Melissa Todd: Why inflict pain on the ones you say you love?

Life is brutal. It damages us all. No escape, no exceptions. It’s how we deal with the damage that counts.

In Thanet, rates of domestic violence are among the highest in the country, and certainly the highest in Kent. There seem to be a lot of people living here who like to vent their damage, their rage, their frustrations, on their partners.

That’s odd, isn’t it? Why choose to inflict your pain on your loved ones, scarring them in turn, when there are billions of people in the world you could hurt, for most of whom you care not a jot? I’m angry ALL THE TIME. I get it. But I vent that rage on my enemies, or, when they’re unavailable, the idiots that cut me up on roundabouts. Not on my husband, the sweetest man alive, who exists only to love and be loved. Whatever would possess you to do that? You’d have to be an especially stupid kind of psychopath.

And yet they exist, in droves, lashing out at those they purport to love, causing pain in a misguided bid to diminish their own. The abuse needn’t be physical. Years of emotional abuse, manipulating with fear or shame, undermining self-esteem, name-calling, ignoring the loved one, freezing them out, criticising them endlessly, publicly humiliating them, can take an equally horrific toll. In many instances the effects continue to be felt years later, long after the abusive partner has slithered back under their mouldy rock. The damage they’ve wrought is permanent. However passionately and profoundly a new partner might love them, they can never undo that damage. A new home continues to live with old grief.

Emotional abuse appears to cause more psychological damage than physical abuse, because it’s constant. Physical violence tends to be cyclical: a quick punch, remorse, recompense – flowers and cuddles – then peace for a spell, before you’re hit again. But emotional abuse is relentless. You can ignore, abuse and undermine your partner every waking moment, if you’re so inclined.

Years after the abuse, the victim will suffer its consequences, and these may well be physical. Fibromyalgia is often foreshadowed by emotional abuse. It might be long past, you might be happy now, in a decent relationship, and yet suffer a cluster of mysterious physical symptoms – muscular aches, cramps, fatigue, digestion issues, so severe it’s crippling, so severe you may no longer be able to work. The more pain and fear you experience over a prolonged period, the less resistant the body will become to dealing with everyday strains: years of trauma can change the central nervous system and the way it reacts to stimuli. There is no cure. And so a strong healthy body is broken.

If you are incapable of offering a decent relationship to a decent person, do not seek one out. There’s enough misery and pain in the world without inflicting yet more on the very people you’re meant to love and protect. The wrong you have dealt them – knowingly, brutally, dealt them – will echo across the years. Get yourself a cactus for company: take your toxic self out of the dating game.

Get help

You can report domestic abuse to police online or call 101. If you’re in immediate danger call 999 immediately.

To view the full range of support and information available in Kent or to talk to someone other than the police, visit Kent and Medway Domestic Abuse Services website.

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