never.
If you see the warning signs of abuse in a loved one’s relationship, say something. Not sure how? I’d suggest checking out the Red Flag Campaign, which encourages people to use what they call a “bystander intervention strategy” to help prevent abuse.
Do you see the signs of abuse in your own relationship? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The call is free and confidential, and the line is available 24 hours a day. I would also suggest reading the article Are You Dating an Abuser? from Psychology Today. It was published in 2008, but the information is still just as relevant. It provides some great early warning signs to watch out for so you can catch the signs of a potential abuser before you become emotionally attached.
Lastly, I have a non-academic piece I suggest everyone read: Good Consent, a piece published this week on The Good Men Project. It’s a great opinion piece that talks about how consent is different for everyone, and we all need to learn how to communicate with our partners in order to ensure we are getting honest consent from them in our relationships. I’m not naive enough to believe an abuser is going to take anything away from this piece, but I have faith everyone else will. The first step to having a healthy, non-abusive relationship is mutual respect and strong communication.
Respect your partner(s), get consent, and do your part to prevent abuse. After all, you may know someone just like me who could use your help.