Psychological Trigger Warning: abuse, domestic violence, PTSD, victim-blaming
PSA from a chronic-abuse and -trauma survivor (to Catholics and to everyone else):
If you are any sort of therapist, spiritual director, confessor, or serve in any pastoral role (including that of friend, teacher, sports coach, college professor, etc.) that interacts with romantic, sexual, or married couples (or their children), please please PLEASE educate yourself on the topic of domestic violence, abuse, and trauma before your next appointment/confession/coffee date/sporting event. Your client/spiritual child/friend’s safety or life may depend on it.
Just 2 articles
If you are Catholic or Catholic Adjacent, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you start with this letter from the USCCB: “When I cry for help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.”
[N.B. this letter is relevant regardless of the victim’s gender. Men can be victims of domestic violence. Nonbinary and intersex people can be, too. This letter is relevant to all of the above.]
Particularly relevant: if there is abuse of any kind at all, the partners need to each have a separate therapist and do therapy separately, not as a couple. This is stated explicitly in the USCCB’s letter. Couple’s counseling is for those who have a dysfunctional relationship or are going through a rough patch—not abuse.
But how do I know if it is abuse?
The only way to learn how to spot the red flags of abuse is to educate yourself. Next, please turn to the experts on domestic violence education, advocacy, and awareness: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Read their analysis and explanation of domestic violence and of the many distinct and intersecting forma of abuse that make up what I refer to as the “domestic violence perpetrator’s toolbox” (some of which is covered in the USCCB’s letter).
What’s the big deal? It isn’t my place to say something
That’s where you are dead wrong.
Just yesterday, a childhood friend I’d not seen since he was in his early twenties and I was in middle school (my father’s then-best-friend’s eldest son, 8 years my senior) apologized for not knowing what was happening in my home when we last saw one another, 13 years ago (despite always himself distrusting my father and suspecting there was a lot more happening he didn’t know about).
He apologized for not doing more.
My strongest memories of him were of when he was 17 and he and his girlfriend babysat us. It was not his responsibility to know my father was abusive. It was not my 17-year-old babysitter’s reaponsibility to protect my mom, my brothers, or me.
It was the responsibility of the adults in my life who witnessed it. And to whom I reported it, from the age of 13, like a frantic child journalist equipped with a prodigious wealth of words and photographic memory.
The priests, nuns, friends’ parents, aunts, uncles, and my mom’s closest adult friends. I told every single one of them. Every single time.
Some of them have apologized to me, now. And I have sincerely forgiven them.
But that does not change the fact that because they were never trained in the warning signs of domestic violence, they did know not know how to see the red flags. And because my reporting was alarming to them, they most often participated in the silencing and the gaslighting of my father.
Their ignorance was not their fault. It is the fault of our misogynistic, patriarchal society and especially of my Church, which still treats abuse and domestic violence as taboo topics while labelling survivors and uncomfortable-truth-tellers as troublemakers. Pariahs.
Part 2 of this post will be published within the next week.
Read more about my experiences growing up nestled within extremist alt-right/fascist Catholic domestic violence and terror: