I come from a loud Italian-Irish-German family. My parents fought — often.
Sometimes it would be a “civilized” and mostly verbal, with the occasional tossing of a frying pan or breaking of a glass. Other times it was really ugly with knives pulled and bones broken.
Usually there was alcohol involved in some way. But there didn’t have to be. My parents were experts at digging each other and finding that weak spot and drilling it.
So to say that I grew up in a home full of domestic violence is no lie. From the merely uncomfortable moments that always happen when two or more live in the same household, to the titanic battles that erupted, there was always lots of anxiety for me to breathe in and try to cope with as a kid.
This was 40 years ago, and the concept of domestic violence wasn’t fully formed. Women were still heavily prejudiced in the courts, society as a whole didn’t know how to handle it when spouses fought. The long-term effect of domestic violence on the children was not considered, because they weren’t hurt — or so it was thought.
Most of the time, unless actual physical harm was done, it wasn’t considered a crime. An actual battery, a physical touching, had to occur in order for the police to take notice, and even then, it was mainly ignored.
Times change. Farrah Fawcett makes a movie, “The Burning Bed,” awareness grows, support networks develop, and shelters are built to protect the victims from their aggressors.
Domestic violence has been expanded as a concept, which is why I’ve written a book, “A Man’s Guide To Domestic Violence.” Society and the courts have expanded what we consider violent, and abusive. It no longer requires physical hurts. Emotional abuse is not tolerated.
We recognize that an environment that is psychologically tormenting is not healthy, and therefore not acceptable. With this new expanded definition, more people than ever fit the profile of an abuser.
The traditional view of a man in a tank top (the shirt commonly called “a wife beater”) is no longer the standard. Anyone can be an abuser, and it doesn’t take much. A smart mouth, and some emotional hurts, and an abusive household is made.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s a difficult topic to discuss because no one wants to believe they are a victim. Men in particular have a hard time acknowledging when they are being abused.
Even men that can acknowledge that they are being abused have a very difficult time taking action to stop it, which may be one reason why it escalates. If more men acknowledged sooner that they are in an abusive relationship, when it is at a verbal abuse stage, perhaps the situation wouldn’t escalate to physical abuse.
So how do you know if you’re in an abusive situation? The following comes from the Domestic Awareness Hotline for Men and Women, (www.DVAHMW.org) which is run by my friend Jan Brown. She was the first woman to start a shelter that accepted both male and female victims of abuse.
Are you being abused?
• Does your significant other threaten that if you leave you will never see the children again, or do they destroy or threaten to destroy your property?
• Have you been shoved, slapped, punched, bitten or kicked? Even once?
• Does your partner block an exit to keep you from leaving during an argument, keep you from seeing friends or family, or use name-calling?
• Does your partner denigrate you in the presence of others? Do they say no one else would want you? Do they threaten suicide if you were to leave?
• Do you feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” around your partner? Does she act like two different people? (e.g. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde)
• Does your partner anger easily, especially when drinking or on drugs?
If any number of these factors are true in your relationship, there is a problem. Victims of intimate partner violence come from all walks of life, all cultures, incomes, professions, ages and religions. Intimate partner abuse is not always defined by who is the stronger and/or bigger person in the relationship. It is about one person having and maintaining power and control over another person through physical, psychological, and/or verbally abusive means.
In my book, “A Man’s Guide To Domestic Violence,” I address the issue from a man’s perspective of what is abuse today, how to peacefully combat it, and how to handle false allegations of domestic abuse. The book is available by e-mailing me at email@example.com or through the website, www.amansguidetodomesticviolence.com.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.