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.

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.’”

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.

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. 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. 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 happen to a "perfect family.”

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 or create questionable stories to explain suspicious injuries. 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.”  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.

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.

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; Utah Domestic Violence Coalition LINKline: 800-597-LINK (5465).
LoveIsRespect.org; or TheHotline.org.