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Invisible Aspects of Domestic Abuse by Cher Duncombe

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Invisible Aspects of Domestic Abuse

Having been the victim of domestic violence myself when a child, I invited the wonderful Cher Duncombe to be a Plum Tree Books guest blogger on this difficult subject which will always be of particular importance to me.

A slap, she went down. A kick, she crawled. A scream, he choked her. As she gasped for air, he stared into her eyes until the light dimmed and she fainted.

 These were some aspects of domestic abuse that I faced in a previous marriage. As horrible as the physical abuse was, the emotional and psychological pain were even worse. We can recover from a slap or a kick, though sometimes the physical abuse, lest there be any doubt, leads to death. But there is a living hell in which many women dwell with silent tears. It is a dark and lonely place of shame and self-hated instilled by the abuser.

Often when we think of domestic violence or abuse, immediately our thoughts turn to an image of a battered and bruised woman. What we may not realize is that there are many facets of domestic abuse invisible to the eye, but abuse nonetheless. Isolation, for example, may be a precursor to physical abuse. Its angst is created by keeping a woman from family, friends, anyone with whom she has a connection, and the goal of the abuser to have complete control of his victim. I lived this part too.

I am an educated woman but all my life had suffered low self-esteem. When this man said he loved me, I took the crumbs and said yes, I would marry him. Beneath his façade, however, were many layers of misogyny, probably due to having been abused by his own mother. In the early years of our marriage, he did not want me to work even though I had a college degree and wanted desperately to teach. No career, he had said. It was the beginning of my isolation.

Later, as friends whom I had known for years, were not allowed by him to visit, I began to feel despondent. Even my phone calls were timed and monitored as he listened outside the doorway. He then carried this over to my immediate family. There were three years when I did not see my own mother. He had denigrated her at every turn, and being a perceptive woman, she recognized in him what I was unable or unwilling to see. He was abusing me. It was only the beginning.

Since I was not permitted by him to work, I had no money of my own. Economic deprival is another form of domestic abuse. If I wanted to go shopping, he went with me. He chose my clothes. He ordered my meals at restaurants. He told me how he wanted my hair to look and what shade of lipstick to use. He dominated my speech until I just stopped voicing opinions and let him pull my strings like a puppet-master. He said I wasn’t pretty enough, not smart enough, not savvy enough and could never make it in the world without him. I came to believe all of it, and I became invisible.

But the physical abuse began when I joined a nearby church. I was emotionally starved and paid the price every time I came home from a service. Rape, forcible rape, can happen even in a marriage and in the most painful, despicable ways. As my mother had predicted, all of this escalated to a point in which I lay in a hospital near death. Doctors there recognized immediately what was happening and enabled me to seek help through a safety-net they provided. It was almost too late and took years for me to recover. Some of the scars still linger, but I am free of him.

I lost ten years of my life to this man. All my education had done little to prepare me for the theft of my soul, my being, and almost my life. Domestic abuse crosses all socio-economic bounds. Learn to recognize the signs. Your tears should never be silenced and no one has the right to steal your life.

©Cher Duncombe  October 17, 2012

https://twitter.com/CherDuncombe

About niamh clune

I was born in Dublin, back in the days when it was full of poets, mystics, philanderers, drinkers, passionate speech-makers and wanna-be-Joyceans. Dublin was enshrouded then in a pall of Catholicism ~ Church and State were like Siamese Twins. I was a rebel ~ in the sense that I couldn't help but think for myself. There were Maoists, musicians and academics all trying to do the same. Gatherings were frenetic, passionate, yet often tempered by some of the gentle 'aul' folk not made bigots by religion or politics but liberated by both into realising the gentle and constant passing of all things. They were of my grand-parent's generation, sweet breaths of peat-soaked air, demonstrative of the tremendous inner peace and calm that comes from knowing who you are and where you come from. These days, I am a writer, poet, environmental campaigner, and musician ~ among other things. I gained a Ph.D in Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination, and I love teaching and sharing my inspiration. These days, I am also writing children's books. I believe that reading to little ones, even before they can understand words, teaches them to associate books with love and affection. Find my books on my page.

27 comments on “Invisible Aspects of Domestic Abuse by Cher Duncombe

  1. Pingback: Invisible Aspects of Domestic Abuse by Cher Duncombe « Doug Johnson

  2. mapelba
    October 18, 2012

    I’m glad you’re free from that situation now. One of the most frustrating questions I hear from other people is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” There is a near total lack of understanding of what it means to live in abuse. It saddens and angers me that our society still doesn’t deal with this problem not matter how many people are damaged or killed. It does help to share stories though. Thank you.

    Like this

    • ontheplumtree
      October 18, 2012

      Nice to see you here, Marta. It is very important to share these stories.

      Like this

    • cherduncombe
      October 19, 2012

      mapelba, it is certainly a lack of understanding domestic abuse when people think it is so easy to leave. Without a support system, I could not have done it. There are professionals and 1-800 phone numbers to call, but women need to use caution if their phones are being monitored. Domestic violence/abuse is still, unfortunately, a closet issue. We need to raise awareness and that is why Niamh, in her deep perceptions, asked me to write of my experience. If one woman can see that there is hope, then opening the wounds even briefly is worth it. Thank you for your heartfelt response.

      Like this

  3. the secret keeper
    October 19, 2012

    There is such a strong silence in abuse that most do not look for it even though some do see or suspect it may be happening as your mother did. That this happened is unbearable and you had to endure it as it progressed deeper underground with no voice or anyone to hear it. I feel pain and anger that this happened to you. I am so relieved that you were finally able to escape. That the doctors set you on a path to freedom but you had to almost lose your life to find this way out. I know abuse and escaping it takes outside help and even then it can make you vulnerable to abuse. It is in the way your abuser trains you. It leaves lasting effects. To heal takes what feels like forever. I am so grateful you found your way out and you are healing from these horrible experiences of all levels of abuse. That you are able to express yourself in your art and poems. It is your escape and release. That is the way in which to use it. And you are so courageous to tell your story in this post. Your story is being heard. You are not alone. You have people who care and love you and are here for you to listen or to just be here for you. Thank you for letting us in. You are a remarkable woman. Brilliant. Talented. Creative. You have so much to offer. What that inhumane person did to you is over. It is in the past. Memories may still exist but they are from your past. Now you have people who are here to love you in a healthy way. I am listening to what I write to you and hear the echo. I know I need to hear what you lived through and experienced and you are with us now. May I call you a survivor. That is how I see you. You faced and are facing your demons and have found and are finding a way to exorcise them. I see it in your art and poetry. What I want to say again is: You are not alone. You are loved. Jennifer xxx

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    • cherduncombe
      October 19, 2012

      Sweet Jennifer, you kindness and empathy are strong and I so appreciate it. I am a survivor and through my story, I hope sincerely to show that there is hope. It is my fervent wish that victims, when possible, seek help before I did. My experience was some years ago. Today there are many facilitators out there who can help and guide one not only out, but safely out. Thank you for your generosity of spirit. I send you much love.

      Like this

  4. sriramjanak
    October 19, 2012

    yes I agree…it is very important to share these stories…take care
    sriram

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    • ontheplumtree
      October 19, 2012

      Thank you, Sriramjanak. And thank you for dropping by.

      Like this

      • cherduncombe
        October 19, 2012

        Niamh, thank you for encouraging me to relate my story. Your wisdom knows no bounds. How blessed I am to have you as a friend. Your courage and tenacity in raising awareness of critical issues reflects the depth of your compassion. We cannot allow women to feel invisible in their suffering, so we can be their voices until they have enough strength to speak.

        Like this

      • ontheplumtree
        October 19, 2012

        We can “be their voices until they have the strength to speak!” How right you are Cher.

        Like this

    • cherduncombe
      October 19, 2012

      Siram, we must raise awareness, share our stories and encourage our sisters. Thank you.

      Like this

  5. Betty Dravis
    October 19, 2012

    OMG, Cher, I had no idea. I lost a very dear, beloved family member from the after-affects of spousal abuse. A long, complicated story but her Doctor put up Abuse Posters all over Santa Clara Kaiser because he said hers was the worst beating he had ever seen. She felt good when seeing the posters in the elevators and hallways; knowing that some good came out of her situation in that others might see the posters (containing the warning signs of abuse and where to go for help) and get help. She eventually passed on at the young age of 48 as an indirect result of his abuse. Such a sad time for all of us who loved her so…

    I’m glad you survived your abuse and came out a whole, functioning adult. God bless you and keep you and all who have suffered in this way.

    Thanks, Niamh, for sharing this thought-provoking, yet very sad, story.

    Hugs – Betty Dravis

    Like this

    • ontheplumtree
      October 19, 2012

      Thank You Betty for stopping by and commenting so kindly.

      Like this

    • cherduncombe
      October 19, 2012

      Betty, I am so very sad about your sister. My heart reaches out to you. How helpless you must have felt because there really are secondary victims. In my case it was my children who watched their mother go through this. No child should bear witness to that. They do have after-effects. We all have a sort of PTSD.

      There is a part of me, perhaps a dark part, that believes that because this is a woman’s issue, primarily, it does not get the attention it needs. Let us keep raising awareness. And Niamh, once again I thank you for opening this door. There is light.

      Like this

      • ontheplumtree
        October 19, 2012

        As long as people want to tell their stories, we will run this feature.

        Like this

  6. the secret keeper
    October 19, 2012

    Reblogged this on the secret keeper and commented:
    There is such a strong silence in abuse that most do not look for it even though some do see or suspect it may be happening. J.K. the secret keeper

    Like this

  7. songtothesirens
    October 19, 2012

    This story has a strong resonance for me. As the child of an alcoholic, I underwent life altering emotional and psychological abuse at home, and having very low self-esteem, bullying at school starting in elementary school. It would seem that even children can recognize those of us with no love for ourselves. I was a very precocious and bright child. I was in the “Gifted” program. I was told I could do anything I wanted, be whatever I wanted to be, then my Dad would get drunk, and I became an emotional punching bag. I was not good enough, I didn’t get good enough grades (A’s and B’s weren’t good enough), I wasn’t popular, the list went on and on. I suffered in silence. My parents were not really aware of what was happening at school, and as far as home went, no one was there to protect me. My mother was in Law school then working at a firm that had her working 12 hours a day. So, I endured this on my own.

    Then, I met a boy who would later become my boyfriend. He was several years older than I was at the time. I was 15 when I met him and 16 when I was raped by him. My parents did not find out about that until they had a family session with my therapist of 9 years now (I have Bipolar disorder). I did not even tell my best friend about what had happened. My grades dropped, I became uncontrollable and started using drugs and alcohol (there is a pattern here) to numb my pain, I stayed out all night, and generally became the opposite of what I once was: innocent.

    I have been in abusive relationships since then, and suspect I am in one now. Although with emotional abuse, it is hard to tell. There are no physical signs. I just know that I feel controlled a lot of the time. I feel berated and demeaned. Just because you are bright and intelligent doesn’t mean your ego is healthy. It would seem the cycle does not end. I have had healthy relationships in between. However, the relationship between my father and I will never be the same since I “woke” up to what and who he was. Now that he has stopped drinking, he is a little better to deal with, but the scars he created will unfortunately last in some manifestation for the rest of my life.

    There are so many that suffer in silence, but summoning the courage to leave your abuser can be one of the scariest things a person can ever do. Some people will not let you go, and sometimes women die at the hands of their abuser for trying to get away. I really think that society needs to wake up to this very real but unspoken subject. When most people think of abused women, they expect bruises and cuts, but there is something more insidious at work: the breaking of a person’s being. And that is hard to see. Maybe if people looked more closely at the women they know, they would see it. Because the abused are not going to admit to it until they gather the strength to leave or like the woman’s story of abuse at the hands of her husband, they come close to death.

    To the author of that story, thank you for having the courage to tell your experiences. You may have saved someone from their abuser. And you yourself have become a survivor rather than a victim by talking about what happened to you. You spoke up, and that is exactly what the world needs to do. Speak up, and try to break the cycle. Too many suffer in silence, and no one ever knows what is happening to the women they know and love. They are our friends, our co-workers, and the women on the street. But know that you are loved, that you are a worthy person, and I admire you for having the courage to talk about your story.

    Like this

    • ontheplumtree
      October 19, 2012

      Dear J. Your story is bravely told. I too am the daughter of alcoholic, dysfunctional parents. My father’s violence towards my mother was unspeakable. I became a psychotherapist and writer because of those childhood experiences. Telling the stories, and facing up to abuse is brave and necessary. Self-esteem is always delicate. No matter how much ‘work’ we do on our personal issues, as soon as similar stressors trigger those old issues, our emotional beings respond with autogenic body responses. I suspect that your bi-polar was triggered by the trauma and stress of what happened to you in childhood. Bipolar is a chemical reaction, often brought on my trauma. It can also be inherited. This means that an inherited weakness will be attacked and triggered by stress and trauma. This is the somatic manifestation of stress-related disease. Whatever its cause, bi-polar is difficult to cope with, and a life-long battle with inner demons that threaten to steal your soul. I will not be platitudinous. I will not tell you how bright the light is in you that you have lived to tell your story, or that you have deepened your compassion through your suffering…I will only think it!

      Like this

      • songtothesirens
        October 19, 2012

        I believe that my Bipolar is both inheirited (cannot spell that) and trauma related. My father’s mother was manic-depressive also.

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      • ontheplumtree
        October 19, 2012

        It definitely runs in families.

        Like this

  8. Margo van der Voort
    October 20, 2012

    Domestic violence and sexual abuse is all over the media here in Victoria, the state where I live in Australia. It is out of control and health and support services have rung the alarm bells because they cannot cope anymore. That’s why it is important that we survivors are here for each other. Violence and abuse is deeply rooted in the societies we live in, it is often generational and also institutionalized abuse. Even governments perpetrate abuse on it’s citizens, e.g. Indigenous peoples. I grew up as a catholic and have suffered unspeakable denigration and instilled low self esteem as a girl. I believe now that my parents were instructed in how to abuse us as children under the disguise of religion. Now at 60 years of age I am still coming to terms with this. Despite the liberation of women, feminism and my personal liberation, the scars of childhood abuse are permanent. As a result I struggle to establish healthy relationships and reclaiming and living my sexuality. However also thanks to this background I feel it has made me a strong individual and my empathy and solidarity with children and recovering adults is deep. I will keep advocating for a safe and protective environment, respect for Human Rights and a deep respect for nature and this planet which is also at risk of violation. It’s all connected. I feel supported by an uplifting spiritual movement in which Niamh is a leading light. I am grateful for the many enlightened Souls who are guiding and protecting me. I am loved, You are loved and in Love we will reclaim our innocence.

    Like this

    • ontheplumtree
      October 20, 2012

      A powerful and well-thought out comment. Having been brought up as an Irish Roman Catholic (or should I say, dragged-up?) I understand exactly the damage that is done to girls in terms of the idea of sex, sin and retribution. The abuse in our family towards women was violent physically, mentally and verbally. It does take a lifetime to come to terms with. Do we ever come to terms? All we can hope to do is not to pass on the crimes against the feminine from generation to generation. This is why I have spent a lifetime trying to teach people how to manage their emotional reactions so as not to cause harm to themselves or to others. Thank You, Margo for engaging!

      Like this

  9. Tonia Marie Houston
    October 21, 2012

    Cher, bless you for sharing your story. You’re a warrior, and a beautiful and remarkable one at that. I’ve lived through much of what you shared. My ex-husband isolated me, with our first baby, to the extent I had no car, no phone, and lived in a trailer that didn’t have electricity much of the time. He raped me- physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Drugs were involved, and he moved a felon into our home and would leave me with this complete stranger who berated and threatened me. Between the two of them, and postpartum depression, I believed I’d gone crazy. My parents showed up late one night, saying they “had a feeling” I needed them. I did, very much. I was hours from attempting suicide. I left my ex for good with one baby, and another on the way.

    I went from that relationship into another in which I was controlled, and the emotional abuse cycle continued. It took three years, but I kicked him out. He said, “You’ll never meet another man like me.”

    I said, “Good.”

    I went through therapy, but I still battle bouts of all-consuming depression during which I feel that I’m a fraud, or have nothing worthwhile to offer. During those times, my intellect knows these are lies and I try to be kind to myself. I’ve been blessed by my children, my family, and amazing friends, and my husband is my best friend.

    It breaks my heart to know there are so many women out there who have been alienated from any and all support systems. I call us warriors. We’ve not only survived abuse, we battled it every day of our lives and will bare the scars for a long time.

    Someone should give you a Purple Heart. Your courage inspires.

    Like this

    • ontheplumtree
      October 21, 2012

      Thank you for your response Tonia. It is very open and honest. It takes a life-time to recover from abuse. Thank goodness that your parents were there for you.And thank goodness for your husband who is your best friend. So many women who have been abused do not experience the value of having a friendship with a man.

      Like this

    • cherduncombe
      October 22, 2012

      Tonia, what terrible times for you. I am so thankful you had your parents. I don’t think it is unusual to have been in more than one abusive relationship but Niamh could address that better than I. Breaking those subliminal tugs of bruised ego from childhood into adulthood can be difficult too, though not every case is the same.

      Your kindness means so much. We are survivors. With the strength we have gained, maybe we can help other women to know there is hope.

      Much love to you…

      Like this

  10. Dani Heart
    October 27, 2012

    How brave of you to share your story Cher, hopefully it be a beacon to lead others out of the darkness. :)

    Like this

  11. Dearest Dani, thank you so much for taking the time to read. I do hope it serves to let others know…there is hope. Many hugs to you~~~

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