In 2014, you probably heard on the news a lot about domestic violence concerning celebrities and professional athletes. It must have been difficult, I understand. I grew up living with domestic violence from the time I was 5 until my late teens. I know what it feels like. I also know of millions of other people who experienced the same thing.
What does it mean to grow up with domestic violence?
From a young person's standpoint, domestic violence is violence between your parents or violence toward a parent, perhaps from a stepparent or a significant other. This is childhood domestic violence (CDV). The violence can be physical or nonphysical. I can't tell you how often I hear, "There wasn't any physical violence between my parents, but the words they used—toward me—I felt them physically."
This is never discussed.
When I was young, this was never talked about and that wasn't good, but I can't imagine what it was like for you when something about the domestic violence and NFL players came up. For you, it's not another story or a reporter with a "witty" perspective. For you, it's your life. Perhaps in your home, when it’s on television, everyone just ignores it, feeling the anxiety inside like they are walking on eggshells. Or maybe the TV gets turned off.
You shouldn't have to live with this.
You are not alone.
While it’s good to be talking about it, what is not good is that we aren't addressing it from your perspective. We aren't offering you any answers. Well, I want to do that in this note, because there are a few things you really need to know that no one is telling you. That no one told me. That no one told my mom. You see, she grew up with domestic violence too. And it’s very possible that your parent or parents grew up with domestic violence as well. You are not alone.
So you may ask yourself, "If my parents grew up with it, then they know how much it hurts. So, why are they making me feel the same way they felt when they were young?" Well, when you grow up with domestic violence, one of the things that can happen is that it may wire your brain to believe things that aren't true about yourself. I call them lies, because they are. And then, those beliefs can cause you to make decisions and act in ways that you otherwise wouldn't. You cannot act and feel in ways that differ from who you believe you are. Maybe you feel some of them too.
You may often feel:
- Guilty—you think that what is happening is your fault, that you should be able to stop it or that there is something wrong with you.
- That you are simply the type of person who is resentful and angry—"Why should I have to go through this? No one else does!"
- Fearful—because you are afraid that you or one of your parents will get hurt again.
Worthless and unloved or literally worth less than other kids. "Aren't I worth keeping safe, being made to feel important? Aren't I worth loving?"
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I felt a lot of these things when I was your age. So did a lot of people, even former President Bill Clinton, who grew up in the same type of home that you and I grew up in. And it took us a long time to realize the truth. I don't want it to take you as long as it took us.
The truth is: No obstacle you will ever face can compare to what you went through as a child and have already conquered.
You are not guilty, because it is never a young person's job to control the actions of an adult. One day, sooner than you think, you will be free from that home, free to sleep through the night, free to have your own family and do it the way you want to do it. Most importantly, today, you can be free from thinking things about yourself that aren't true.
While you may feel angry and resentful, and you have every right to, you are not an angry and resentful person. The truth is that you are compassionate and caring, because those who suffer can understand suffering. You are more special than you know.
Fear is something you probably feel often, but you are not a fearful person. The truth is, you have already faced one of the greatest fears that any person can face. So I ask you, as you get older, what fear would you ever face that you couldn't overcome? You are confident. I remind myself of this every day and as an adult I have yet to face a fear that compares.
You may feel worthless and unloved and I understand because I felt this and so many other young people feel this way. But that is not who you are. And the easiest way for you to feel the truth that you are loved and accomplished is to open up and to share what is happening and what you are feeling with someone you trust. By sharing with them, you will see the truths even more quickly!
We are here for you. You can share with us, share with a friend, share with a loved one. But now that you are aware and understand, the key is to share.
Editor's Note: Brian F. Martin, is the Founder and CEO of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association and author of Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up With Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free.
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