Updated: Feb 16
By Xaulanda Simmonds-Emmanuel
October is Domestic Violence (DV) awareness month. With it comes a plethora of prevention
awareness, educational, remembrance of lives impacted and lost due to this violent projection of dominance, control, and harm by one human being to another. The term “human being” is intentionally used here as while 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner physical and sexual abuse as well as stalking, 1 in 9 men also experience abuse, and persons that identify as blended, neither or other gender identities do as well (1). Further, if children (an estimated 3.3 million per year) are involved in this secretive, controlling and abusive environment, not only do they learn that this behavior is “normal” but it also may hamper the child’s brain and skills development that impacts them for a lifetime. So, what is the residual impact when you are not in the family unit of the abused, but rather a loved one on the peripheral?
The Masks of the Domestic Violence Loved One often contains confusion, anguish, and
connectedness. Under the masks are a perpetual revolving door of conflicting emotions that
range from hopelessness to hopefulness, regret to gratitude, sadness to joy, anger to peace,
accompanied with a roller coaster of other emotions. The internal desperation to help, protect and free those you love from the abuse, with the external projection of “You can do this!” and glimpses of a new, healthier chapter in life, is a tug-of-war that far exceeds the physical shackles. While the victim(s) may escape the physical abuse, the mental, emotional, and psychological trauma and their affects often linger for many years into the future. As such, domestic victimization is linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior. Further, the trauma is not constraint to the abused and its effects on the victim and/or the children, but seeps its way into the minds, hearts, and souls of those that are indirect victims…their loved ones. As such, these relationships are forever changed.
To demonstrate this phenomenon the following story exemplifies a possible impact of domestic violence on the relationship between River (the loved one) Star (the survivor) and the baby.
River had a dreadful feeling in their stomach when they met Moonstruck. While charming, Moonstruck seemed to be totally engrossed with and almost idolized Star. Star perceived this adoration as Moonstruck being a protective provider as they were eager to take care of her needs, often showed her with gifts, dinners, and other delights that she enjoyed. With Moonstruck, Star wore a mask of Divine, loving delight. As such, the relationship between
Moonstruck and Star progressed quickly. However, River wearing the mask of cautious optimism and an abundance of skepticism, encouraged Star to “take things slow.” Not being able to “put a finger on It,” River could not explain the way they felt growing increasingly concerned when Moonstruck seemed to consume all of Star’s time, activities, and life. The subtle and seemingly innocuous gestures of protectiveness, control and providing, quickly turned dark after they got married and had a baby early in their relationship.
Once inseparable, River felt the connectedness and distance between Star grow wider and wider. The open, transparent and vulnerability they once shared was restricted to measured masks of filtered information and carefully crafted stories. With Moonstruck in the picture, they went from seeing and talking every day to talking only when Moonstruck was around. Moonstruck became the physical barricade and filtered mask that monitored and measured what Star said and did. Further, Moonstruck had strong opinions about how the baby was raised and who the baby could spend time with. However, one day River unexpectedly got a call from Star asking to keep the baby for a few hours as she could not find Moonstruck. Over the next few days, family and friends instinctively and unconditionally rallied around Star to help her care for her child, while she dealt with Moonstruck’s situation. With those unfiltered days of vulnerability, what become evident to loved ones was that Star and her baby were in a domestic violence situation. Her loved ones began a quest to help her Get Out!
Like in the 2017 American horror movie “Get Out,” River began to uncover dark and disturbing family secrets of domestic violence held by Star and Moonstruck. Like Chris Washington, the main character of the movie, Star wanted to get out but seemed to have Moonstruck and their inner circle continuously pulling her and the baby back into their web of deceit, control and lies. Time and time again, River tried to protect Star as they attempted to get her out, but the constant ebb and flow of Star’s escape and retreat to Moonstruck waned on River’s tenacity, resiliency, and persistence. The most challenging times for River were Star’s seemingly defense of Moonstruck and almost acceptance of the abuse. The claws that Moonstruck had on Star seemed unclenching. As such, the effects of the situation, circumstances and relenting agony, left River and many of Star’s loved ones feeling hopeless, useless, and confused. The weary masks of despair were on full display.
Years later, Star and the baby got out, but the fractures in the relationship between River and Star remain deeply scared and wounded. The healing process differs for everyone. At times, how one human being chooses or needs to heal does not always align with by another’s healing process. Therefore, the trauma remains resolved in some ways and unresolved in another. The masks of recovery are multidimensional and dynamic as the stages of healing are similar in some ways, yet dramatically different in others. For example, society often acknowledges and advocates against domestic violence of victims. Collectively and quickly wearing the mask of “Zero tolerance against Domestic Violence,” yet wearing the internal masks of silence, excuses, protection for the abuser and insufficient protections for the abused. Adults may have the tools of experience to try and navigate their healing process. However, how are the children protected? What masks do the children of domestic violence wear in their attempt to process what has happened and begin healing? Further, in the peripheral, the ripple effect of trauma on the loved ones often remains in the shadow. While the physical abuse may no longer persist, the shackled trauma of the domestic violence memories and circumstances permeates the present and futures of victims, survivors, children and loved ones. So, Star, River and the baby put on masks of hope that the love they share will eventually heal the wounds from domestic violence.
“You know the masks we all wear, shiny and glittery on the outside for the world to see? But walking wounded is how I feel inside of me.” - Excerpt from “Where is here?” poem.
It is important to note that pronouns were intentionally gender neutral in the story. River could be a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, family member and/or friend. Moonstruck can be any partner (intimate, domestic, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.). And while Star takes on the persona of a women in the story, a victim and survivor can be any gender or gender identity. The baby represents the offspring and children that did not choose the situation but are forced to forever live with the impacts of domestic violence. Domestic violence does not discriminate regardless of age, role, gender, sexuality, race, nationality, disability, socioeconomic status, or other attributes. Therefore, whether as the victim, survivor, child, loved one or anyone engaged in domestic violence, wearing multiple masks to navigate its complexities is an individually unique, yet universal, experience.
‘engagers’ to consider their power as individuals and as part of a larger collective devoted to
reducing and eliminating domestic violence in the United States.” 2 As a community and loved ones, we have the power to support the Stars in our lives and the children, while recovering from the peripheral trauma that we also experience. With time and healing, we have the power to choose to remove The Masks of the Domestic Violence Loved One.
For more information, please feel free to visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline at
https://www.thehotline.org/support-others/ways-to-support/. To support Girlfriendism HOPE projects in honor of survivors, please join their LIVE HOPE Talks TONIGHT @6pm at @mgcstx!