Domestic violence is not an easy subject to discuss with yourself, let alone other people. The most important thing about breaking the news is that it’s what you want.
Do it on your terms, in a space you feel comfortable, whenever you are ready. And that time may be during the relationship, afterwards, years later or maybe even never.
I’ll break it into several sections, talking to your friends, support services, your parents and the public. I’ll also link this to another post with some advice for receiving this information from a loved one.
Breaking the News to Your Friends
I put this first because my friends were personally the first people I reached out to, as it was the easiest for me. I have three friends that have supported me through this, and I am grateful that they’ve been pretty good about it.
Once I started recognizing that the events that happened were not okay, I started explaining it to them. At that point, I thought it had just been a really crappy relationship so I only felt minor embarrassment and a little bit of ‘yeah, a lot happened that you didn’t see’.
However, they were the first people that mentioned the words; abuse, sexual assault, rape. My first reaction was, what? No way! It can’t be. We were in a relationship. It can’t be that, right?
Wrong. I’ll definitely be addressing this is other posts but for now I want to focus on breaking the news.
It is important to choose people that you believe will be receptive to what you say. It is also probably a good idea to talk to friends that are your friends, not mutual friends or their friends, if the rumours get back to your abuser then it could potentially endanger you.
Being receptive is important. Like myself, it’s very likely that they have messed with your head. If you talk to someone that doesn’t believe you, insists that the person should have more chances or minimizes the abuse themselves, you are likely to find yourself agreeing with them.
Or worse, feeling like you are making it up. After I started realizing that it might have been more serious than I thought, I decided to look for a counselor.
Breaking the News to Your Counselor
Generally speaking, this is the easiest one. A counselor or other types of support services are impartial, non-judgemental and not in your friend group. There is the least amount of shame associated with someone that you don’t know.
It’s important to shop around though, you need to find someone you are comfortable with. Preferably, someone who specializes in domestic violence as regular counselors may not be trained for this area.
They will be able to act as your voice of reason, able to tell you how to handle it and deal with the aftermath.
If you talk to no one in your personal support network, I highly advise you at least call a service or talk to a domestic violence counselor (see resources). It’s a lot to handle by yourself.
They can also help you with a plan to escape your abuser, or to testify for you in court should you need it.
If your situation is dangerous, it is important for someone to know before it gets out of hand. It can be hard to start talking, but I can promise you that it is harder to keep things all to yourself.
Having said that, by counselling I specifically mean for you individually. Counselling for them, or even worse, couples counselling will generally only serve to validate his claims and discredit yours.
Couples counselling works on the premise that your relationship is a healthy, respectful and equal partnership. An abusive relationship is anything but that, and they will (not on purpose) expect you to take half the responsibility for the relationship problems. Not helpful.
Counselling for them is a more difficult subject. With their distorted sense of entitlement, there is a high chance they won’t believe anything the counselor says and blame it on a different problem (eg. alcohol, drugs, anger).
Or, he may manipulate the counselor into tag-teaming against you, which is the last thing you need.
Breaking the News to the Public
If this is something you are very unlikely to do, skip this section entirely.
I’ve just included it here because for me, it was a lot easier to talk to everyone else but my parents. Overall, I’m a pretty open person and if I am someone who is able to break the silence then I feel like I should. My first time I did it in the form of a speech. Now I’m writing this blog.
I definitely want to get involved in raising awareness at schools because that was the place that I missed this information at. It’s incredible how susceptible our minds are to the messages we hear when we are young.
Amongst all the gender inequality, if there is even one person who remembers my message I consider my efforts well spent.
Not only can this experience be rewarding to raise awareness, but for yourself and others in your situation. For me, speaking out gave me a sense of justice, empowerment, breaking the silence and maybe even helping someone in that room.
There may be someone in the crowd who just needed that extra encouragement to break free from their toxic relationship.
There may be someone who had tucked the pain away, and never really healed from it. There may be someone who just wanted to know that they were not alone.
Words are more powerful than you could ever know.
Breaking the News to Your Parents
Trickiest one for me. Not because I have a poor relationship with my parents, they reacted quite well and have been very supportive. It was just the fact that, they are my parents.
It’s hard to tell them things like that. It’s hard for them to hear that their child had been raped, or abused. I didn’t want them to feel as though they were responsible in any way.
There was nothing that they could have done. For me, it was a journey that I had to walk alone, because I wouldn’t have listened to anyone else.
Right beforehand, I could feel my anxiety building, my chest tightening and it was hard to breathe. As soon as I started to sound serious, their obvious concern made me freeze for a minute. Once I got it out, I just got hugs and support. There was immediate relief.
Now I didn’t have to hide it, I didn’t have to be afraid they were listening in on my phone calls, or would accidentally see something on my screen. If my abuser re-entered my life in a dangerous way, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about them not knowing.
At a previous point I had thought that I was fine, I didn’t need to tell them, it was all over. There was no need to worry them. Turned out of course that I wasn’t fine, and it was just too much of a burden to be walking around with this as a secret.
I googled this myself before deciding to tell them. There wasn’t a whole lot of information or experiences, but a lot of them were unfortunately negative. Disbelief, minimizing or calling them a liar.
I was looking for a list of positives and negatives to telling your parents, or basically someone to tell me what to do. Obviously, that choice must be made on your own.
So I’d like to summarize some pros and cons.
- Loving support by the people closest to you
- Monetary, housing or child support, eg. If you are fleeing from an abuser
- Practical advice
- If you live with them, it won’t feel like a huge secret
- A weight off your chest
- If you want to take action in any form, they can be there to support you
- They probably know more than you think, and are just waiting for you to bring it up
- Depending on your relationship they may not believe you, minimize the damage or call you a liar
- Over-concerned or controlling parents may attempt to force you to take action or tell details which you aren’t willing to share, especially if you are underage
- Stirring up painful feelings and memories, guilt, sadness and anger
- They may react by punishing themselves, which can inadvertently push responsibility on you
- They may refuse to support you
This is of course not a comprehensive list and there may be more pros and cons which are more applicable to your situation. If you are still unsure, definitely ask a counselor for advice.
To summarize, make sure it is your decision. It’s your life. No one should be able to force you into doing anything you don’t want to do.