Domestic abuse and violence have been receiving relatively more attention in the past few years. However, the kind of change that we see in legal and academic circles has not really percolated to the attitudes of the common man. Even the judiciary does not seem to be very sensitive to the needs of women who are subjected to domestic abuse. In the recent judgement in Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the apex court chose to ignore the plight of the victim in the apparent interests of the institution of the family by reading down the 498A provision of cruelty. Their justification was the ‘apparent’ misuse of said provision by malicious women.
People seem to take such abuse quite lightly. “Oh, so he got drunk and gave her a beating”, “He shouted at her a bit, must have had a rough day at work,” are some of the extremely common phrases I’ve heard growing up. In Kerala where I was growing up, alcoholism among men and consequent domestic abuse are ubiquitous. It is normalised to such an extent that nobody even seems to consider it a problem anymore.
Luckily, the men in my family were not alcoholics, but domestic abuse was still a common occurrence. Thus I grew up as a single child in a rather toxic environment where my grandmother, mother, and aunt were all victims of abuse. By domestic abuse, I do not necessarily always mean physical. Over the years, it has come to my notice that mental cruelty can have much more long lasting effects than any kind of physical torture. I will not be going into a detailed description of what used to happen around me while I was a child. Rather, I plan on talking about the effects it had on me as I grew up.
I grew up as a single child in a rather toxic environment where my grandmother, mother, and aunt were all victims of abuse.
Recently, I was part of a group of students administering a quiz to determine their privilege to a group of newcomers. One of the questions as part of the quiz was “Have you or anyone in your close family been the victim of domestic abuse or violence?” As soon as I read out this question, someone from the crowd shouted out, “Papa ne maara toh kya?” (So what if my father beat me?) This statement as someone who has been through the situation opened a floodgate of memories and had my blood boiling.
I realised that my entire personality was shaped around the fact that I have seen and faced violence from the time I was a toddler to the point I became a teenager. I have been suffering from depression and anxiety for the past 5 years and I can relate that back to things I observed as a child.
My anxiety normally manifests itself in the form of an unnatural, irrational, and sudden fear of some uncertain event in the near future. But whenever I have one of my extremely low phases, one memory keeps recurring in my mind. It still astounds me how I am able to unconsciously remember something from the time I was three. The memory is that of my father getting angry and throwing away a beloved toy outside onto the street and scolding my mother who was trying to console me.
All the while my little brain could only comprehend so much as “I am the reason for this”.
Every time I am forced to take sides in a fight or make choices between people, I always find myself in a dark room with two doors. I turn into a child alone in a house standing in front of two bedroom doors with her father behind one and her mother behind the other. Every weekend from around the time I was five, I was used to be waking up to voices screaming outside my room and staring at my parents shouting and throwing things not knowing what to do. Then each of them would retreat to a separate bedroom locking the door leaving me behind. All the while my little brain could only comprehend so much as “I am the reason for this”.
There began my journey of self-hatred and underconfidence. My father was a very nice and loving person except when he flew into one of his rages. I still remember that most of the things that used to irritate him were so silly, in retrospect anyone would think how such a horrible fight would break out from that. But there were times when my mother would take me inside a room and lock it so as to avoid his wrath.
children growing up in an environment of domestic abuse and violence tend to have repressed memories of the same leading to mental health issues in the future.
Multiple nights saw us packing all our things with my mother telling a 6-year-old me that we would leave and go to my grandparents. Only to break down minutes later crying and saying that we can’t leave. “If it wasn’t for you, I would kill myself right now. But I can’t bring myself to leave you alone or to kill you as well” she once told me. I remember being scared and cursing the day I was born. My mother probably saw me as a reason to keep living and to be happy. But all my child brain heard was “You are the reason for my continued misery”.
Although I grew up and realised that none of it was my fault and perhaps not even the fault of my parents. They were broken people themselves. My mother had grown up in a worse environment of violence in my grandparents’ house and was forced into marriage at 22. But even after growing into a teenager I could not get the thought out of my head that I was somehow responsible for all of this. This fuelled my depression, led me to have panic attacks that lasted entire nights and made me extremely vulnerable.
It was at this point that a middle-aged man I was familiar with extended his love and support and for a depressed self-hating confused teenager, that felt like genuine love. I thought he would help me get out of depression. He listened to me, consoled me, and told me it was not my fault. But in my desperation to find some kind of support, I ignored all the wrong signals. And that relationship kept deteriorating till the point where he asked me to have sex with him in my most vulnerable state, a day after my grandfather passed away.
That moment made me realise it was time to draw the line and I stopped all communication. Of course, like every other sexual predator out there, he keeps trying to contact me every once in a while even now. But I consider that chapter in my life over and I successfully blocked his fourth profile on Facebook three days ago.
the most important thing is to not allow yourself to fall into the quagmire of guilt and self-hatred.
My story is testimony to the fact that children growing up in an environment of domestic abuse and violence tend to have repressed memories of the same leading to mental health issues in the future. These can potentially be extremely dangerous as in my case where I ended up vulnerable and trusting the wrong people. Of course, dealing with such repressed memories with flashes of it returning during times of extreme stress and being constantly on the verge of a panic attack at times can be scary. There are times when I have felt that I should not have friends or anyone else who loved me because I was not worth loving. All of these are mere manifestations of the kind of trauma that was inflicted on me as a child. However now that I have realised this, I finally have a chance of moving past it.
Any form of self-redemption can only come through acceptance. So the first step in regaining mental stability in the face of abuse is to accept the fact that you’re a victim and you are not the one to be blamed for whatever is happening. This can be hard in scenarios around domestic violence where the abuser might be someone you love and have happy memories with at times when they’re not in a rage.
Talking to close friends about your problems help. In some cases, if you feel like the abuser themselves is disturbed by something and that is what manifests as their violent behaviour, talking to them also might help. But the most important thing is to not allow yourself to fall into the quagmire of guilt and self-hatred. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
I know it’s quite hard to be able to deal with abuse and violence on your own and the most natural reaction is self-hatred and blame. I also realise that not everyone is as fortunate as me to have caring and supportive friends and access to medical care. So if anyone reading this feels overwhelmed with their experiences or would just like to share their thoughts with me, you can get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Watching Brooklyn 99 helps in dealing with life 🙂
Featured Image Source: Deviant Art