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Language is a powerful tool to identify, stand up against, and get out of the loop of domestic abuse. We need to pay more attention to the IFs and BUTs we use in what we say.
I share a strange relationship with Gowramma (name changed), one of my previous neighbors. Whenever, we cross each other in the park or the provisions’ store, I always look the other way and try to ignore her. The reason is Gowramma always tries to pull everyone into this conversation about a lady, who a few months ago had left her husband along with her kids. Even as I seethe from within, she keeps talking about the poor children, who have been separated from their father for no fault of theirs.
Now, it is common knowledge that the father of the poor children was an alcoholic, couldn’t stick to one job, and had huge anger management issues. What made it ironic was that even Gowramma’s husband, although not an alcoholic, had similar anger management issues. Every day, angry abuses and cuss words would waft through the door.
“See Lakshmi,” she was telling someone the other day, “Men have tempers and all that. We women need to adjust and keep our home fires burning.”
I decided not to talk to Gowramma after this incident.
Until one day, when I was reading a question on Quora, it struck me that Gowramma, while bad mouthing the other woman was not coming from a place of judgment and superiority but from a place where she felt vulnerable, powerless and lost.
“What can a woman do if she is not educated, is in an abusive marriage, and does not get any support from her parents?”
I wanted to answer this question. But was unable to. Then it struck me, it was the way the question was worded. Every time I read it, I was walking into a loop.
The dictionary defines can as:
Effectively, what the OP meant was this: what would a woman be able to do
If is a conditional clause. The if in this case implies that since the woman is uneducated and lacks the support of her parents, she does not possess the ability to walk out of the abusive marriage.
The OP was not seeking answers. The question itself was rhetoric.
That is how emotional looping begins. We talk in a language of Ifs and Buts. We talk in a language of passivity.
Instead of asking ourselves,
What should I do to get out of this abusive relationship?
Can I get out of this abusive relationship?
Instead of asking ourselves,
How do I support myself and my children?
Who will support me and my kids?
Instead of telling ourselves,
that we need to be happy always,
we ask ourselves,
Is this worth it?
We talk in negations, not realizing that by telling ourselves stories of self defeat, we are gas lighting ourselves.
I am not qualified enough.
I am not strong enough.
I am not confident enough.
I am not courageous enough.
I am not capable enough.
Now, read this and say it loudly till it resonates in every fiber of your being:
I am qualified enough.
I am strong enough.
I am confident enough.
I am courageous enough.
I am capable enough.
As I write this, I am reminded of the movie Dor, where Meera, the young woman, who loses her husband also becomes the victim of her in-laws’ abuse.
In one particular scene, Meera tells the grandmother that she is a human being, and she intends remaining so. That she does not want to become an angel and stand on a pedestal. She is happy where she is. She does not want things to change.
To which the grandmother replies with a smile on her face, “Only human beings come with this capacity to change and challenge their status quo. Where do angels get this privilege?”
The grandmother’s words fill Meera with courage and she finally crosses the threshold and frees herself.
Freedom is like that.
It begins by asking the right questions. And as you begin to answer them, you stop other-izing yourself, and start identifying yourself with strength and power.
Published here earlier.
Image source: shutterstock