By Anitra, loveisrespect youth organizer
You probably heard the recent news about actor Johnny Depp allegedly abusing his wife Amber Heard. Although Heard’s case against Depp was strong enough for her to secure a restraining order, people still came to his rescue and accused her of making false allegations.
It wasn’t surprising to see the usual pattern of victim blaming and shaming that usually occurs with domestic violence. People expressed disbelief and came to Depp’s defense to say, “I don’t believe he is capable of doing something like that.” There was shock: “He’s just not that type of person.” And people shamed Heard by calling her names, trying to discredit her and asking, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner?”
That last question is pretty commonly asked of domestic violence survivors: “Why didn’t they speak up sooner?”, “Why didn’t they just leave?”, “Why didn’t they tell anyone?” After being a peer advocate for loveisrespect, speaking with dating abuse survivors and experiencing abuse myself, I can provide an answer to those questions: shame. Shame (among other factors) often makes victims feel like they are trapped, like they are silenced, like there is no way out. Shame is what keeps many victims from coming forward.
I blogged about my experiences with abuse here. I remember it being one of the toughest things I ever had to deal with. It wasn’t just the abusive relationship that was hard, but the shame and embarrassment that I felt afterward. I felt like I had done something wrong, and since I didn’t recognize the signs, it was my fault and I deserved it. I didn’t want anyone to know about my experience, and the shame alone almost led me back to my abusive partner. For many people, it does.
Due to the culture of victim blaming that surrounds domestic and dating abuse, shame is very common for survivors. For those who have experienced abuse, it’s important to know that what you are feeling is common. If you are dealing with shame, here are some things to remember:
It was NOT your fault. Abusive partners (and sometimes family, friends and society) can convince their partners that the abuse is their fault, or they are the reason the partner is abusive. This is not true at all. Each partner has control over their actions. One partner choosing to be abusive is never the victim’s fault.
You did NOT deserve it. There is nothing anyone could ever do to deserve to be abused. Both partners deserve respect at all times. You don’t deserve to be put down or called names, told who you can or can’t be friends with, or to be controlled or hurt. In a healthy relationship, each partner should be able to communicate their feelings without resorting to violence or abuse.
There is help available. Building a support system after experiencing dating abuse is important. Dealing with a traumatic experience can be overwhelming, and having someone to talk to about it could be helpful. However, if you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family about what you experienced, loveisrespect is here 24/7. You deserve to be heard, and your feelings matter. But it’s important to remember that you have the right to choose how you want to handle your experience.
Self care is important. After experiencing something traumatic, such as dating abuse, self-care can be a big part of healing. That can look different for everyone, but some people choose journaling, yoga, reading or just sleeping. The important thing is to relieve stress and take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Not too long ago, I did an interview about my experience with dating abuse, and the issue of shame came up as it normally does. The journalist asked me a question that no one ever had asked before: what would you have wanted someone to tell you when you felt that way? I had to think really hard about it because a lot of things came to mind. For sure, I wish I had heard some of the statements above, but my response was, “You did your best.” At a time when I was questioning myself and wondering how this happened to me, what I really wish someone had told me was that I did my best.
There is no correct way to handle abuse. No blueprint. No how-to book. Each experience is unique, but one common feeling is shame. Part of that shame for me was rooted in the fact that I did not know how to process what I experienced or how to move forward. If you’ve experienced dating abuse – something that no one should have to deal with – just remember: you did your best, and you do not deserve to feel ashamed.
Are you dealing with feelings of shame because of an abusive relationship? We’re here for you. Call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on the website or text loveis to 22522.