(content warning: spanking, physical violence, blood)

Which word? Violence or abuse is semantics, a distinction without a difference.  Which word to use is not the most important consideration.  If you have lived with No Contact Physical Violence/Abuse, what is most important is that you identify how you were affected by this and get help to heal the bruises to your psyche.

When There are No Bruises on the Outside

When there are no bruises on the outside; how do we identify Abuse?  How do we identify when insults become Emotional Abuse or when arguments become Domestic Violence; when there are no bruises on the outside?  

Can physical violence be physical abuse, if no one is hit?

Inanimate objects can be broken, smashed, punched, burned, or thrown, even thrown in the direction of someone, yet the victims are not hit and have no bruises.  Is this physical abuse?

When my father was physically violent, he was in a rage; yelling and insulting someone or everyone.  I felt scared, fearful, vulnerable, powerless, threatened, angry, blamed, embarrassed, humiliated, overwhelmed, repulsed, hopeless, terrified,  and there are more.  Running away from him was not an option.  Arguing or fighting back was quite dangerous.  The safest thing to do was stand there as a neutral observer, showing none of my own emotions, yet responding to him in a way that was agreeing and hopefully would appease him. 

There are stories of broken dishes, a broken kitchen table, holes punched in walls, burned clothing, a stabbed water bed, and a permanent dent in a wooden door from a flying 1970s heavy, cut glass ashtray.  An example from my family strongly paints a picture of what no contact physical abuse can look like.  

Broken Glass and Bloody Walls

I was 18 and had recently moved out of my father’s home, where I had lived with my father and step-mother, 2 younger step-brothers, and my younger half-sister.  My father was gone Sunday night through Friday night as an over-the-road truck driver.  My step-mother asked for his permission (because his permission was required) to repaint and wallpaper the kitchen and dining room, during the week, while he was gone.  Permission was granted.

She completed the redecorating and bought two new pictures for the walls at the local Ben Franklin Five & Dime store.  Dad got home the next weekend and was angry because he had not approved buying new pictures for the walls.  

That Saturday night, he and my stepmother went out.  He got drunk.  Once home, while verbally fighting he smashed his fist and forearm into the glass of one of the new pictures.  Then he walked around and threw blood from his bleeding hand and forearm onto the newly painted and wallpapered walls.  

A classmate of mine was babysitting the younger kids at our house.  During the fight, she grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen, took the kids upstairs, and hid in a closet.

I stopped by that Sunday morning and saw my father sitting at the dining room table with his hand and arm in a bloody towel, with ice on his wounds.  The table was littered with empty beer cans.  He was trying to decide if he should go get stitches.  Actually, he was probably waiting to sober up before going to the doctor.

My father hid his drinking and violent behavior from his parents, sister, and aunt.  Unannounced, they all stopped by; and walked into the same scene I walked into.  My father told them that he slipped and fell.  They asked no questions and the visit proceeded like all was fine.  They are sitting in a room with blood spray on the walls, beer cans on the dining room table, and my father with his hand in a bloody towel with ice.  

The Unspoken Threat

I remember three spankings from my father before I was eight.  One was over a living room chair.  One was with a vehicle engine belt.  One was with a machete, while I was running.  (Thankfully, I was not cut.)  I don’t remember much actual hitting of people.

Yet, when an event like the broken pictures was happening, I always knew the physical violence could be turned on me at any time.  “You could be next” is the unspoken threat.  

Physical harm would happen to me, if I spoke up and crossed a certain unspoken, yet clearly understood line.  Running would have been seen as disrespectful and unacceptable.  Showing fear or crying was unacceptable.  Every victim needed to NOT show their emotions.  I learned to emotionally dissociate, to shut off feeling my emotions.  In my late 40’s, I finally identified this series of behaviors in myself and started to call it “Submit and Appease.”

Normalized Violence.  Abuse?  Symptoms? 

The abuse was happening in my home before I was born.  I didn’t know most of my symptoms were mental illness symptoms; they were just how I lived.  After seven years of continual therapy, I am still identifying more symptoms and triggers. 

Angrophobia, yes, ANGRO, not agoraphobia, is the fear of anger.  I have an intense fear of people who are angry or who I have seen get angry and honestly, even someone a bit irritated triggers me to high alert.  The sooner I could identify a parent being irritated, the sooner I could emotionally dissociate, appearing neutral, and try to appease them.  I was always hoping for less outrage.  In me, this all happens subconsciously; this is an early childhood learned response.  

My “submit and appease” routine is an automated immediate response.  I can appear emotionally neutral in less than a second.  People don’t even know I am scared of them or why I drift away from them.  

In the broken glass scene, when my relatives acted like nothing was off or wrong, their actions gave the message that this was normal and acceptable.  In my fifties, I realized they must have seen scenes like this before or they would not have been able to disconnect from their emotions and just have a “normal” visit in that setting.  

It was harder for therapists and for me to identify the abuse because no one was hit and there were no bruises on the outside.

The many effects, including angrophobia, have cost me friends, relationships, and stable employment for many years.  

“No Contact Physical Violence” or “No Contact Physical Abuse”? 

Breaking, punching, and throwing objects is certainly physical violence.  I debate whether to call this physical abuse.  There is danger.  There is fear.  There is a threat.  Yet, there are no bruises on the outside.

I would be no less scared, had I been hit.  And, had I been hit, I would have been less confused about if this was abuse and I would have been accurately diagnosed sooner. I was severely affected by this no-contact physical violence.  

Which word? Violence or abuse is semantics, a distinction without a difference.  Which word to use is not the most important consideration.  I lived through No Contact Physical Violence/Abuse.  What is most important is that I’m identifying how I was affected by this and getting help to heal the bruises on my psyche. 

I still struggle with the memories, triggers, and neuropathways that were established during events of no-contact physical violence/abuse?  These are bruises to my mind.  Therapy and self-help work is helping me to decrease my struggles and increase my comfort in life.  

Which word? Violence or abuse is semantics, a distinction without a difference.  Which word to use is not the most important consideration.  If you have lived with No Contact Physical Violence/Abuse, what is most important is that you identify how you were affected by this and get help to heal the bruises to your psyche.

This scratched picture, with missing glass, is now a family heirloom, to remind us of what we survived.  Now that we are adults and realize we lived in constant fear, in an abusive household, even though we had “No Bruises on the Outside.”

 

 

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