On emotional abuse, abuse culture, and rape culture

Violence Wheel, from domesticviolence.org.

There were a number of conversations on Twitter this weekend about rape culture and abuse culture; I’ve put together some of them in the Storify story embedded below. Just FYI, it’s rather long, and not all of it loads at once (it updates as you scroll down). Thanks to everyone who gave me permission to include their comments in this!


  1. Thanks for putting these together!

  2. The stuff about the messages sent to children can’t be overemphasized. They DO NOT KNOW their parents are not normal, and when people publicly approve of this kind of thing that’s only reinforced.

    As a child, I didn’t know that things weren’t normal. When I did know, I was dead certain that it was my fault, and that there was something horribly wrong with me. NOTHING in my experience was sending me the message that my family experience was outside the norm. This was reinforced from inside by being told that I should never talk outside the family about the ways I was punished, since the evil liberal government wouldn’t understand and would come take me away. As an adult I know that’s a HUGE red flag, but that message isn’t sent to kids, especially preemptively (if a kid SAYS they were told that you might get worried, but the default is to assume things are fine and they don’t need to be educated. And of course a kid who is told that will never volunteer it).

    There is also a very strong implication in cultural framing of abuse that “real” abusers can’t show affection or do anything nice, and can’t be genuinely loved by their victims, and since that’s almost never true, most people can reclassify their own experience as not being “real” abuse…

  3. Grace, I am glad that you are bringing a discussion like this to light. Emotional abuse underlies all others and sets the stage for other types to follow. I’ve been extremely triggered lately by the romanticization of the “I’ll show them who’s boss” mentality. There were all the positive comments on the shooting of the laptop and a FB friend from high school posted an article about how “there were no drugs in my day” b/c among other things if we did anything wrong or spoke back to an adult we were “drug to the woodshed”. This also received favorable comments and likes. Of course, the post was completely devoid of critical thinking. Was this the same day that racism and homophobia were the norm? The same day that you could legally rape your spouse? The one where violence in the home was a “private family matter”?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about why people applaud and encourage each other to exercise power over children by hitting them or otherwise controlling them by fear. I think at least part of it may come from the fact that it is easier to celebrate and replicate what was done to you than to look at how painful it was or what it says about your parents. When I was younger, I refused to look at how I was hurt growing up for several reasons. One, since other people had it worse, I didn’t think I had a right to be hurt by it and to use energy to process it. The other reason is that I desperately wanted loving parents who could be a source of wisdom and emotional support. I repeatedly projected this image onto them only to have my heart broken time and again. Looking honestly at how I was parented caused me to grieve the difference between what I needed and what I got. Sounds easy to write out in a few sentences, but it wasn’t and it’s still not. The hard part is that all the abusive stuff in childhood doesn’t end there. It follows into adulthood and can lead to various manifestations including, but not limited to: ineffective coping mechanisms, defensiveness, anxiety, suboptimal decision making skills and judgement, sadness, self-doubt, and self-image issues. It’s unfortunate and ironic that “self-help” and therapy are so often stigmatized as for the weak b/c it takes a lot of courage to look at this stuff and figure out how to make it stop with you–how not to hurt your own children with it and how to stop it from infecting your other relationships as well.

    Being afraid of my parents didn’t help me develop a moral compass. It let me know that there was no safe space for me. No one was going to save me and that I was not worth being saved. It also led me to search for a safe space since I didn’t have one at home. This makes a person incredibly vulnerable and a young person doesn’t yet have the wisdom to know how to find a safe space or even what one looks or feels like. This can invite all kinds of trouble and pain. Bottom line–process and work through this shit so you don’t pass it on. Abuse of power will not lead to a more kind or safe society.

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