Why Abuse Hurts Us More
As a survivor of abuse I am privileged to be alive and well today. I have been successful in my career, am in a loving committed relationship and find joy in my life on most days. At times I feel so ‘normal’ that I forget where I have come from. Until I am confronted by one of my triggers.
For the past year we have been renting a property from a terribly abusive landlord. Our tenancy started with the fridge not working and he blamed us upon arrival. His communication has been unhospital and he made us feel unwelcome and so worried about the property that we never hung up anything or even dared to make the place our own, in fear of the regular checks he was going to make. It took nearly 3 months before we had a working fridge. For a family with two little ones this was a nightmare.
Following this joyful welcome to our home, we continued to have issues where the Landlord clearly abused his power. Every time we had an issue, whether it was the dishwasher or the leak from a storm, I’d dread communicating our needs to him. He’d schedule works without letting us know. He had the front door, which was in perfect working order, replaced and for this the workmen had to shave the concrete wall off. Within an hour of this occuring our entire home was covered in thick fine dust. The dust was so severe it set the fire alarm off and resulted in my husband having an asthma attack. We had to leave our property as we couldn’t stay there. We asked for the Landlord to help with cleaning or even just to display an ounce of humanity, and he offered neither.
The situation became unbearable to me and after fulfiling our contract we finally moved a few weeks ago. He’s still trying to extort money from us; retrospectively adding items that we apparently broke despite none of these being picked up in the final check with the Agent. Today he lodged a claim to take $700 from our bond. Upon receiving the email from the Agent I was bewildered. I felt so hurt and unjustly treated. Part of me just wanted to give him the money so the abuse would finally end.
It’s not just the outlandish amount of money he’s looking to take from us. It’s the blatant abuse of power. While he was acting like this we’ve had no support. Not from him, the Agent or anyone else. As a survivor of abuse this catapults me back to a time where I was abused in plain sight. All I want to do is to detach and escape this situation because I cannot fathom how one person can treat another like this. It hurts my soul and makes me sad beyond words. Despite being a successful and confident person, I feel helplessly exposed to a system which allows abuse to happen, and rewards an abusive person financially for acting to the detriment of others.
And I am not the only one. Whether abusing the legal system, child protective service or the benefit system, abusers literally get away with murder. We give greater sentences for tax fraud than domestic violence and rape. As a society we reward abusers with money and power— whether OJ Simpson, Trump, Epstein, Prince Andrew or Ghislein Maxewell. The list of people not held accountable for being abusive is long.
So why do we struggle to fight against this injustice?
When faced with the same situation as I, my husband’s response was very different. He does not have the same abusive past and instantly felt outraged and called upon to fight. He wasn’t brought back to blueprint of his trauma, asked to relive injustices that shake one to the core. Seeing my uncharacteristic reaction, he struggled to understand why I was hurt and just wanted to settle the issue quietly.
The reason for this is trauma. Trauma leaves a permanent imprint. The longer the abusive, and the earlier it started in life, the more etched trauma is in to your soul. So if we wish to fight injustice, awareness of our trauma is key.
In Australia it is estimated that 12% of the population will experience post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD during their lifetime (Sane Australia, 2019). While in America the estimate is said to be around 7–8% of the population (PTSD VA, 2019). Given that most people do not understand trauma and have little insight in to their diagnosis these estimates are very conservative.
While PTSD is the result of a single traumatic event (like experiencing a miscarriage or a natural disaster like a Bushfire), Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) refers to the response you have to multiple traumatic events (AIHW, 2020). Most Domestic Violence (DV) is characterised by multiple events of abuse, which is why C-PTSD is more prevalent amongst victim/survivors.In certain groups, like survivors of domestic violence or humanitarian refugees, you may find that up to 90% of its members suffer from the impact of C-PTSD.
Those coping with a traumatic past will respond differently to events that activate their triggers.
Having survived trauma doesn’t make you weak. On the contrary, arguably the most inspiring and successful humans of this world were inspired by their trauma. Gandhi, Malala, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Helen Keller, Mandela — they all survived the trauma of abuse. They used their experiences to become more empathetic and to stand up against injustice. They transformed hurt to healing.
When triggered by my Landlord’s actions I first went in to a dark place. A place of hurt, shame and loneliness. I felt disillusioned and disconnected from the world. But then I remembered my mission. While I’m not necessarily a religious person I do believe that I experienced things for a reason. My trauma has a purpose, and that purpose is to help others.
I’m not the only one. The survivor empowerment hub I founded is entirely run by survivor volunteers. Everything we do is free — thanks to survivors who want give back. I have spoken to so many who barely made it out alive, and their immediate concern is ‘how can I help others avoid this fate’. They don’t seek to bring others down, extort money, or advance their own status at the cost of everyone else. The most common phrase I hear from survivors is “I’m looking to help others so something good will come from my this experience”. And that is the definition of strength.
So I am grateful to my everyday heroes and survivor community for continuing to inspire me. You are the change we need to see in this world.