I stood between my father and my mother. He was seething, she was screaming and I was terrified.
My father towered over everyone. If, by chance, you happened to be taller than him, then he would still be louder than you. I never saw anyone stand up to him until I did it myself. At 14, he could still wipe me off the face of the earth with one flick of his pinkie. So when he clenched his fist to strike my mother, I don’t know where I got the audacity to say “If you touch her, I’ll kill you.”
He didn’t. I never knew why he held back, but he caught his senses and walked away. I know damn well it wasn’t because of my skinny ass.
Although he had no history of violence prior to that moment, he loved the threat of it. I decided right then that he was a monster. I decided that he was a bully and a coward. I filled myself with hate for him. It fueled me.
It would take a very long time before I would love him again.
So years later, as a young adult, I found myself wearing his shoes when we stood eyeball to eyeball with a girlfriend of mine. Unlike my father, I didn’t walk away. I pushed her to the ground. When she sprung right back up, she stood up to me again and in a flash I saw a reflection of my father in her teary eyes. My father the monster, my father the bully, my father the coward. Only then did I walk away.
Life comes at you fast.
It was the first time I ever put my hands on a woman. Ever since that day, I have searched deep within me to make sure it would be the last. I wanted to know what brought me to the point of believing that I was left no choice but to inflict physical pain on someone who disagreed with me.
I found that that the only difference between my father and I was that he walked away. Everything leading up to both our moments was informed by the same beliefs and conditioning. Whether it is physical or emotional, there is one thing that is rooted in the heart of all abuse…
It’s a learned behaviour. The insecurities we project on those we are meant to protect.
It’s in the core belief that this relationship cannot make any progress unless I’m the one making all the decisions. What I really mean to say is that am afraid everyone will see the fraud in me.
‘I know what’s best for us.’
It’s what we do when we use love as an excuse for isolating the people we love from the world around them. Because I am unable to deal with my own jealousy, it is easier to cut you off from the people who make you happy.
‘If you love me, then you wouldn’t be talking to your ex.’
It’s what we do when we blame others by turning our backs on our own mistakes. If I have to admit that I’m wrong, then you have to admit that you pushed me.
‘Why do you like to provoke me?’
It’s in insisting that we have to be the ones to define men’s and women’s roles in a relationship. I am conveniently the man of the house whenever my authority is challenged. But it’s not my authority that’s being challenged, it’s my ego.
‘My decision is final!’
It’s making light of how our actions hurt the people we love. Maybe if you had tougher skin you wouldn’t take things so seriously! What I’m really doing is teaching you how to normalise my abuse.
‘Why do you make a big deal out of everything?’
Given the right ingredients, we are all capable of being abusive, because we are all capable of being controlling. It’s less to do with ‘loss of control’ and more to do with total control.
It is, however, a choice. It’s a choice when the abuser uses violence or manipulation. It’s also a choice when our society makes room for it. Tolerance is another way of giving permission.
We tolerate it when we raise children in abusive homes and then leave them without a reference for what a healthy relationship should look like. They will continue the cycle by falling in love with people who want control over them. We tolerate it when we treat divorce like something to be ashamed of. Like leaving a toxic situation is a failure. Like staying is noble because love can change them. It won’t. We tolerate the belief that children who grow up without both parents are incomplete. They are not, and neither are they an excuse for enduring abuse. We tolerate it when we question the morals of the victims who are killed for rejecting abusers. We tolerate it when we make therapy a taboo, yet it is exactly what abusers need.
We owe it to victims of abuse to create an environment where the lines between boundaries and control are clearly defined.
Boundaries are about you and only you. They are the limits you place on the access people have to you.
‘I am not comfortable with you touching me that way.’ Or ‘I don’t appreciate you speaking to me that way.’ are boundaries. They involve you and how you’d like to be treated.
Control is about the other person. It is attempting to control what another human can or can’t do.
‘I don’t want you to wear weaves or make up’ and ‘I don’t want you watching porn’ are attempts at controlling someone else.
There’s no grey line. Confusing the two would look something like this:
‘I am setting a boundary, I don’t want you to spend time alone with other women.’ That’s not a boundary. That is restricting another human being to a world that only you are comfortable with. That is something you do with things, not people.
People are not things!
You don’t get to own them no matter how much you love them. How you want to be treated is completely different from what other people should do with their life. Even the ones you love the most.
I can choose who I love, but I don’t get to choose what they do.
When I look back at the young man who pushed his girlfriend in the beginning of this article, I see a conscious choice to be violent. I also see a someone who needs help understanding the difference between anger and violence. Anger is a feeling everyone is entitled to but violence is a behavior. I see someone who needs to understand that love has no place for control. A need for control is a foundation for abuse.
He has a long journey ahead, but one that is about to teach him so much about himself.