Even if a person looks happy, you have to look past their smile

On my Facebook this week was a post which stated my friend was posting for a friend of hers, “but also because my son just told me never to speak to him again! I’m tired of his unfriendliness and selfish abuse. I’m tired of pretending there’s happy families”. She asked the recipients to repost which I did. I’ve known this woman since she was in her late teens and when I last saw her she was full of smiles and did some proud boasting about her wonderful son. I had no idea her life was anything but “happy families”.

Having lunch with friends a few days later, my reposting was mentioned and we began talking about abuse, about the number of women and children who don’t show bruises, but are just as abused as those who present to hospital emergency wards. One woman opened up that her mother was in an abusive marriage for years (not with her father). When one of her children reminds her they remember sitting in emergency whilst their mother had yet another wound stitched, she vehemently denies she was abused. To this day, even though she is divorced she still protects him.

I once worked with a woman who had a bad habit of falling down stairs, walking into cupboards and told us she had a blood condition which meant she bruised easily. One day her boss asked me to please see if there was anything we could do, individually or as a company, to get her into a safe environment. He virtually gave me a carte blanche to get her a new unit and whatever else was needed to get her away from her abusive partner. I tried to make his offer and to let her know she had people to support her when she wanted to leave. Not surprisingly, she denied the abuse and told me and anyone who thought she was abused to butt out of her life! About 18 months later, we buried a beautiful 41-year-old woman murdered by her abuser – he hit her too hard, one time too many.

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As a book reviewer, I receive many new releases to read. One such new release was written by an acquaintance, the proverbial “friend of a friend”. It is touted as a love story, a memoir of her time with her beloved, deceased, partner. To date I have not been able to review it, because in my (admittedly untrained) opinion, he was a heartless, controlling abuser. I can’t find it endearing that he chose her clothes, insisted she work exclusively with him, that they went on holidays he organised and with his superior knowledge of the world, chose the people they called friends.

You see, some people know how to abuse without leaving scars and bruises. It’s a subtle abuse and it begins gradually. In my early 20s, I came close to being one of the women whose scars don’t show; I met a man who was about 10 years older than me, well-educated, courtly manners and very good looking. His dress sense was impeccable and his clothes said money and taste. When we were planning a night out, he would tell me what he was wearing and I was expected to complement his choice of outfit. I lived at home and one night he made the mistake of telling me, in front of my father, that he did not like my outfit and I should change. As you can imagine this did not go over well with Dad, but I did change and went out. It wasn’t long after that that I told him to find another dress dummy. Even as I write this I can hear the collective sigh of relief from my family.

Self-esteem is something we develop over many years beginning in childhood where the loving support of family teaches us we are “worthy”. Again as an untrained observer, I ask if the abused person was an abused child? Did they learn as a child that they weren’t bright, pretty, sporting, intelligent and talented enough; that they were worthless? If you grow up second best, is it easier for the abuser to control you, to remove any trace of self-respect you may have? Or can a person with healthy self-esteem fall prey to an abuser?

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I don’t know the answers to these questions, but as my friend’s post went on to say, “Sometimes just because a person looks happy, you have to look past their smile to see how much pain they may be in … give a moment of support to all of those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune”.


Can you share your experiences of mental and/or verbal abuse?