It’s no secret that we, as a society, are colossally ill-equipped to have conversations about abuse. Even as movements like #MeToo have started to shine a light on the omnipresence of the problem, even as more and more statistics are released, and even as more and more victims have come forth and shared their stories, there are still a number of barriers in place that cripple our conversations from the outset.

There’s the wall of skepticism and willful ignorance that some will put up whenever they encounter an allegation against someone they’re fond of. Then there’s the inability of our mass media ecosystem to sustain complex, nuanced discussion. There’s also the fact that our society still has systems put in place that protect a number of perpetrators. And there’s the simple fact that the topic itself is one that’s insanely uncomfortable for most people. Finally, there’s the fact that all of those previous factors, and many more, trap so many victims in a vicious cycle of silence.

But on the scattered occasions when I do witness the topic being brought up, I see so many people fall prey to a fundamental misunderstanding of abuse that makes it absolutely impossible for them to grasp the true nature of the issue. Worse yet, it’s a misunderstanding that many victims also fall prey to, which can hinder a person’s ability to even know they’re being mistreated in the first place.

I am an abuse survivor; I’m sure you’ve gathered that much by now. I’ve had the misfortune of being brutalized by a romantic partner on multiple occasions. 

I’ve suffered cracked ribs, black eyes, and multiple head injuries. I’ve been called “worthless”, “stupid”, “a burden”, “an empty shell”, “crazy”, “a piece of sh*t”, a “f*cking evil coward”, and all manner of names you’d never want to hear from a partner. I’ve been attacked, only to have the police turn around and arrest me as the suspected perpetrator. I’ve told my partner on multiple occasions that I didn’t feel safe in my own home, only to have my concerns ultimately dismissed every time.

I’ve been forced into financial dependency. I’ve been gaslit. I’ve been relentlessly criticized until I was reduced to tears time and time again. I’ve been mocked by my partner both publicly and privately. I’ve been isolated and alienated by them for doing something they didn’t like. I’ve had friendships sabotaged because they made my partner feel threatened. I’ve had substantial sums of money and personal property stolen from me and/or destroyed. And while certain abusive behaviors were more pervasive than others, it’s fairly obvious there was serious toxicity at play.

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