Tag Archives: relationships

Are You Listening? How We Hear the Things that People Say About Our Bodies When We Have An Eating Disorder

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My partner and I are lying in bed. He’s got his arms around me and we are a tangle of limbs beneath the sheets. Then he speaks.
“You’re so soft,” he says.
He says this a lot. He also says things like “you’re so huggable” and “you’re so squeezable”.

I wonder what your reaction was reading those words. Imagine hearing them said to you. How would you feel? What would you hear? I know what my reaction would have been a few years ago. I know that I would have heard “you’re fat”.

The thing is, we listen to what people are saying and then we apply our own filters to the words; filters which have been created from a whole myriad of experiences. That is what our minds do, and when it is someone with an eating disorder, that filter is especially pervasive, vehement, and antagonistic in the most negative of ways when it comes to comments about our bodies. People’s words go through this filter and it gets translated, so that what we hear is not necessarily what was said.

In this instance, I did a little laugh as I realised that his words went through my “ED translator”, and then carried on through my “recovered translator”, meaning that it went through two stages: “you’re so soft” turned into “you’re fat” and then into “he means your skin is soft or maybe he does mean your body is soft and so what Sarah, a lot of it is, and that’s nice, and it is nice to hug soft things that’s fine stop acting like he told you that you look like a naked mole rat that went through a blender.”

Sometimes my partner even puts his hand on my stomach and gently squeezes the squishy bit. Yeah, you can see my face now:

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If it was me three years ago I would have had a meltdown and engaged in some drastic and incredibly harmful behaviours, and it would be something I would probably remember forever as a trigger point for self-loathing. However, I am not that person anymore and I am – thankfully – now not in that torturous place. Instead I asked (slightly incredulously):
“Are you squeezing my fat?!” to which he replied: “Yeah, sorry.” Again, three years ago I would have heard that answer as “yes you remind me of a beached whale and I am poking fun at your fatness and reminding you that you should probably do something about it because it is gross.”  But instead the translation that finally came out of my little two-staged system was “You have fat on your body and he squished it because he had his hand there and it is a part of you and it it something that squishes and that’s okay; he still finds you attractive and wants you to be naked 100% of the time.” Because I suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, and because I live in a society that highly values diet culture and thinness, my brain will always automatically put the words through a negative filter. But because I was able to fight tooth and nail for my life and succeed in claiming it back from my powerful and evil mental illness, and because I then went on to reject diet culture and embrace body positivity, I have a wonderful second filter in place that allows me to pause, rationalise, and try to really hear what people are saying when it comes to my body (and everything else).

The important thing in these situations is that the outcome is totally different depending on where your head is at and on your ability to hear what is really being said rather than putting it through your own personal filter. You want to be able to really hear what the speaker of the words means rather than ending up reflecting back your own insecurities as a response. If we hear things through a negative filter of our own, it can then lead to negative situations with that person or people, because we think that they are insulting or hurting us. It also leads to a spiral of negative thoughts and possibly subsequent harmful behaviours. It is important not to hear the words that people say as confirmation of our own insecurities. Your eating disorder is always looking out for ways in which to validate itself. Don’t let it cause distance and destruction towards others or yourself.

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If you are struggling with something someone is repeatedly saying, or even a one-off comment that affected you, then talk about it. Be calm; be open; be honest; and try not to use accusatory language. Instead use “I feel” or “my eating disorder hears it like x” as opposed to “you are doing x/you are making me feel x”. People’s defensive barriers go up when they feel that they are being attacked. Often what is being said is actually okay to say and is not intended harmfully, but it is the eating disorder that translates it into something else and then causes harm. Because of this it is more productive to talk about how the eating disorder is at fault rather than them, or you. Of course I am perfectly well aware that there are those who are disrespectful, insensitive, and malicious and do intend to cause damage or do not care enough not to, but I am for now talking about those who we assume are not saying the wrong thing per se, but are saying things that are triggers for the eating disorder, which then rears it’s ugly head and translates for us.

It is not an easy thing to change the patterns within our brains, but it is possible. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. It takes determination. It takes persistence. It means having to challenge negative thoughts every damn minute of every damn day. It means working towards liking and respecting yourself as a person. It means taking steps towards accepting your body as it is at its individual natural and healthy weight. It means screaming “NO” to the eating disorder and fighting for your health and happiness. It means recognising that the people who love you are not out to hurt you. It means remembering that you might at this point in your life feel hatred towards your body and self-loathing towards who you are, but that that is not how other people feel about you. It means recovery, and it means going on a journey to the place you want to be; to the life you want to live; to being the person that has been suppressed by the eating disorder. It means taking the path that leads to being free.

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Teenage Domestic Abuse: An Epidemic of Violence

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Domestic abuse is an important topic in general, and it’s an important topic for me. So although this website is primarily for eating disorders, I wanted to talk today about that topic, in particular domestic abuse experienced by teenagers and young adults. I know that the demographic for this site is primarily young women, and so this subject is pertinent for many of those who visit it, especially as girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average, and the severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence. Terrifyingly, a 2005 NSPCC and Sugar magazine survey showed that 40% of teenage girls would consider giving their boyfriend another chance if he hit them, and one third said that cheating justified the use of violence. In light of these horrifying statistics, I wanted to write this for both young people experiencing intimate partner abuse, and for the parents of abusers and of victims.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced abuse may be unfamiliar with the warning signs. Young people especially have often not been exposed to much, if any, discussion of abuse – in particular emotional and verbal abuse. Sexual and physical abuse is a topic most young people will have at least some knowledge of, but emotional and verbal abuse is on the whole more subtle and therefore there isn’t so much awareness or education about it. Emotional and verbal abuse are just as important to be educated about, as they can be just as mentally damaging, and are also a red flag for the development of physical abuse in the future. If someone had taught me about domestic abuse and the dangers and damage of it, maybe I could have avoided years of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse when I was a teenager. Maybe I could have been convinced to take a step back and assess the situation with educated eyes, and maybe I would have been able to walk away from day 1. Although I am aware that all events in our lives shape our future and I wouldn’t change my life now for a second, I wish I hadn’t had those experiences. I wish I hadn’t had that relationship. I wish I didn’t have those memories. There is no way to benefit from an abusive relationship; no positive outcome; no happy ending. Any good experiences with that person will always be overshadowed by the the reality of the nature of the relationship. My abuser was abusive from the very beginning, but I didn’t recognise his behaviour as such (I wrote a bit about my experience with domestic abuse here).

The types of domestic abuse someone can experience are as follows:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse

I will be focusing mainly on emotional abuse (which includes verbal abuse) and will also be talking some about physical and sexual abuse. You can view examples of all types of domestic abuse here.

Statistics have shown that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and 27% of teenage girls in the UK aged 13-17 had experienced sexual violence in their relationships. One in nine female respondents had experienced severe physical violence; and almost three quarters of girls had experienced emotional abuse.

Where young adults are concerned, nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviours. It is also apparent that college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify. One in three (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse. One in six (16%) college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship. (statistics from here).

So what does domestic abuse look like, especially in a situation with teenagers and young adults?

  • Is your boyfriend very jealous and possessive of you?
  • Does he get angry when you want to spend time with your friends or demand that you spend all your time with him?
  • Does he check your phone, email, Facebook and twitter accounts?
  • Does he try and get you to defriend people on Facebook, take down your photos, or stop you messaging your friends?
  • Is he always calling, texting or BBMing you to check where you are and who you’re with?
  • Does he tell you what to wear or how to do your hair?
  • Does he laugh at you or put you down in front of other people?
  • Does he get aggressive? Does he hit, shove, slap or kick you?
  • Does he threaten to harm you – or himself?
  • Does he call you names?
  • Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to, telling you that “everyone is doing it” or that you would do it “if you really loved him”?
  • If you are frightened of your partner, or feel that you have to change your behaviour because you are scared of his reaction, you are being abused.

What can I do?

If you are being abused, it may help to remember the following:

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 999 (or whatever your emergency services number is). The police have a duty to investigate and help you stay safe
  • You are not alone. Refuge helps many young women and teenage girls who are experiencing abuse. We can help you too
  • The abuse is not your fault. Your partner may blame you for his behaviour – perhaps saying that you “made him hit you” – but he alone is responsible for his actions
  • Abuse is never ok. You deserve to be with someone who respects you and makes you feel safe
  • You don’t have to deal with this on your own. Try and talk to someone you trust – perhaps a friend, teacher or parent. Or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All calls are confidential
    Computers and mobile phones can be used by abusers to monitor and stalk partners.

The above was from here.

More information of what abuse looks like:

Abusive partners are often jealous. An abuser may equate jealousy with love. They may ask you who you talk to, who you see, accuse you of flirting or others of flirting with you, or become jealous of time spent with others. They may even forbid you to see certain people (or everyone). They may text or call frequently during the day to “check up” on where you are or who you are with. They may drop by unexpectedly, refuse to let you go to college or work, check the car mileage, or ask friends to watch you.

In the beginning an abuser will attribute controlling behaviour to concern for you (for example, for your safety or lack of decision-making skills). As this behaviour progresses the situation may worsen, and the abuser may assume all control of finances (so telling you what to spend your money on or spending it for you) or prevent you from coming and going freely. They may control who you see, what you do, how you spend your time, and what you wear.

Quick involvement is also a sign of abuse. You may have only known or dated your abuser for a brief period of time before getting engaged or even living together. Your abuser will often pressure the victim to commit to the relationship. You may be made to feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace or end the relationship. Pressure for quick (or any, if you are a teenager) sexual involvement is also a red flag.

An abuser may have unrealistic expectations. An abuser may expect you to meet all of their needs. They may expect you to be able to do everything for them and be responsible for making them feel better whenever they feel bad.

An abuser may attempt to isolate you by severing your ties to outside support and resources. They may accuse your friends and family of being “trouble makers.” The abuser may block your access to use of a vehicle, work, or telephone service when you are with them, so you are unable to contact anyone else whilst with them. As a young person it is likely that you live at home and so much of this may not be part of your abusers tactics as this is fairly impossible to accomplish, but they may try to separate you from your friends, and they may try to turn you against the people close to you.

An abuser will often blame others for all problems or for their own shortcomings and are often unable to take responsibility for wrongdoing. An abuser may claim to be being victimised by someone, and it could be you that is blamed for almost anything. However, it is also common for abusers to initially take responsibility for their actions against you, and promise not to do it again, and continue to say this every time it happens (because it always happens again).

An abuser will use feelings to manipulate you. They will blame you for how they feel, and use it to get you to do what they want. They will often say that you are the centre of their world, or their everything, and so attempt to make you feel responsible for how they are and how they feel all of the time. An abusive person is also often easily insulted, and hypersensitive.

“Playful” use of force in sex is also a behaviour that also includes restraining partners against their will during sex, acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless, initiating sex when the partner is asleep, or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. The abuser may show little concern for your wishes and will use sulking and anger to manipulate compliance. It is important to note here that the second example given can be consensual and dominant and submissive roles in the bedroom can be perfectly normal as long as you have given express permission and feel 100% comfortable and interested in acting this out. If you feel at all uncomfortable, this is not okay. Rigid sex roles may be a behaviour. You will be expected to serve. A male abuser may see women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship. Again, rigid sex roles may be a consensual decision, but if you feel at all uncomfortable with it, this is not okay. If a partner has sex with you without your consent, this is rape. If a partner engages in sexual activity with you without your consent, this is sexual assault. Consent means that you have said yes to engaging in sexual activity or sex with your partner. Consent is not consent if it’s under coercion or threat, and you are also unable to give consent when under the influence of alcohol. Consent means saying yes and feeling comfortable with that decision.

Verbal abuse is a big one for abusers. This behaviour involves saying things that are intended to be cruel and hurtful, cursing or degrading you, or putting down your accomplishments. This also includes name-calling.

Having a dual personality; seeming like they can be two people – the nice one and the nasty one. Explosive behaviour, moodiness, being aggressive etc, which can shift quickly to being nice, are typical of people who are abusive.

Threats of violence are a sign of an abuser. This consists of any threat of physical force meant to control the partner. Most people do not threaten their mates but an abuser could excuse this behaviour by claiming “everyone talks like that.”

Breaking or striking objects is used as punishment (breaking sentimental possessions) or to terrorise the victim into submission.

Any force during an argument, which may involve an abuser holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving, or pushing or shoving. Holding someone back in order to make demands, such as “You will listen to me!” is also a show of force. Physical violence also includes strangling, throwing objects at you, throwing you, or pushing you over.

It is important to remember that an abuser will abuse any partner if the individual is involved with the abuser long enough for the cycle of abuse to begin. Circumstances do not make a person an abusive personality. You or your abuser’s environment are not at fault for any abusive behaviour. The responsibility lies with the abuser.

These warning signs came from information from here. What strikes me is that even with how educated/experienced I now am with domestic abuse, I only learned when writing this article that quick involvement is a warning sign for abuse – yet another sign that I missed and only learned about just now, typing this.

It is important to note that not everyone who displays jealousy, or mildly controlling behaviour, or blames others for their mistakes is an abuser, but these are still signs of an unhealthy relationship. Persistent signs of the former attributes combined with any of the other signs are big red flags of an abuser. If you feel that these apply to your partner, please talk to a trusted adult about this and/or call the national domestic violence helpline (website linked) on 0808 2000 247. It is crucial to state that emotional and verbal abuse often leads to physical violence.

As a teenager I felt unable to leave the relationship that I was in, so if you feel that your partner is being abusive but feel unable to leave, I understand. However, I want to tell you that to stay with that partner only prolongs your pain. I know how ridiculously hard it is to leave someone that you are emotionally involved with, but you need and deserve to be in a healthy and happy relationship – and you will find this. It can be even harder when you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks or feels like – you may even be convinced that this is the norm, but it’s not. There are wonderful men/women out there who will treat you in a way that you deserve; in a way that any decent human being would treat another: with respect and care. It may feel like the end of the world at the time to leave someone that you love who is abusive, but time heals, and you can and will move on to bigger and better things. It may feel like it will tear you apart to leave, but I promise you that an abusive relationship will leave far greater scars. The fewer experiences and memories that you have of any abuse, the better. You do not deserve to be put through any instances of abuse, and with time, you will realise how your relationship was only harming you.

Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour and further domestic violence. Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI. Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys. Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. These facts and statistics are terrifying. It is also worth noting that abusers are hard to get rid rid of, so the faster you get rid of them, the better. Abusers like to feel in control, and for them it can mean controlling others around them, especially (and often exclusively) their partners. Even when you have ended the relationship, they can harass and attempt to emotionally abuse you from afar. I can tell you this from experience, because my abuser has continuously tried to contact me since we ended for good 6 years ago. People who have any respect for you will move on with their lives and leave you to yours. If you have broken up with an abusive partner and are still experiencing harassment and abuse from them, block them on all social media, block their numbers, tell a trusted adult, and seek advice from the police or citizens advice bureau, especially if they are threatening to harm you or anyone else, or destroy your property.

If you feel that you are experiencing any forms of abuse, please know that it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. You do not deserve it. Even if you do not feel like a victim, you are. Your abuser will not change, however much they try to convince you of that fact, and however much you hope they will. Please tell a trusted adult. Please phone a helpline. Please get help and support. You do not have to be alone with this, and you do not have to be in this relationship. You need and deserve to leave it and you deserve to lead a happy life with healthy relationships.

If you are a parent

81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse (statistics from here). It is so important that you are aware of the relationships that your children are engaging in if they are under the age of 18. Although I was a wilful and determined child and would have probably have continued with my relationship anyway, did I make informed decisions? No, I did not. I wish my parents had played more of a part in educating me about the warning signs of abuse and I wish my school had taught me more about this too. Although my mother did have a short word with my abuser about his behaviour, it of course continued. I wish that my parents had not “respected my wishes”and kept my father from saying anything to my abuser. I wish that they had called his parents and told them what he was doing. I thought that I knew what I was doing at the time, but I was a child, and I transitioned into a young adult finding it almost impossible to separate myself from my abuser. I was an extremely strong and resilient child/young adult, and I could see quite logically that what I was experiencing was absolutely unacceptable, and yet I could not untangle myself from the situation I had become so embroiled in.

So as a parent, what can you do to help?

The following information is taken from here.

There are many reasons why teens don’t tell parents about the abuse. They may be embarrassed or ashamed, and may blame themselves. They may be afraid their parents will make them break up, convinced that it is their fault or that their parents will blame them or be disappointed in them, and afraid of losing privileges. They are often afraid of retaliation from their partner for telling. They may have little or no experience with healthy dating relationships and confuse jealousy with love. They may not recognize that they are being abused. If you suspect your teenager is being abused…

  • DO give your child a chance to talk. Stay calm. Listen without judging them. Believe them!
  • Use clear language to describe what you see is happening.
  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation. Tell them that you are concerned for their safety and well-being and that you are there for them.
  • Ask them what they would like to have happen…how can you help them be safe.
  • Keep the lines of communication open!
  • Educate yourself—access online resources, read, call Caring Unlimited for information and/or support for yourself!
  • DON’T try to rescue them. Resist this natural impulse. It will likely shut them down.
  • Blame them for the abuse or make them feel judged.
  • Punish them because of an abusive partner.
  • Criticize their partner—you don’t want them taking energy to defend the person

If you suspect your teenager is being abusive

What you may see:

  • Jealous or possessive behaviour toward the dating partner
  • Controlling or bossy behaviour
  • Guilt Tripping—”If you loved me you would…”
  • Blaming the victim for everything that goes wrong
  • Obsessing over the partner’s behaviour or actions
  • Unreasonable or gender-based expectations of their dating partner

What You Can Do

  • Ask, “Why do you think it’s okay to treat ______ that way?”
  • Confront disrespectful behaviour/language. Explain that it’s not OK with you.
  • Let your child know that controlling behaviours are abusive and will prevent them from having a healthy, happy relationship.
  • Hold your child accountable. Don’t accept excuses or allow them to blame the other.
  • Model respectful behaviour towards your partner
  • Educate yourself and your teenager about controlling behaviours by accessing online and other resources.

The following information is taken from here.

Knowing or even suspecting that your child is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. But as a parent, you’re critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can provide life-saving support if they are in an abusive relationship. Remember, dating violence occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and any gender can be abusive.

What Do I Need to Know?

You can look for some early warning signs of abuse that can help you identify if your child is in an abusive relationship before it’s too late. Some of these signs include:

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
  • You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
  • Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
  • Your child begins to dress differently.

What Can I Do?
As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing dating abuse:

Listen and give support
When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. Let your child know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. Your child may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents won’t believe them or understand. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgement.

Accept what your child is telling you
Believe that they are being truthful. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. Showing scepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make sure that they know you believe they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.

Show concern
Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.” Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.

Talk about the behaviours, not the person
When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviours you don’t like, not the person. For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. Also, talking badly about your son or daughter’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid ultimatums
Resist the urge to give an ultimatum (for example, “If you don’t break up with them right away, you’re grounded/you won’t be allowed to date anyone in the future.”) You want your child to truly be ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings. Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for victims. Trust that your child knows their situation better than you do and will leave when they’re ready.

Be prepared
Educate yourself on dating abuse. Help your child identify the unhealthy behaviours and patterns in their relationship. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. With your teen, identify relationships around you (within your family, friend group or community) that are healthy and discuss what makes those relationships good for both partners.

Decide on next steps together
When you’re talking to your teen about a plan of action, know that the decision has to come from them. Ask what ‘next steps’ they would like to take. If they’re uncomfortable discussing this with you, help them find additional support. Suggest that they reach out to a peer advocate through loveisrespect’s phone line, online chat and text messaging service where teens can talk with peer advocates 24/7. To call, dial 1-866-331-9474, chat via our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

But My Child Isn’t in an Unhealthy Relationship
It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Starting conversations — even if you don’t think your child is dating — is one of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating violence. Here are some sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
  • Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
  • Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
  • Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
  • Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?

Need more tips to get started? Here are some other ways you can prepare to talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships:

  • Do your own research on dating abuse to get the facts before talking to your teen or 20-something. Start with the information and resources on loveisrespect.org.
  • Provide your child with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behaviour. Use examples from your own life, television, movies or music.
  • Ask questions and encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to your son or daughter, giving them a chance to speak. Avoid analysing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing.
  • Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your child is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
  • Be supportive and non-judgemental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
  • Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
  • Reinforce that dating should be fun! Stress that violence is never acceptable.
    Discuss the options your child has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
  • Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
    If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.
  • Find ways to discuss gender equality at A Call to Men.
  • Contact Break the Cycle to find out if there are dating violence prevention programs in your community. If not, work with Break the Cycle to bring abuse prevention to your local school or community group.

Remember that it is not easy to leave an abuser. From the outside it will seem like such an obvious choice to make, but it is much more difficult on the inside where you are emotionally involved with the person. This may be their first relationship and so may also not know any different. This could cause them to underestimate the effects of the abuse and they may even be unaware of the damage it is causing them. Educate. Support. Suggest. Be there to encourage them to leave but don’t force them to. Always hold the abuser accountable. If any episodes of violence occur within your household, always call the emergency services.

Abuse is widespread. It is an epidemic, and this is not okay. Help break the silence.

The Truth About Domestic Abuse

domestic violence

Today I am going to post about a topic that is not specifically to do with eating disorders. I wrote this article over a year and a half ago, but it is an extremely important subject matter for me, and in general, so I wanted to share it here. Although it isn’t directly to do with eating disorders, there are those who may have had an eating disorder triggered by domestic abuse. I want to state that that was not the case for me, but that some of you that may have unfortunately been the trigger. 

Obviously this article comes with a trigger warning for the discussion of domestic abuse.

The Truth About Domestic Abuse

When you hear the words “domestic abuse”, and visualise the abuser, what probably comes to mind is a man. Most likely a man who is working class: a man who has tattoos, bad teeth, sunken eyes, and a haggard face. That, or something similar, anyway. It is this sort of stereotyping that leads us, as a society, to believe that domestic violence only happens amongst certain types of people. This is most certainly not the case, and the issue of domestic violence amongst different races, ages, sexual orientations, religions, and genders needs to be openly addressed so that people are more aware that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

My abuser was a skinny, sixteen-year-old boy from a privileged background. Unfortunately for me, he was the first boy I ever loved.
His abuse came in many forms. It started almost straight away: the first incident that I can remember happened three months into our relationship, and progressed from emotional and verbal abuse to physical abuse within three months. It started off with intense jealousy and possessiveness: he would accuse me of cheating, and attempt to monitor what I wore, especially when it came to posting photos to my Bebo account. If I uploaded a photograph and my skirt was too short he would phone me in a fury, calling me a slut and demanding that I took the images down. For some reason, I had given him my password to my account, and one of the times that he flew into a rage, he deleted my entire account. He frequently called me a bitch, a liar, and a whore, and did not want me to hang out with any male friends. He constantly wanted to know where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. He expected me to report back to him on my day and the details of it, especially if it concerned another boy. I also strongly recall a situation where he humiliated me in front of a number of people: we were at college, and there was a day where everyone could take a free chlamydia test. Before me, he had not been sexually active, whereas I had, but we both took a test anyway. After a group of us had taken the test, we were sitting in the corridor writing our details down, and he told everyone that if he had something, it was from me. I was utterly shocked that he had decided to even mention it, let alone in front of a group of people. He also broke my personal belongings, especially those of significant emotional value, when I upset or angered him, and used threats of suicide or self-harm against me.

After six months, the abuse became physical. Over the next two years I experienced being thrown into walls or onto the ground, being pinned to the floor, having objects thrown at me, being spat at in the face, being squeezed until I could not breath, being choked, grabbed, and pushed, and all the while I thought it wasn’t serious enough because he never actually hit me. Half of me fought that ridiculous notion, but it was echoed in the actions of others, especially that of his family, who were of the opinion that it was my fault because I wound him up. At one point I was even told by his step-dad to “get over it” because my refusal to speak to my abuser was “making the atmosphere in the house horrible”.
On one occasion, he was hanging off a multi-storey carpark, after running off with my bag, pushing me, throwing my bag into a wall with valuables inside, and tearing a necklace off of me, causing bright red scratches down my throat. I also wish to add that there were people walking past us who witnessed his assault, and did nothing about it. Another time, he accused me of being unfaithful when I did not rip out the male centrefolds in my Cosmpolitan magazine, which resulted in my being on the floor, him on top of me, with his hands around my neck, screaming that I was a bitch and a whore, and ended with him running out of the house threatening to ride his moped into the middle of the road without putting on the brakes. I previously attempted to stop him leaving, sobbing, and grabbing onto his clothes, begging him not to kill himself. He pushed me onto the floor, and later claimed that this was my fault because I would not let go of him (which may have been annoying, yes, but I’m sure in that situation it was perfectly understandable, as I naively believed he really would end his own life). Another argument concluded in the entire bedroom being destroyed: all my possessions had been swiped onto the floor, the speaker stand was through our coffee table, and there was paint all over the carpet. I had been physically thrown out of the room but had returned to continue the argument (and therefore, obviously, making it all my fault – please note the sarcasm there) and was forcefully carried to the bed and then briefly choked. My worst memory, though, took place in a hotel. I cannot remember it in detail, although I am not sure if that is because my mind blocked it out or whether there were just so many incidents that that particular one has faded from my memory. What I do recall though was my bag being flung into the pool, being forcefully carried to the elevator and then to our room, my phone being dangled above the toilet in one of his hands, and being held away with the other, and the grin on his face as he let it drop. I also remember being pinned down on the bed with him sat on my stomach; his knees pressing into my forearms so that I could not move, except for my uselessly flailing legs. I’m not sure what happened subsequently to that (not anything horrifically brutal though, I can assure you of that much), but after the whole ordeal was over, I was left with a severe burn-like mark on my arm and a couple of other bruises elsewhere. To this day if anyone, even in jest, tries to restrict me in that position, I panic.

Why did you stay with him? you might ask. The truth, which I am ashamed to admit, is because I did not think it was bad enough to leave. I rationally knew that what I was experiencing was domestic abuse, but I kept thinking that I was a perpetrator too; that I was partly to blame, and because I did not fear him, I believed that I was not a victim. The abuse was emotionally destructive, horribly distressing, and extremely hurtful, but apart from the first few times that the physical violence occurred, I was never really afraid of him, and that, to me, made my experiences invalid. This, obviously, is completely untrue. I know this, and still even now I sometimes downplay what happened to me for fear that someone may accuse me of making a big deal out of nothing. I can assure you, though, that it wasn’t nothing. In fact it was something that had a huge impact on me, and unfortunately I am sure still does, even when I am not really aware of it.
I also naively believed that he would stop. On most occasions, afterwards, he would cry and tell me to leave him, or promise that it would never happen again, but of course it did. It always does.

My abuse was a long time ago but it left scars. I flinch sometimes around people, I get tense in certain situations, I panic if someone has me in one particular position, and I jump at loud or sudden noises. I even find men who look like my abuser uncomfortable to look at.

The thing is, a huge amount of people seem to believe that abuse is just physical, when it is not. There also seems to be people that believe that if you have never had your partner’s fist in your face then it doesn’t count. “But he never actually hit you, did he?” was genuinely something that I have had said to me, after opening up about my abuse. I cannot stress enough that any kind of physical violence is domestic abuse. Verbal abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and sexual abuse are all forms of domestic abuse, in addition to physical violence. The US Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a “pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner”. (Wikipedia, 2013). People need to be aware that this is about control, not about violence, and does not necessarily include getting physical. People also need to be aware that whilst 85% of domestic abuse victims are women, 15% are men.

Domestic abuse is never okay. Ever.

Do not allow yourself to be treated without the respect that you deserve.
Do not let anyone tell you that what you deserve is an abusive partner.
Do not let your partner convince you that this is the last time, because it is not.
Do not let domestic abuse make you live in fear, misery, or silence.
Do not let domestic abuse endanger your life.

Do get out of your abusive relationship. There is much, much more awaiting you in life.

Please read below if you think you may be in an abusive relationship.

You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you.
  • Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive.
  • Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
  • Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with.
  • Does not want you to work.
  • Controls finances or refuses to share money.
  • Punishes you by withholding affection.
  • Expects you to ask permission.
  • Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets.
  • Humiliates you in any way.

You may be in a physically abusive relationship if your partner has ever:

  • Damaged property when angry (thrown objects, punched walls, kicked doors, etc.).
  • Pushed, slapped, bitten, kicked or choked you.
  • Abandoned you in a dangerous or unfamiliar place.
  • Scared you by driving recklessly.
  • Used a weapon to threaten or hurt you.
  • Forced you to leave your home.
  • Trapped you in your home or kept you from leaving.
  • Prevented you from calling police or seeking medical attention.
  • Hurt your children.
  • Used physical force in sexual situations.

You may be in a sexually abusive relationship if your partner:

  • Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles.
  • Accuses you of cheating or is often jealous of your outside relationships.
  • Wants you to dress in a sexual way.
  • Insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names.
  • Has ever forced or manipulated you into to having sex or performing sexual acts.
  • Held you down during sex (without your consent).
  • Demanded sex when you were sick, tired or after beating you.
  • Hurt you with weapons or objects during sex (without your consent).
  • Ignored your feelings regarding sex.
  • Involved other people in sexual activities with you (without your consent).

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions you may be in an abusive relationship; please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or your local domestic violence center to talk with someone about it.

Recovery, Self-consciousness, and Relationships

polar bear

Recovery isn’t the prettiest thing. There are numerous unpleasant physical issues that we can have to deal with as well as the incredibly overwhelming mental aspect of the process: massive water retention (edema), bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea, uncomfortable and unpleasant amounts of gas, extreme hunger, night sweats…the list goes on. This generally makes us feel not entirely loving towards our bodies, and this can affect the way we think our partners (if we have one) perceive us. We can become incredibly self-conscious around them and feel embarrassed at letting them see us this way.

“I look pregnant!” is a common complaint that I hear from people about their recovery bodies. Well, this is what it would be like if you were pregnant, so if you two are seriously loved up and settled, this will be a trial run (I’m only kidding. Half kidding.).

Your partner is with you because he/she likes you for you. He/she also cares about you. And because he/she cares about you, he/she wants to see you get well. So yeah okay, you’re gassy and swollen and sweaty but so what? It’s not a big deal. I’ve looked after people I love when they are sick and vomiting, or have fevers and are sweating, or are drunk and have thrown up over themselves, or are like “babe I have the worst diarrhoea” – that’s just life. We see our partners at their most unappealing and we love them anyway. So if your body being swollen and sweaty are the temporary side effects to you getting happier and healthier, then he/she’s really not going to care. If he/she loves and cares about you, he/she will laugh along with you at your belly noises and farts (I used to wake myself and my previous partner up in the night on numerous occasions in recovery when I had bad gas). He/she will admire your ability to eat the entire contents of your fridge, and will high five you for it. He/she will give you massages to help you with your swelling and aches. And if it’s affecting your desire to have sex he/she will get over the fact that you don’t really feel like hopping in the sack right now and will just look forward to when you can again rather than begrudge you for it now.

You have to remember that your partner holds your best interests at heart. A mature, loving relationship will not be negatively affected by your physical state in recovery. Your partner should hold your hand and accompany you encouragingly on your journey to recovery. They will be there with unflinching support, however unattractive you may deem yourself to be. How you view yourself is not how they view you.  Always remember that.