As a college counselor, I hear incredibly painful, unbelievable stories when students come into my office. It’s expected because most people go to counseling when they’ve reached crisis level. But there’s one topic that continually leaves me baffled and struggling to keep my focus. That topic is domestic violence. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because I’m noticing a pattern where students are blaming themselves for other people’s bad behaviors.
College students are at that critical point of figuring out what life looks like away from Mom and Dad. They’re learning how to manage roomie conflicts, deciding the best way to express their sexuality, and trying to figure out how to match their career with their calling. So, when I hear someone tell me they were hit, or verbally abused, and they excuse it, my heart hurts. My head hurts. Today, I’m sharing 3 assumptions today that need to be changed before we can stop domestic violence in any relationship.
Assumption 1: To be in a relationship, I have to accept behaviors that are hurtful and harm me. ABSOLUTELY FALSE. And it isn’t just one person’s experience. A beautiful, intelligent young woman clearly grasping at straws says, “I did something to make him hit me.” Huh? I nearly jumped out of my chair when she said that. What can you possibly do to MAKE someone hit you? Nothing. They are CHOOSING to hit you in response to their poor communication and inability to control their anger. Please know that everyone at the very least should have their boundaries respected EVEN when you disagree with their opinion or choices. In other words, just because you and your significant other are screaming at each other does not mean you can hit them to express your point. So the next time you hear “you made me do it”, understand it’s a lie.
Assumption 2: Good people can’t possibly be abusive. This goes back to blaming ourselves for other people’s behaviors. Get this concept mixed up and it will have you questioning your sanity if you aren’t careful. There are supportive and loving spouses who unfortunately beat their children until they have bruises on their back. You may have grown up with men and women highly involved in church activities who were also physically fighting behind closed doors. So, take this to heart. When someone shows you who they are, believe ALL of it. It doesn’t matter if your boyfriend is on the fast track to success at work when he comes home and slaps you for being a “smart-mouth.” Nor does it matter if your girlfriend is the “Top Chef” of your kitchen if she belittles and threatens to leave you when behind closed doors. In other words, if their goodness only exist when you behave the way “they” want you too, you’re in an abusive relationship. It’s been said that we teach people how to treat us. And every time we allow disrespect and then take the blame for it, we’ve silently agreed to being mistreated. You are worth far more than allowing anyone to treat you poorly. So yes, even good people can do bad things.
Assumption 3: It’s not abuse unless he/she hits me. This is a biggie because we assume a person can’t be abusive unless there’s physical proof. Words are sometimes more powerful than physical force. Constant insults about your weight like ” You’re too big, don’t be surprised when I find someone else.” Nitpicking and constant criticism like “no one wants you”. And what about the threats…”why do you always make me angry?” or “No one will believe anything you say.” Verbal abuse is often overlooked because it’s subtle and it often plays on our insecurities. Heard someone say “you’re just too sensitive?” It doesn’t matter if he/she never lifts a hand towards you. If you are constantly questioning your value due to your significant other’s words, its time for an emotional check up. If you are afraid of displeasing them or worried they will lash out at you, another sign for a check-up. Verbal abuse leaves you questioning, doubting yourself, and it’s not healthy. It’s still abuse.
I haven’t had a physically abusive relationship but I have experienced the painful mess of verbal abuse. It was the “relationship” in which my then boyfriend was never pleased. Every encounter left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough. So I know how some of my clients feel when they wonder….what did I do and how can I get out of this mess? It took counseling, prayer, and the realization that after I ask and believe “Who does God say that I am?”, all else (
including his criticism) falls away. Invest in yourself to do the work to get over your past hurts, your family junk, and learn to take better care of yourself. The right person for you will value you and encourage you in your strengths and your weaknesses. Doesn’t matter if you have a good man/woman if they don’t know how to share their goodness with you.
**Written for college students, but applies to any age group or gender struggling to understand their worth. Stop assuming and find the truth about who you are, the peace you deserve and the peace you can have.**