In the rising spate of domestic violence cases across the world during the lockdown, a writer shares her learnings from her experience of domestic violence.And how she pulled her disempowered parts out into the light and made them whole with joy and spontaneity.
With human beings across the world confined to their homes, there has been a blurring of personal spaces. Personal time overlaps with work time, the workspace and the homespace are now the same, frustration and fear runs high, and opportunities for release outside the home are missing.
Cases of domestic violence have seen a sharp increase. According to the National Commission for Women, cases of domestic violence doubled in April during the lockdown.
As someone who has experienced domestic violence, and walked out of the marriage, I thought it was the right time to share what I feel about the subject. What you are going to read below is just my understanding of things and how life has worked out for me. I do not intend to tell readers what to do. I am merely sharing the insights that came to me as I made the journey from seeing myself as a victim to eventually taking responsibility for my own life.
I realised that I did not want to stay stuck in the disempowering duality of oppressor and oppressed. But instead wanted to move towards wholeness. Towards a deeper understanding of how the cycle can be broken. Not just in terms of my experience, but in terms of who I was, deep within.
This is not a shift that can be forced, it unfolds naturally as one heals, and starts the journey towards self-love. The first step in any such situation, is to get immediate help and relief. Only then, in the cocoon of safety, can one begin a deeper exploration.
Space, time and violence are very tightly interconnected, though it may not seem so at first glance.
When people encounter a shrinking of space and time in their lives, they can have two kinds of responses.
- One kind of person, rather than explaining their need for time and space with others and asking for collaboration, usurps the other person’s space and time with extreme force. This kind of violence is easily visible and understandable and such a person is called a perpetrator.
- The other category too, rather than explaining their need for time and space with others and asking for collaboration, start giving up their own time and space (and shrinking their identity) till their real personality is on the verge of vanishing. This kind of violence (against oneself) isn’t very easily visible and understandable and such a person is called a victim.
The Anatomy Of Violence
You would agree India has a serious lack of physical space and personal time due to multiple reasons. Lack of personal time and physical space lead to lack of emotional space. When situations like a lockdown happen, all the issues in the relationships, and within their own selves, that people were running away from, come to stare them in the face. And explode.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Think of shows like ‘Big Boss’ and ‘Ace of Space’ on MTV, whose very description says that it’s a captive reality series.
The lockdown has had our nerves stretched to the extreme. Some relationships were somehow working because the partners could take out their anger elsewhere, but now have no other outlets. In the absence of outlets, some people sit and process their emotions, some others lash out at their partners or kids.
The coronavirus pandemic has made us rethink everything in our lives. This happened with me in 2013 when I felt confined from every side. The most important question I asked myself then was: Is this the person I want to live with? My answer was a deep-felt (notice I am not saying well-thought) NO, so I got going with separation.
If I had to take that decision now, I would just have to process my decision more quickly because extraordinary situations need quicker decision making.
From the many cases of domestic violence I have seen or read about, I feel that the two categories I mentioned above have one thing in common. Subconsciously, both feel a deep sense of powerlessness. From my own experience, I realised that both of us were unsure of our position in our families of origin and were not able to understand and maintain a healthy relationship with our own personal space and time. In short, both of us were violent to our hearts, our own feelings and desires at a subconscious level.
When one is unsure of their position in their family of origin, they often don’t have an effective personal communication style (they can be super-communicative at work though) to talk to their partner and explain their boundaries, needs & requirements, likes & dislikes.
I also realised that our internal communication style or how we talk to ourselves is how our mothers talked to us or made us feel around her.
How our mother talks to us becomes our inner voice. And so our default setting, our go-to thought patterns whenever there is a crisis, is directly linked to our childhood.
Healing My Relationship With Time
I had a difficult relationship with my mom while growing up. Since she was emotionally unavailable to me, I also learnt to be emotionally unavailable to myself. And you guessed it right. I kept attracting emotionally unavailable men, until I married one. To top it all, not only was I emotionally unavailable to myself, I tried to intellectualise my feelings rather than feel them.
Now I know that my mother loves me, but her non-expressiveness and lashing out made me question my self-worth and in turn my whole identity. Was I loveable? Was I good enough? What kind of a child was I who couldn’t even make her own mother happy? I escaped even more deeply into books to avoid processing my emotions, just like my mom escaped into household chores.
Such existential questions can lead us on a path of extreme intellectualism, so much so that we might be caught in a perpetual loop of analysis paralysis. We question our every move; we begin to walk on eggshells around life.
I finally healed my relationship with my mother and also with time as I made peace with my past and future. I realised one cannot deliberately break subconscious patterns, so my best bet was to make my heart come alive. The heart comes alive when we start enjoying the present moment and always choosing things which bring fun and joy.
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How I Gave Time And Space To Myself
I loved myself totally.
It simply means I sat down and started being emotionally available to myself first. I started doing things that make me happy, and stopped doing things that do not make me happy. I practice this radically.
I learnt to be spontaneous
(not impulsive) while making decisions for myself and family. Taking a sudden decision during an extended bad mood is impulsivity. Taking a sudden decision during an extended good mood is spontaneity. As I became more and more spontaneous, I saw less and less violence even of the verbal and emotional kind (stonewalling).
I stopped intellectualising my emotions.
Why does this happen to me? What can I do to prevent this from happening the next time? I stopped all this and started to feel. Deeply feel.
I learnt that one’s boundaries will keep changing as per the situation.
I told myself to not worry about it. I stopped creating boundaries from the head: “Oh I should behave like this,”. No. Whatever you feel at a particular moment is your boundary. I slowly learnt how to live from moment to moment and create my boundaries on the fly. Now my boundaries are fluid. Life is fun.
The bottom line then is: I kept attracting violence till the time I was violent to my heart’s desires and feelings and tried to intellectualise them.
I realised how my ex-husband treated me was an outward manifestation (a mirror reflection) of how I treated my own feelings or emotions. And I figured how I communicate with myself, both consciously and subconsciously, is how the world treats me at large.
So now, I feel free and happy and listen to my gut feeling while now deciding who I want to spend my time with. Men or women. And it serves me well. If you find yourself caught in the vicious circle of domestic violence, take out the time to listen to yourself and your desires. Take your personal, physical and emotional safety as seriously as you take your career and family. You are the most important person in your life.
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