Most women were taught that they should never let a man hit them. Even when we received this
lesson from confusing sources (such as an abusive parent), the message was clear: Physical
violence is never acceptable.
Yet unfortunately, physical violence is still far too common. Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is beaten by a current or former boyfriend or husband. And even more tragic, at least three women are murdered every day by a man who claims to love them. Physical violence is still a very real and lethal epidemic. But, the ways in which women are abused go much further than physical wounds.
Abuse is not only about violence; it is about power and control. Abuse is about being dominated by your partner. It is about someone who loves you making you feel small, guilty, unappreciated, disrespected, and unseen. Being able to recognize an abusive partner early on requires an understanding of these dynamics , and the knowledge that you have a right to set boundaries and demand respect. This is the conversation we
should be having, but rarely are.
Growing up, you were probably never taught to watch out for a partner who tries to control you, tells you who to talk to, belittle you, or makes you feel guilty about putting yourself first. You were probably not taught that jealousy is a sign of control, not of love. And you also probably were never told that you have a right to set boundaries and stand up for your own well-being.
These messages are especially rare for women and young girls. We live in a society that teaches men they are only worthy if they are powerful – a message which often has dangerous repercussions for women – and which teaches women we are only worthy if we are likeable. So, we often spend our entire teenage and adult life walking on eggshells, trying to fit in, trying not to upset anyone, and trying desperately to be accepted by friends, family, and especially by men. And when an abusive partner catches on that we are trying desperately to be liked and accepted,
they are able to gain and maintain even more power over us.
Also, because we are often caretakers and “fixers,” we often put everyone else’s wellbeing above our own. This is why so many women feel guilty leaving an abusive partner, who has likely convinced her that he had a traumatic childhood or struggled throughout his life. The thought process is often: “So, maybe he doesn’t always treat me well, but he loves me, and how can I leave someone who has been through so much?” We have been taught to accept love, even when it comes with disrespect, control, and pain. And we have been taught to always take care of people, especially the man we choose to spend our life with. The problem is that we don’t realize how much trauma we put ourselves through while trying to save someone else.
Here are the messages we each should have received growing up: You matter. Your voice, your choices, your interests, and your dreams matter. You have a right – no, an obligation – to put yourself first. Being “selfish” is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, sometimes it’s a necessity.
No one has a right to tell you what to do, whom to talk to, what hobbies to enjoy, what career to pursue, what dreams to follow, or what life to create. And absolutely no one has a right to make you feel like less than you are.
We may never have had these conversations, but we can absolutely start having them now. It’s time to reclaim our power and make decisions based on what’s best for us. And it’s time to teach our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and all women and girls that they have a right to their own lives – they have a right to their own happiness.
Let’s create a new generation of women who not only demand physical safety, but also demand respect, support, autonomy, and equality. We may not have been taught it, but we absolutely deserve it.