Domestic violence is something people don’t think will happen to them. Yet 12.7 million people are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners every year. I am fortunate enough to not have suffered it first hand but at one time in my life I was in a very unhealthy relationship that I know had all the signs of turning abusive down the road.
It happened a lifetime ago but as I sat down to write this post, I realized that my life could have been very different in a very negative way had I not found the strength to walk away before I was too in love, too dependent and too weakened to think I still had any power or dignity left in me. I also realized I had the support of my family and that made a huge difference, because when you are in a very controlling relationship, you start distancing yourself from those who know you and love you.
However, it still took me too long to get out. In many ways I look back and I can’t believe I allowed another person to make me feel so powerless. I felt guilty for letting him control me and I thought it was my fault when he decided to put me down in public. One night the humiliation went so far my emotions went into overload and I had a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was sick. That something was terribly wrong with me. Yes, there was something wrong but it wasn’t my fault.
At the end of my relationship I found the help of a therapist to deal with my issues. It strengthened my resolve to break up with him and allowed me to heal. Trust me, I had many issues to work through, especially low self-esteem. That therapy was crucial and I later built a relationship with my now-husband.
I am writing this not because I am an authority in domestic violence, but because I know it can happen to anybody. My concern is how we are raising our children so they know what is okay and what isn’t when they are in a relationship. I worry because no matter how smart you are, it is so easy to ignore red flags when hormones are ruling your body. I want to empower my kids so their self-esteem does not rely on what others think, so they are able to stand up to somebody who humiliates them, and feel strong enough to walk away from something that doesn’t feel right.
What is never okay in a relationship
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, teens are seriously at risk for dating violence. Research shows that physical or sexual abuse is a part of 1 in 3 high school relationships. As a mom of two tweens, this is scary. So for now I work every single day at building a strong relationship with me, so they can tell me what they feel and trust me. Hopefully down the road they will know they can come to me if they are ever in a situation where they feel unsafe or abused.
I decided to do a list of what isn’t okay for my children (because it’s a myth that only girls and women suffer from domestic violence; it can happen to boys and men, too). They are too young to fully understand it entirely, but I do explain to them similar concepts in different contexts.
It is not okay
- To be humiliated in public
- For you to be forced to do something you do not agree with
- To be told you are ugly or unattractive
- To be told nobody will ever love you the way your boyfriend/girlfriend does
- To be forced to choose between your boyfriend/girlfriend and your friends
- To be controlled
- To be made to feel guilty for somebody else’s anger. It is their issue and not your fault.
How to get help
No matter how old you are, if you feel something is off or unhealthy with your relationship, please know there is help available. No judgment, just support. If you are in danger, always call 911, your local hotline, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Where can teens get help? The National Dating Abuse Helpline is the direct service provider behind loveisrespect.org, operating the 24/7 phone, text and chat services.
October might be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but this is an issue we need to talk about always. Once we start breaking the silence, I strongly believe not only will people be more aware about it but we will also begin doing more to protect victims of domestic violence. But most importantly, we will help them break the cycle of psychological and physical abuse.
Read Jeannette´s blog in Spanish. You can also watch her on the Viva la Familia TV show on Univision.
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