One thing’s certain: whoever came up with the quip
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me
was never a victim-survivor of domestic violence. Any survivor of domestic violence will tell you that the wounds inflicted by words are the most long-lasting, the most painful and the most damaging. Physical injuries will eventually stop hurting and will heal over time but that’s not the case with injuries inflicted by harsh words, name-calling and false allegations.
When a victim is being assaulted by her abuser with harsh words, name-calling and false allegations, it’s categorized as “verbal abuse” under the heading of Domestic Violence so what is it called when a survivor is being assaulted with harsh words, name-calling and false allegations? What do we categorize verbal abuse under when the abuse is coming NOT from the abuser but from (former) friends, (former/estranged) family members, family court-related professionals (judges, attorneys, GALs, Custody Evaluators, etc.) or worse, those who are supposed to be on the survivor’s “side” (psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, DV agency-related professionals)?
I facetiously refer to DV as “the gift that keeps on giving” and count false allegations among one of the many “parting gifts” that survivors receive once they’ve “successfully escaped”. In case you’re wondering what some of the other “parting gifts” are, they include things like: PTSD, a permanent seat at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (aka an endless family court case), justifiable anger, an unquenchable thirst for God’s sweet justice – stuff like that and none of them pleasant – but back to the non-returnable “gift” of false allegations…
Being falsely accused by the abuser when you’re in the victim seat isn’t the same as being falsely accused by the abuser when you’ve become a survivor and here’s why/the difference:
When the victim is in the relationship she’ll be putting her utmost best efforts forward towards preserving the relationship – she’ll spend hours trying to convince her abuser that she’s innocent of what he’s accusing her of (while praying to be spared his punishment for something she hasn’t done). While the verbal abuse is painful because she loves him and desperately wants to resolve the conflict, his erroneous assertions about her are pretty much kept between the two of them because both the victim and the abuser will do their best to keep what’s said a private matter. This is also how so many people who know or who are close to the couple will end up doubting her when she eventually discloses DV because “I never saw/heard him do any of that!” (For survivors, it’s a “no kidding” moment because he as well as she helped to keep the abuse secret from other people!)
When the survivor is falsely accused by her abuser post-separation, everything has changed dramatically. No longer willing to keep (his) secrets, empowered by newfound confidence and secure in facts/the truth, his accusations now aren’t as painful to her as they are annoying at best or enraging at worst. Rather then keeping the conflict a private matter, she’ll break the silence of DV and stand up for herself or turn to someone (court professional, therapist, etc.) to report the matter. With an audience or attention, the abuser will quickly back down or feign innocence/ignorance while the survivor’s justifiable anger and thirst for justice grows. If you’re not familiar with the aftermath of abuse what you’ll see is a raging *itch over-reacting, “making a mountain from a molehill” or crucifying “the poor guy” for “an honest mistake”. Unfortunately this played out in public will lead people to misinterpret what they’re seeing/hearing, which is when a DV case gets relabeled as “high conflict” (equal aggression) or where she’s viewed as “the hostile, abusive one”. The false allegations don’t end there though…
One of the toughest and most painful aspects of life after DV is when the false allegations are lodged by people other then the abuser and the betrayal is more devastating to the survivor when the allegation or accusation is coming from someone the survivor once loved, trusted or valued. While you’d think that a false allegation coming from a relative stranger should have no impact on a survivor (ie: an opposing attorney calling a survivor mentally unstable, a PTA member asserting “What a nice guy” the abuser is, a therapist saying “I know what the truth is” or a former aunty’s neighbor scolding a survivor for breaking up the family, etc.) the sting is still the same – it’s just the long-term impact that’s different.
When survivors are confronted by or having someone else’s “truth” being rammed down their throats, I tell them to memorize and respond back with the following:
I’m sorry you feel that way
By saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” as a response to whatever criticism or condemnation is being presented, the survivor is able to
- respectfully acknowledge whatever’s been hurled at her,
- politely express disagreement with the allegation/accusation
- put an end to the conversation/eliminate the chance for an argument
- have the satisfaction of not sinking down to someone else’s stinky level
Survivors may also be able to find some comfort in this: although bibles can be found in every hotel/motel room (just not in court rooms) too many people just don’t get around to reading the good book. If they did, they’d discover that “bearing false witness” (lying, slandering, defaming, perjury) is a sin and being ignorant of God’s law doesn’t make one exempt from it – at some point, atonement will come – if not in this life, then the next.
Recently I’ve been trying to get to know facebook better, which is turning out to be an excellent resource for hope, healing and inspiration. Two examples of sage advice compliments of facebook:
Before you assume, learn the facts. Before you judge, understand why. Before you hurt someone, feel. Before you speak, think.
Before you speak, THINK. Is it: True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?
I’ve always told my kids to “Think before you speak” because while words may not break someone’s bones, they can certainly break someone’s heart.