“He’s mean to you because he likes you.”
In grade school, and even before then I was taught that when a boy pulled at my pigtails or made mean jokes about me it was because he had a crush on me.
It wasn’t because he was just being mean, but it was because he needed to put me down to express his feelings toward me.
I wasn’t the only girl who was told this excuse, and yes, it is exactly that – an excuse.
This statement stuck with me throughout my childhood and into my teenage years.
Every time a partner would accuse me of cheating for no reason, insulted my appearance, or unexpectedly yelled at me, I reminded myself, “They do this because they like me.”
I was taught that when a guy was mean to me, it was love.
At the time, I didn’t think it was abuse because it wasn’t physical. I was taught for a relationship to be abusive, there needed to be bruises so that another person could see and validate the pain I was enduring.
But words don’t leave physical scars.
Instead, they left scars naked to the human eye that still hurt just as badly as swollen, bloody lips and bruised ribs.
It was the #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou campaign that hit Twitter in 2016 that opened my eyes to the idea that abuse is more than just bruises and broken bones. #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou was tweeted by users on Twitter to express their experience with emotional and verbal abuse.
When people hear “domestic violence,” what comes to mind is not the nasty remarks a person makes about their partner and considers a joke, or the silent treatment an individual may receive after their partner does not hear what they wanted to hear. Instead, many often only think of only physical abuse.
As a result of the lack of awareness of different types of abuse, individuals often minimize the damage that psychological and verbal abuse can have on a person due to their limited education about this topic.
As a survivor, it is extremely hard to talk about your abuse when no one understands the consequences. Many survivors are unwilling to seek help or even recognize their need for support.
Not only do we have parents normalizing toxic behavior, but the media helps fuel the fire.
Often, we see the media romanticizing unhealthy relationships in TV shows and movies, such as Ross and Rachel from “Friends” or Danny and Sandy from “Grease,” and act as if they were truly meant for each other. Our media represents relationships built on cheating and changing oneself for another person as healthy and idealistic.
It is essential that our education system does more to teach young teens about how to not only recognize the signs of physical abuse, but the signs of verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse – especially since often those signs are harder to notice.
Parents need to stop teaching their children to associate mean behavior with love and stop using the excuse, “They’re mean to you because they like you.”
No one realizes how damaging that thought process is until it feels like it is too late.
But I promise it is never too late to leave a relationship that does not provide the love and support you deserve.
I shouldn’t have had to depend on a Twitter hashtag to tell me I was in an abusive relationship.
Even when I realized I was in one, I didn’t leave because like other survivors, I didn’t know how. I was never given the proper education on abuse and how to recognize and handle it.
By providing an education on abuse that includes how to recognize types of abuse that aren’t visible, it may help individuals identify that their relationship may be unhealthy earlier than later.
A comprehensive education on healthy and unhealthy relationships for students can help prevent individuals in the future from experiencing what thousands of others and I had to experience.
They won’t have to suffer the same way we did.
Education programs will be able to provide individuals with the support they need to leave their abusive relationships and end the cycle of abuse.
Resources for survivors –
Framingham State University Police Department Domestic Violence Unit
Phone number: (508) 626-4911
Framingham State University Counseling Center
Phone Number: (508) 626-4640
Voices Against Violence
Phone Number: (800) 593-1125