“‘This Master Hyde, if he were studied,’ thought he, ‘must have secrets of his own; black secrets, by the look of him; secrets compared to which poor Jekyll’s worst would be like sunshine.’” — The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Even if you haven’t read Stevenson’s classic tale, you probably have heard of Jekyll and Hyde: one, mild mannered and proper; the other, brutal and calculating—but both sides residing in one man. Perpetrators of domestic violence often possess the same dual nature. To the outside world, this Dr. Jekyll is charming, witty, ambitious, and an all-around “nice guy.” But in private, he turns into a terrifying Mr. Hyde. Whether Dr. Jekyll is wearing a flashy business suit, a military rank on his chest, or a clerical collar around his neck, he is the cover up for Mr. Hyde. And I ask you, who’s more manipulative, the Hyde only his intimate partner sees, or the Jekyll who has us all fooled?
Almost daily, more Hydes are revealed as our news feeds fill with allegations of some sort of domestic violence. From the media to the military to the ministry, women (and men) are coming forward and sharing their stories of violence happening behind closed doors. Typically, abuse of this nature is minimized, compartmentalized, or worse yet, completely ignored. But, as more and more people come forward with courage and determination to no longer keep the secret, the tides are turning.
The statistics don’t lie. According to the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, “About one in four women (24.3%) and one in seven men (13.8%) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.” Note the words, “severe physical violence.” This study lists examples of severe domestic violence as, “…being hurt by pulling hair, being hit with something hard, being kicked, being slammed against something, attempts to hurt by choking or suffocating, being beaten, being burned on purpose, and having a partner use a knife or gun against the victim. While slapping, pushing and shoving are not necessarily minor physical violence, this report distinguishes between these forms of violence and the physical violence that is generally categorized as severe.” These lesser, yet still harmful, forms of abuse can certainly wreck a life and have long-term residual consequences.
As the above statistics show, men can be victimized by their partners, as well, and the principles I am sharing apply equally to men. Abuse is never excusable, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. And the sad reality is that male victims are often overlooked and their victimization disregarded. I want to make clear that my usage of Jekyll and Hyde is not intended to dismiss male victims, but rather to take a deeper look at what we are hearing and seeing in the media and acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of abusers are men in positions of power who use their power in deplorable ways against (primarily) women. As women collectively say, “Enough!” their voices deserve to be echoed and their stories met with justice.
These stories and reports of domestic violence repeatedly share common themes. The accused party is often seen by others as a stellar citizen, articulate, calm, intelligent, and even kind. Few outsiders have the opportunity to witness the abuser’s other side. The explanation for this is: Mr. Hyde is reserved for his intimate partner, not for outsiders. This is one of the reasons victims typically keep the abuse a secret—they fear no one will believe them. The victim’s rendition of what is happening in her private life and the abuser’s story will never match.
Unfortunately, unless you’ve been through it or are accurately trained to know what to look for, you will not see the indicators that Mr. Hyde is standing right in front of you.
What’s ironic, but frightening, is that the person with the credibility is typically the one with the power and control. Whether he’s a doctor treating Olympic athletes, a movie mogul producing the latest blockbuster, or a politician passing laws, the credibility is in the title and not in the actual character (or lack thereof) of the person. The abuser leverages his power and control by withholding something the other person wants or needs, i.e., an opportunity to compete in the Olympics, a lead role in the next big movie, or a promotion at work. The list is endless.
What adds insult to injury is when those who are in a position to do something, don’t. It takes tremendous courage to tell your story, especially since your story will likely be questioned or totally dismissed. Many who have been victimized physically, sexually, psychologically, verbally, and/or spiritually are afraid to come forward. The fear of not being believed exacerbates their trauma and reinforces the secrecy.
How do I know this? Not only have I been trained as a Certified Domestic Violence Counselor, but I am also a personal survivor and overcomer of domestic violence. It took me several years, three counselors, and a great deal of personal work to regain my confidence and put the pieces of my very shattered self back together again. Now, years later, and after earning my Doctorate in Psychology, I work with others who have been traumatized in this same manner. I understand them, because I once was them. More importantly, I provide them with a safe space to share their stories without judgment or dismissal.
So, what do we do? This is a massive problem. It won’t go away by pretending it’s not there. And, until we call it what it is, we will call it what it’s not. Domestic violence is not a “couple’s issue,” a “communication problem,” or a “private matter.” Domestic violence is a crime. To think that a man can call his wife a whore or physically assault her, then turn around and preach a Sunday message, fix a broken bone, or teach English to sixth graders and not have it affect his outside world is ludicrous.
Regardless of Jekyll’s public persona, Hyde’s true character is what counts.
When you hear these stories in the news or find out that violence has personally affected a friend, family member, or co-worker, don’t be so quick to judge or assume you know all the facts. Listen to them. Believe them. Don’t be fooled by the Jekyll you see. What is real is the Hyde you don’t see, but they do.
To learn more about healing from abuse or how to support someone in an abusive relationship, I invite you to sign up below to be on my email list. This will ensure that you receive topical information on surviving and overcoming abuse, as well as details about the release of my new book, Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship, available June 19th (preorder here).
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.