I stirred from what had been a deep sleep, awakened by loud voices and bangs. It must have been about 11pm but I knew even then that I must have been asleep for at least 3 hours. I looked around the room, my baby sister was fast asleep, oblivious to all the noise I could hear now so clearly. I could see her clearly where she lay, because the moon shone so brightly right through the curtains and cast a warm glow over her sleeping figure. I was still quite sleepy myself and turned around to lay down on my bed, ready to get some much needed sleep when the noise came again. This time it was clear what was happening:they were fighting, arguing….again. And I knew what would follow, there would be slaps and kicks and pushes and shoves and the tearing, stinging sound of my fathers belt against my mother’s skin.
A part of the little 8 year old me wanted to run out to the living room, where it was clear now the voices were coming from and save her. After all she was my mother, who cared and nurtured us all, what right did he have to do that to her? To hurt her! To make her cry? And if I could forgive him for hurting her all the while, definitely not now when she’s heavily pregnant? How could he? But I knew going out to defend her only meant more trouble for her. It would mean that she had taught me to do so, to stand up against my own father.
As if I didn’t have eyes to see.
I saw first hand scenes such as this, with their ugly, devastating and shameful consequences one too many times throughout my childhood. I saw it lead to the end of my parents’ marriage over 24 years ago. I have endured the effects of and the damage abuse could cause in the lives of all those involved and that is why I share this story. For you see, we all talk about domestic violence and it’s causes and why it must stop, forgetting that domestic violence is first and foremost about one thing: abuse. Abuse gives birth to violence, but sometimes abuse stays at just abuse and it does not make it any better just because it hasn’t escalated into violence. Physical abuse brings pain, but so does verbal and emotional abuse. Degrading, demeaning and humiliating words emanating from the lips of one who is meant to uphold and nurture you have the ability to tear one down, killing the spirit bit by bit. It destroys love. It destroys trust. It destroys relationships. It destroys lives.
When you are constantly told something negative about yourself, I don’t care how strong you are, if you stay around long enough you will at some point begin to act out that negativity, you will portray it, you will become it. If you are told that you are stupid often enough, you will become, well, stupid. You could hold a high flying job or a first class degree or even be a billionaire. It doesn’t matter.
And that is why it is imperative that once abuse starts, it has to be curbed or snuffed out in its prime. Better still it has to be walked away from. We make the mistake of thinking that our achievements, status or position make us immune to abuse. But the truth is, anyone, man or woman, can suffer abuse in the hands of a loved one, ask Halle Berry, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, the list goes on. The good news is, we have no say in what someone else chooses to do but we have a choice as to what we allow our minds and thoughts to be fed regularly. The Devil is brilliant at the tactics he uses to destroy greatness and believe it or not, abuse physical or otherwise is one of those tactics. It is a tool which when used well, destroys the greatness associated with two people who God has joined together for a purpose.
The abuser loses control of himself to a force or power he “can’t explain or control” and in one moment of anger could do or say things that he would later regret. The ” abusee” is physically and emotionally damaged to the point where he or she has totally lost faith in themselves and are stuck in one place, unable to move as a result of fear and uncertainty. The relationship becomes a shadow of itself, devoid of the blessings of God. And the children, if any? They are marred and scarred for life, unable to fully have confidence in themselves and lacking the much needed balance they need to grow up into adults.
In the end, everyone loses.
If you are a man or woman, reading this and you know you are abusive physically, verbally or emotionally to your significant other, you have allowed yourself to be a worthy tool in the hands of the devil. I know, I know you did not have a meeting with the devil where you set out terms and conditions which led to a deal being sealed on you being his agent, but you have effectively given him control over your life thus allowing him to use you to destroy the life of another and more importantly the gifts and greatness of God inside them. But you have the power to change that today! Identify the triggers, those things that make you fly off the handle and make a pledge today to begin to work on them. Is it alcohol? Stress from work or otherwise? Infidelity? You have the power to stop the devils control over your life, the Bible says if you resist him, he will flee from you. Take back full control of your life today, admit your wrong doing and take the necessary steps to be better before it is too late. Your life depends on that decision, but so does the lives of everyone in your family because you will give account for how you have treated them.
To you dear man or woman, who on the other hand, is suffering abuse understand this: the enemy has seen the greatness in you and he is out to destroy it. And the abuse you are putting up with is his worthy tool! Your husband or wife is just the transmitter. Stop the devil in his tracks, today. Identify his workings before they exhibit and learn to walk away. Remember when the goldsmith keeps hammering away at a specific point, it is because he wants to leave a mark.
Don’t allow the devil that luxury in your life, his aim is to break you and make you a complete opposite of who you have been called to be. Kick him out today! Thinking he/she will change when he clearly doesn’t want to is damaging to you. Stand up and say no, if you do not accept it it will not continue, the only reason it continues is because you have allowed it. You can’t complain about how bad someone treats if you haven’t first asked yourself why you are accepting it, people learn how to treat you by watching and observing what you tolerate. As Tony Gaskins said, the first time it was a mistake, the second time it was a choice, the third time it became a habit. Nip it in the bud.
Lastly but most powerful of all is the power that the abuser and the “abusee”have to work together to defeat the enemy of their greatness. It takes confessing and admitting to mistakes made, saying I am sorry and meaning it and consciously doing all it takes to ensure the act does not repeat itself. On the other hand it takes forgiveness and acceptance and the ability to look past the mistake to the source. When Peter tried in the Bible to get Jesus to denounce and give up his calling, Jesus said to him “Get behind me Satan”. He knew who was at work and addressed him pointedly. Understand the devil is at work and find a way to defeat him together with God on your side. And I promise you one thing if you would do that…
You will win.
But if however, all else fails and you have done all you can but nothing seems to change then I tell you it’s okay to walk away. I know how hard that can be especially when the relationship is on a deeper level of commitment or when kids are involved. But stepping out of an abusive relationship does children more good than staying in it. Kids raised in such homes end up dysfunctional, lacking confidence and would eventually find themselves attracted to members of the opposite sex who are exactly like their abusive parent or become abusive themselves, case in point Chris Brown. In some cases, they end up growing up as orphans if the abuse escalates into violence. So leaving an abusive relationship sometimes might be what is necessary for you to do. Pray and take decisive action. You deserve better and you have the right to maximise the gifts and talents in you. Never allow it to break you, instead use it as a stepping stool to even greater glory.
Now to my awesome readers and commenters, (I see and appreciate you all), what would you view as abuse and where would you draw the line? Have you ever suffered any type of abuse in the hands of a loved one? If so, how did you handle it? Did you stay, leave or work it out?
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Kemi Ajaja is a lawyer in training with a deep passion for helping build marriages and working with young people and inspiring them to live their best lives. She writes at