From my experience, even the most well-meaning people have a two-dimensional conception of how domestic violence works. The image of a man butchering a woman registers in most people’s heads as “wrong”. However, the complex relationships that survivors had, and have, with abusers are misunderstood.
When I tell people that I had a violent childhood, and they then ask, “when was the last time you saw your dad?” and find out it was over 10 years ago, many usually say “I’m so sorry” or are awkwardly silent.
I think maybe this is because when most people envision the word ‘father’, they think of some Santa Claus kind of person whose lap you might sit on, who might say they are proud of you, who might do things like come and pick you up from school. Not a knife-wielding monster who is 2-3 times your size chasing you up the stairs, throttling your mother or smashing your half-full dinner plate against the wall because you were laughing with your little sister at the dinner table.
This is why I’m really not sorry that I haven’t seen this ‘father’ for over 10 years, and why nobody else should be “sorry” or awkward about that either. Because, actually, it feels great! And all survivors who have successfully left their abusers, and managed to shake the control they once had over their life, should be congratulated and supported – not pushed into forgiveness or reflection, told how it will be “healing” to reunite with their perpetrator, or told how much they’re supposed to miss that person (you can’t miss something you never knew, and it’s unlikely you’ll miss something that was relentlessly nasty to you every day of your life for a sustained period of time).
I also find it funny how some people then progress to “But don’t you want to see him again? Don’t you feel an absence in your life where a father should be?”. Don’t make me laugh! Again, ‘father’: snarling bully who stinks of beer and screams in your face that he will break every bone in your body, or burn the house down while you’re sleeping. I wonder why I don’t want that. I mean, don’t you want that?
So, keen friends and people with ‘sympathy’, or people who just don’t know what to say because these experiences are so far removed from your own: keep your sentiments about broken childhoods and healing reunions to yourself. Survivors deserve respect, support and praise because it takes strength, courage and support to break free from abusive relationships. “I’m so sorry” is what people usually say to someone who’s grieving. Leaving an abuser is not a loss for the survivor, it’s a massive gain that should be celebrated; a gain in freedom, in control, in safety, in confidence and in health.
It’d be nice if people said “Good for you” when survivors state that they have no contact with their abuser, or haven’t seen them in years. Maybe the conversation even could progress to the epidemic of male domestic violence against women in the UK, about how 2 women are killed each week at the hands of their partner, how thousands of women live in fear of their life within their own home, yet women’s services are facing huge funding cuts and legal aid provisions are being slashed into pieces.
Maybe, in the instance of discussing abusive parents or partners, instead of asking “Don’t you want to talk about it with them?” or “Don’t you feel an absence?”, “Don’t you think enough time has passed now?”, say something like “I support your decision”, “You must feel so free”, “Well done, your mother must be such a strong woman” or even better: “What an asshole”.
I’m not missing –or missing out on – anything, so stop trying to tell me I am.