Your friend says of a mutual friend, “Her husband is abusing her.” Does the image on the left come to mind? Or do you think of an abused woman as beaten and battered, with black eyes and broken bones? Yet, some forms of domestic violence are invisible.

In 1976, when I was twenty-two years old, a friend and I were standing in the kitchen of my apartment. Sally was a seamstress, and she was pinning the waist of my skirt for alterations. We were chatting comfortably.

My husband of a year burst into the apartment. He scared me; my body froze. As if I were not in the room, he stated, “She wouldn\’t need her clothes mended if she wasn\’t such a scrawny broad! She\’s a piece of work, isn\’t she?” His eyes scanned the countertops which had straight-pins and a tape-measure. “When are you going to clean up this mess? And what is this going to cost me?”

Sally looked at him in astonishment. She\’d known me for a year, but had never witnessed his verbal monologues. I sensed that she did not want an altercation with him, and I feared that he would sabotage our friendship. So we were quiet.

He mumbled something about “worthless women”, said, “see you when I see you” and slammed the door on his way out. The apartment building shook.

Sally tried to look me in the eyes but I was looking down with shame. What had I done wrong? I thought of how my irritable bowel syndrome had caused me to lose weight. Was that what he was mad at? He had said he liked women with “meat on their bones.”

She talked softly, “Does he typically speak to you so mean?

No one had ever been so candid with me, yet I trusted Sally as a good, genuine friend.

“Sally, it\’s all right, he talks like that all the time.”

“It\’s not all right. He\’s abusing you.”

“No, Sally, no way! He never beat me with a broom or broke a bone.”

“Lynn, the way he treats you is awful. I had no idea! Does he hurt you in other ways?”

I admitted that he\’d say, “I ought-a wup you upside the head” or “I ought-a haul off and kick you in the ass,” and sometimes he did just that. He\’d grab my arm, squeeze it hard, and twist both his hands around it, until I bruised. He\’d say, “If you weren\’t such a skinny runt, you wouldn\’t bruise so easy.” He smacked me when we passed in the hall or as he walked by my chair. When I complained, he would say, “That was just a love tap.”

Although I divorced him in 1978, it was not until I was in my forties that I understood the many reasons why it takes so long to recognize the abuse (for me, it was familiar) and many ways in which women deny the aftermath (for me, it was expected). Information is key to intervention and prevention.

The above paraphrased excerpt from Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor\’s Story, illustrates insidious abuse that may be not be readily apparent.

What is domestic violence?

State laws vary in defining domestic violence but common elements include:

A pattern of abusive behavior when one person uses inappropriate power and control over an intimate partner.

What is emotional abuse?

The emotional abuse pertains to what he said, and how it made me feel. When a
Woman\’s self-esteem is eroded, and she has no tools to build confidence, yes, he can make her feel bad.

He made me feel humiliated by calling me names and putting me down. He made me feel bad for being a woman spending money because she lost weight.

He used threats to be in control when he said, “see you when I see you.” His phrase indicates that he can come and go as he pleased. He used male privilege by referring to his money. He defined the roles by ordering me to clean up.

Emotional abuse is a cornerstone for power and control over another. Almost all abusers who are physically violent use emotional abuse. When someone tells you that she or another is being abused by her husband or partner, keep an image of anyone in mind, because you never know who amongst us is enduring emotional abuse.
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1 in 3 women will experience some form of abuse by her partner. This narrative from a survivor of domestic violence reveals personal details that are not found in statistics. When we put a true story in front of the facts, the experiences of a victim become real.

Lynn C. Tolson is artist, advocate, and author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor\’s Story. This article is excerpted in part from the book. TEARS is Ms. Tolson\’s memoir about overcoming abuse and adversity to achieve health, happiness, and hope. Visit the Author\’s website at www.beyondthetears.com