Thanks to recent media attention, domestic violence is finally being called what it is — a crime. But despite the onslaught of stories and the common themes running through them, victims are still reluctant to see themselves in the stories and admit that they’re actually victims.
Regardless of the victim’s background — socially, economically, ethnically, or spiritually — there is a clear demarcation between the one with the power and control and the one without it. As a result, fear and isolation often cloak the hideous secret of abuse and contribute to the victim’s denial.
For years, I denied that I was a victim of intimate partner abuse (another name for domestic violence).
I thought victims were weak-willed people who didn’t know how to stand up for themselves and abusers were scary looking characters whose mugshots would intimidate even the most confident of people.
Interestingly, notice my erroneous stereotype of an abuser having a mugshot. While somewhere inside me I understood that abuse was a criminal act and an abuser was deserving of a mugshot, I didn’t recognize that a crime was being committed smack dab in the middle of my very own home!
It wasn’t until years later, while working with an informed counselor who was trained to spot and appropriately respond to this type of victimization, that I realized what was happening to me. I was being abused and so were my children, who were growing up around it, hearing it, and, at times, seeing it.
What was happening in our home had a name. It was called abuse — specifically, domestic violence.
It was hard for me to hear that from my counselor, and even harder to admit my own victimization; but, it was also a monumental turning point in my healing.
Until we recognize and compassionately acknowledge our victimization, we cannot move forward in our healing-well journey.
Many of my clients who have experienced this form of trauma from their intimate partner will say to me, “I’m not a victim. I would never call myself a victim.” I quickly ask them, “Then what would you call yourself? If what happened to you also happened to your best friend, would you say they were victimized?” Never once has a client said, “No.”
When a crime is committed, there is always a victim. That’s not a statement of shame or implication of weakness. It is a statement of truth.
The good news is, when we honor ourselves by embracing what’s true and calling it what it is, it often leads to a very significant juncture, which compels us to ask, “So, now, what do I do about it?” For many, this involves facing the painful question of: Do I stay or do I go?
Rather than answering their questions, I share an analogy for them to reflect on…
I tell them to choose what house they want to live in.
For the victim, they are living in a burning house. The flames are leaping around them. They sense the danger, but are denying it. With their garden hose in hand, they are desperately trying to control the flames.
A victim stays in the burning house.
Take that same house, the flames are billowing out of the windows, the roof is caving in. Denial is no longer working. A survivor chooses to drop their garden hose. They no longer try to manage the flames. Instead, a survivor chooses to save themselves.
A survivor leaves the burning house.
In that very same house, with the flames scorching, the smoke billowing, the roof collapsing, denial is now dead. Denial is seen for what it is. It is the lie we tell ourselves so we can avoid facing and accepting the truth we know. An overcomer embraces the truth, shares the truth, and invites others to consider the same for themselves.
An overcomer leaves the burning house and builds a brand new house. Then they invite others to come inside and enjoy its peace and shelter.
The overcomer realizes time, alone, will never bring about authentic healing or lasting freedom. So, instead, they choose to pursue what is required to actualize and maintain their brand new house. They recognize the value of community. They know they cannot build their new house without the wisdom and experience of others who have gone before them. An overcomer stays connected with healthy community for a lifetime.
So the question to wrestle with is not: Do I stay or do I go? Nor is it: Am I a victim? The wisest question to ask yourself is: Which house do I want to live in?
Choose your house wisely.
And, please, do not try to to walk this healing path alone. Find an overcomer, take their hand, and walk with them. They will help you to rebuild your life again. That’s what overcomers do.
Believe you can overcome!
NOTE: I recognize and fully acknowledge that abuse takes place in all sorts of relationships. My heart breaks for all victims. However, because the majority of abusers are male and the majority of victims are female (of domestic violence victims, 85% are female and 15% are male [Source:Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence]), I have utilized the pronouns “she” to represent the victim, and “he” to represent an abuser throughout the pages on this website. I may also, at times, utilize “their.” This is not meant to disregard the pain experienced in other contexts, it is merely a way to communicate with clarity. To learn more about the truth of domestic violence or explore resources, click here.