DOVE Center Blog

The Mask of Concealment

09 September 2017 Published in DOVE Center Blog

They were the perfect family. You know, that family that has it all: the beautiful yard surrounded by the white picket fence, situated in an ideal neighborhood; nice cars, a boat, active in the community, the center of multiple social networks. Dad held a prominent professional position in the community, Mom was developing a high-powered career; they were raising beautiful children who were active in after-school activities and had busy social lives. Everyone admired their perfect life. In fact, many were envious and could only hope to one day have what this family had. Until the unthinkable happened.

Late one fateful night, this seemingly perfect, happy family could hardly be recognized amidst the public exposure of “domestic violence,” the image of their perfection now shattered… but how? How could this have possibly happened to this family, of all families?

Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It does not discriminate. No demographic is immune.

Many assume that social status or other factors can insulate some from abuse. For example, what about the educated? They’re too intelligent to let abuse happen. What about the working professional? Certainly they’re smart and capable enough to leave, right? What about the wealthy who have resources and means to leave an abusive partner? Surely THEY would leave. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Our perfect family shows us it simply is not so.

Most assumptions about domestic violence include images of physical abuse, with black eyes peering through lenses of dark sunglasses and a cracked swollen lip, amidst other visible injuries. Yet some of the worst cases of domestic abuse do not involve physical injury. The words “violence” and “abuse” are, at best, misleading. Intimate partner violence involves numerous invisible forms of control and exploitation. When we hear about domestic abuse, how often do we consider emotional maltreatment and psychological torture? Financial control? Sexual assault? These types of abuse can be more damaging than physical harm, as shared by survivors who have courageously broken their silence.

It is also important to acknowledge how abusive relationships develop, and to understand they are rarely tense or controlling in the beginning. In fact, the opposite is often true. Take the example of our perfect family. From the beginning, their love story was like a fairy tale, where the couple felt “love at first sight,” and everyone expected them to “live happily ever after.” Where in this plot would anyone suspect abuse?

While abuse dynamics may look different for each couple, the abuse itself is not just a product of losing one’s temper. It is driven by underlying fear and insecurity generated by an insatiable desire for power and control. Jealousy and possessiveness take over what once looked like enchanting romance. Tension builds and a cycle of abuse gradually unfolds. The cycle then evolves into a reinforced pattern and the abuse inevitably escalates behind closed doors. This is when the mask develops and concealment begins.

Creating a mask of concealment is the process an abused person goes through to disguise their maltreatment at home and keep it hidden from friends, family, coworkers--even themselves. Concealment is often perceived as the safest response by many living in the throes of private violence. It allows them to diffuse tension and reduce risk of danger, keep the peace, and maintain appearances and reputations. But this so-called protective shield can actually become very dangerous, even lethal. Over time, the mask becomes so effective that there are no obvious clues about the terror being inflicted in private. This explains why so many cases of domestic violence happening to a "perfect family" escapes the attention of outside observers and loved ones.

Domestic violence is unsettling regardless of which household or community is affected, but it is especially mind-boggling when it is exposed within the most unsuspected families, in the safest of neighborhoods. Who would believe it? What would outsiders think of the victim if they readily admit they are experiencing abuse and yet remain in the relationship anyway? These are the thoughts and questions that haunt abuse survivors. (Not to People Like Us, by Susan Weitzman)

“I didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on in my house. They all thought I was living a Cinderella life, and they just wouldn’t believe it.”

“I didn’t know anyone that this happened to… it didn’t happen to women like me.”

“I told myself, ‘You made your bed and now you have to lie in it.’”

Traumatic bonding also plays a powerful role in concealing abuse. Humans are hard-wired for connection and belonging. The emotional attachments that develop in the early stages are, paradoxically, strengthened during the cycle of abuse, which is just one of the many reasons survivors conceal the harrowing truth -- even in the face of mistreatment, psychological torment, and risk of physical danger. Love is a very real part of the toxic attachment, which further strengthens through enduring the good and the bad together. There are also very meaningful attachments created within the relationship circle, including friends, neighbors, and family, which are additionally binding. The fear of losing those critical relationships reinforces the silence and concealment. Although damaging and dangerous, survivors hide the abuse to hold on to these meaningful connections that are a very significant part of their life, leaving them emotionally tethered to the abuser and to the hope for better days ahead.

The concealer gives great energy to maintaining appearances, while perfecting their concealment, but eventually clues surface and the cover weakens. Concealers may give insufficient explanations for broken personal effects, create questionable stories to explain suspicious injuries, or make excuses for the abuser’s seemingly uncharacteristic behavior when red flags begin to surface. After a while, exhaustion sets in and the subtle fluctuation in voice tone permeates the mask when attempting to reassure others that “everything is fine.”

We don’t see these subtle indicators because we are blinded by the nasty stigma society allows to hang over this issue, like a heavy rain cloud. What is it that drives the assumption that perfect families don’t have problems like abuse or domestic violence? Why are we quick to assume that appearances are the truth and perfection really exists? And why do these secrets feel so shameful?

The answer is a flawed consensus that family violence is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, involves only certain demographics, and is primarily perpetrated by people with anger management issues. The truth is, our society places high value on image and status which in order to maintain, requires keeping certain private matters behind closed doors. These stigmas and flawed assumptions are dangerous, leaving families at greater risk, where the lines of abuse become incredibly blurry. Sadly, the more on-display the family is, the deeper this secret lies buried under a guise of strength.

So how do we, as bystanders, see what needs to be seen, and not the diversions that block a clear view? Those on the outside can all help break down barriers of fear and shame by eliminating that “perfect family” image, challenging the flawed consensus, and accepting the truth that no one is immune. We can all learn how to detect warning signs, if we listen without being distracted by the external illusion. We can also help break the silence by starting the conversation for those who remain silent.

“For many survivors who remained in silence for many years… it was the piercing of the veil of silence that finally set them free.” (Not to People Like Us, by Susan Weitzman)

If we learn how to detect concealment, fewer will remain hidden. Let us all become part of this solution. Ask. Voice concern. Listen and validate. Offer support. With an open mind we become approachable, and the silence and isolation that shield domestic violence will undoubtedly begin to crack. Your courage to speak up could be life-saving, and at the very least will send the message that abuse is never okay.

Remember to be patient when offering support. Honor the right for others to be self-determining. Provide resources if a survivor you know is ready to break their silence.

If you need support, have questions about domestic abuse, or want information on how to help a friend you suspect is in need, please call DOVE’s 24-hour Helpline (435) 628-0458 or cruise around our website for more information.

Additional resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233;
LoveIsRespect.org; or TheHotline.org.

The clown that never leaves

17 April 2017 Published in DOVE Center Blog

Sexual assault is a raw and brutal crime to survive. There are physical, emotional, psychological and financial effects that can last a lifetime. And even though survivors work hard to heal from the very real after-effects of an assault or rape, the reality of such trauma comes flooding back without warning and can trigger unwanted anxiety, self-doubt, sadness and anger.

The month of April is dedicated to sexual assault awareness. In an effort to honor those who have endured and survived sexual assault, we want to share this powerful poem. While personal to the author, it represents the experience of many survivors. We understand it may activate strong feelings that are not easy to feel or process, so please take care in reading it. We want all survivors of sexual and domestic violence to know you are not alone. We believe you. And if you need to talk, we are here.

I didn't see it coming

17 March 2017 Published in DOVE Center Blog

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, often developing gradually and worsening over time. The abuse isn't always physical, either. It can be psychological, emotional, and even digital. Domestic violence can take many forms, which is why it's hard to see it coming. 

Love is respect: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

13 February 2017 Published in DOVE Center Blog

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, an event that draws attention to the prevalence of teen dating abuse and the importance of healthy relationships. Being aware of the signs of abuse and learning about safe and respectful dating habits can help teens build positive relationships during a crucial time of life.

The stark reality is that teen dating violence is all too common. One in three teens experiences dating abuse, which is one too many. That translates to 1.5 million high school students reporting some kind of physical abuse from a dating partner every year. As teens are just beginning to form ideas about dating through the relationships they form in high school, it’s more important than ever to teach them about healthy habits early.

Speaking up for change: Desirae and Deondra Brown

17 January 2017 Published in DOVE Center Blog

It’s not easy to speak up about child sex abuse.

In fact, finding the courage to come forward can take years, or possibly decades. And even then, feelings of shame, fear, anger and isolation often resurface for survivors of abuse. Speaking up requires returning to a dark place, which is why reporting it to authorities can be so difficult.

Child sexual abuse knows no social or economic boundaries, and it is most often perpetrated by someone the child knows. Abusers can be manipulative, convincing their victims to stay quiet, or that the abuse is normal. They might isolate their victims and make them feel alone.

But the reality is, victims of child sex abuse are not alone. Every eight minutes a child is sexually assaulted in the United States. And for some, decades may pass before they are able to find the strength to speak out about the abuse.

For Desirae and Deondra Brown, it took years to come forward. Critically acclaimed pianists and members of the famed quintet The 5 Browns, they attended The Juilliard School in New York, toured extensively around the globe, and made numerous television appearances. However, for many years, they didn’t know that each other had been abused by their father — Desirae and Deondra each thought she was alone.

Happy Holidays from DOVE

15 December 2016 Published in DOVE Center Blog

‘Tis the season of twinkle lights, gift giving and caroling, and we’ve been getting into the holiday spirit here at DOVE Center. Over the past year we have been so very grateful for the incredible support of the southern Utah community. Together we have made safety and hope possible for survivors of trauma and abuse.

From all of us at DOVE, we wish you and yours a magical season filled with joy and glad tidings.

 

Dove can help

14 November 2016 Published in DOVE Center Blog

Have you seen the numbers? Even just here in the state of Utah, the statistics of reported sexual assault and domestic violence are staggering, and they don’t discriminate. But there is hope. If you are experiencing abuse, you are not alone. DOVE can help.

Call us at 435-628-0458

What is financial abuse?

21 October 2016 Published in DOVE Center Blog

Financial abuse is something that is rarely talked about but incredibly common. This insidious form of abuse involves exercising control over the finances of another person. Often, those who suffer from financial abuse rarely speak out, since they might feel ashamed or trapped by their lack of control over, or access to, financial resources.

This type of abuse is also the number one reason why domestic violence victims stay in an abusive relationship, or return to one after having left. Financial abuse can take many forms, but here are a few examples of how abusers exert financial control: