Cancer?…. Abuse?….. it’s all the same right?
I read an interesting statistic the other day, 1 in 8 women in the UK are likely to get breast cancer. Breast cancer is something we are getting comfortable talking about, we campaign, we raise funds, we run races, hell even I am going to be doing the Pretty Muddy in Brighton this year in memory of my mom who died of cancer. We have taken an uncomfortable subject – cancer – and brought it into the light; some have even built businesses around it! But…… do you know what is still in the dark, what people are still not comfortable talking about?…….domestic abuse! 1 in 4 Women in the UK will experience or have experienced domestic abuse! Yet……… we do not talk about it, it makes us uncomfortable.
I did a talk about it a few weeks ago and as I spoke, I watched the reactions of the people in the room, they started shifting around, they moved in their seats, they stopped making eye contact with me, some even blatantly turned around in their seats so their backs faced me, the energy in the room changed, completely. After my talk, people avoided me like the plague, a few women came and spoke to me but mostly they just avoided me.
When I still lived in South Africa, I very actively worked as a speaker in this field, no matter where I went someone knew who I was as my topic was so controversial and at that time, I was featured everywhere. On one particular occasion I was at an event and a woman came up to me and said ‘you that woman who associates with abused woman!’ She said it with such disdain and like abused women had the plague, like there was something terribly wrong with them and needed to be avoided at all costs. Have you ever heard someone say something like that to you when someone close to you has cancer? ‘You that woman who associates with people suffering from cancer?’ Of course not, they say ‘I am so sorry to hear about your loss, my dad / brother /friend died of cancer, I feel your pain.’
Why is it that it is so easy for us to talk about a disease like cancer, something that affects our day to day living, causes us pain, affects our families, breaks our hearts, causes us distress. At times it even bonds us together. Yet talking about abuse is still considered ‘airing your dirty laundry’ how different is talking about abuse to talking about cancer. After all it affects our day to day living, causes us pain, affects our families, breaks our hearts, causes us distress? But somehow unlike cancer that bonds us together, abuse pushes us apart, it makes people walk away from you just like leprosy did.
Is it because a disease is seemingly out of our control and abuse is within our control? Is it because we think disease is due to our bad genes and abuse is due to our bad behaviour? What is it going to take to make us become comfortable with talking about this?
My husband and are social members at the local yacht club. A few weeks ago he was there on his own having a few drinks with some of the members. The next morning, he told me what happened. He said that the topic of me came up when a couple of people asked him “what it is that Deb actually does?” He explained in his own way that I work as a speaker, writer and trainer in the field of Self Empowerment and that I create awareness regarding domestic abuse and that my aim is to reach out to women and families who do not know where to turn, nor how to deal with it. He said that as he spoke, people became quiet and listened intently and that there were some people in the room that became emotional and started to cry. He said that in that moment he understood for the first time why what I do, and what I am trying to achieve, is so needed and so very important. The next time we went to the club together, the same people said hi, but there was a distinct sense of discomfort around my presence.
A few days ago, I posted a heartfelt little video of how after so many years of healing and therapy, that an issue related to my own abuse that I was not aware of, nor had dealt with, had popped into my awareness. I shared this video to encourage people, but due to other people’s discomfort I removed it from my Facebook page. (I have since reposted it).
This year after living in the UK for 5.5 years, I decided to re-enter the arena of creating awareness about abuse. The reason being (other than it being an issue very close to my heart and being part of my purpose) is that I believe that when we bring something into the light, we can find solutions. It’s about making the uncomfortable comfortable. Abuse is not a sickness, it comes from a place of feeling unloved, uncared for, insignificant, unimportant and not knowing how to deal with that pain. An abuser and a victim come from the same ‘place’. When you love yourself enough, care for yourself enough feel important enough, feel needed enough, feel significant enough, you won’t enter into a relationship where you need someone else to fill you up and make your feel good and when they don’t you become angry, crazy behave irrationally. Abusers and victims are looking for the same thing, love, acceptance, significance; they just deal with it in different ways.
How we deal with life is role modelled to us and taught to us as children. Spanking, giving hidings and punishing your children for their tantrums or for expressing their feelings through ‘bad behaviour’ role models to them how to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
I am currently going through menopause and it’s a very challenging stage in my life, but it is teaching me so much. I am 48 years old and when some of those feelings make themselves known, I am often so blind-sided by them and at times clueless of how to deal with them. Sometime I want to ‘hit out’, scream, rage, cry, sleep, binge-eat, drink too much wine, take calmettes, pace the floor, run away. Sometimes I feel completely beside, and outside of, myself and I am a bone fide therapist and expert in Emotional Intelligence and the Mind! So I ask you, how is a child meant to deal with their feelings make themselves known. Herein lies the problem. Historically children get the naughty step, they get spanked, they get punished, they get hidings, all because they are acting our their feelings through their behaviour. Parents become irritated, angry, impatient, short tempered which makes their children feel even worse for feeling bad in the first place. Parenting is not called ‘a job’ for nothing, it is a job, it is a massive responsibility, it needs to be taken seriously. As an adult when I experience these feelings, I have forethought and some form of control of my own behaviour. But……. when your feelings were handled inappropriately as a child and you were not taught to cope or deal with those feelings, as an adult you are still experiencing your feelings as if you were that child! If you were never helped to handle those feelings as a toddler or even as a teenager, those tantrums come back again in menopause!
I am often in awe of how my daughter has handled her sons tantrums and feelings these past few years. Observing and seeing Tyler’s distress has helped me to identify my own distress and identify with the 2 and 3 year old within me. It has also made me look back at my own parenting skills and there are so many times I wish that when my son was going through his ‘terrible two and three year phase’ that I had just scooped him up and held him and told him that everything was going to be okay instead of punishing him. Or that I was more present when my little girl became quiet and retreated to her room. I often wish that I had known then what I know now. I am however grateful that I did discover all of this while they were in their teens and subsequently they are now both better parents than I was. But….I digress.
Coming back to my comments earlier regarding making the uncomfortable comfortable. We are all born with cells that have the potential to become cancer cells, just like we are all born with feelings that have the potential to turn us into saints or sinners. Whether you believe that cancer is created by our environment, our genes or what we eat is irrelevant, cancer happens to a lot of people and we now talk about it, we find solutions, we research it. Whether you believe abuse is created by environment, bad parenting skills or bad behaviour, is also irrelevant, we need to talk about it, research it, find solutions and not just for women, but for men, for children and for all of humanity.