By Kimberly Pena
“The summer before I turned six years old, my parents finally got divorced. That seems very odd to say, finally. Most people want a complete family. They want to have their mom, their dad and maybe a sibling or two, that’s how the setup is with average American families. But not mine. I was only six years old and at the time my definition of love was accepting violent words and closed fists. My definition of love was unhealthy jealousy and infatuation masked by insecurity and selfishness. If you haven’t caught on yet, my parents divorced because of domestic violence. At six years old I saw my mother be a victim to relationship abuse.”
Relationship abuse is much more common than people think. It affects over two million people a year (http://www.clicktoempower.org/domestic-violence-facts).
And my mom was one of them.
Ever since I discovered this I vowed I would never allow myself to fall into the cycle of what she thought was love and what really was pain, a cycle that many teens in high school fall into as well.
Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year, according to http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/ and most of them don’t even know it. They almost always deny that they are a victim, keeping their eyes closed to what’s truly happening.
Whether it be emotional, mental, psychological, or physical, all forms of abuse are damaging and very harmful to the victim. Abuse changes a person inside and out, and abuse alters the people around them. Changes in the victim include sudden isolation and lost of interest in things they once thoroughly enjoyed. There is a growing lack of socialization and there is a change in their normal personality. The victim insists on covering up with clothing and/or makeup, possibly trying to cover bruises or scarring. He or she no longer shows affection as before, and when a traditional hug is offered, will shy away. Suddenly they’re having mood swings and acting fearful around friends or acting sad. A friend doesn’t know why, but just wants that old friend back.
Often, these signs are being displayed directly in front of us but we get distracted by the fact that this is high school, and we’ve been programmed to believe that relationship abuse only occurs between adults. We don’t realize that it happens to people in platonic as well as serious relationships in high school, to both friends and associates.
We may also become so absorbed with helping others that we forget to think about ourselves. Toxicity is found everywhere. Abusive people are found everywhere. That friend since sophomore year that is constantly throwing micro-aggressions every day may be abusive. That can be toxic. The girlfriend that is making her boyfriend feel bad for playing football, eventually persuading him to quit the team, may be abusive, and that, too, can be toxic.
There are countless scenarios for abuse in high school and it can happen. We must agree on where the line separating friendship from abuse ends and begins. We must set a precedent of educating our youth to recognize abuse for what it is, and we, as a community, must teach one another to love ourselves before loving others, and to treat others as we would have ourselves treated.
But right now, there is abuse, and so we must set a precedent where we say it is okay to be a victim so you can then get out of it and find guidance, and healing.
At the beginning of this piece I shared my mother’s story, one she shares with people who just happen to ask or who just happen to discuss the topic with her. Had she not left, had she not gotten help, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be writing this for you. There’s a good chance my little brother and I could’ve been lost in the foster care system, growing up without one another or a mother.
Many cases of relationship abuse don’t end well, so it is important to help yourself while you can, or help your friend while you can. The time is now, the pain is real.