“You are as useless as your mother,” whispered Priscilla, through halting sobs, as she recounted the conversation she had with her father just minutes before. We were camped out at her void deck after I received a call from her that night. Her father flew into a rage, cursing and swearing, breaking the living room television in the process.
She was visibly shaken - her eyes darting around furiously on a look-out for her father, her lips were pale and ice-cold, and her hands were kept crossed - close to her body.
Priscilla’s family had been going through a tough time.
Her father was retrenched from his office job and the bills were piling up. To cope with the crushing pressures, he resorted to alcohol. Her mother, a housewife, was sick and tired of the mental torture of her husband’s drunken and belligerent bouts of wrath that she almost jumped from the balcony of their 4-room HDB flat.
“I can’t live there anymore,” said Priscilla. “My mother and I are so afraid of my dad when he starts to drink. I don’t even know who he is these days. When he has these episodes, he ends up breaking everything in the house.”
“I guess I should at least be happy that he hasn’t laid a finger on us right? He only shouts at us and breaks things around the house. Other people have it worst don’t they? Am I being too dramatic? Maybe it really is my fault… Maybe I deserve it.”
I stared at her in disbelief, I could barely lift my jaw off the ground. “No, it isn’t your fault that this is happening, Pris,” I convinced her. “No one deserves such abuse - especially from the people closest to them.”
“Emotional abuse is still abuse, Pris.”
She shrugged her shoulders and sighed before asking me “What should I do? I know my dad is a good man and he is just stressed out because of everything that has been going on. Me and my mum rely on him for money. We can’t just leave.”
I offered to accompany her to the police station if she wanted to make a report, and passed her a number to call - a domestic abuse hotline. She refused to lodge a report, and I respected her decision. Thankfully, she decided to seek counselling.
The last I heard, she managed to convince her parents to undergo marriage counselling and the situation in Priscilla’s household has de-escalated tremendously. Priscilla’s dad has since found a new job and is part of an Alcoholics Anonymous support group that he attends monthly.
Emotional abuse is still abuse. Though it may not be physical, emotional abuse chips away at the mind of a victim and can result in severe mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, due to the constant fear and worry they are subjected by their abusers to live in. They may even start to believe that they deserve it.
There is an age-old saying we all grow up hearing: ““Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It is complete and utter nonsense. Words cut deeper than blades or razors, invade and camp in the deepest recesses of our minds, and frame our very realities.
We need to start realising the power that is in our words. We can build up and edify, or we can curse and tear down the people around us.
If you suspect or witness abuse, do not be afraid to lend a helping hand by being a listening ear, or calling the police or other agencies that may be able to intervene appropriately. You are choosing to do the right thing by voicing out your concern and feeling a sense of responsibility for saving someone from potential abuse.
According to AWARE, here are some great ways to lend a helping hand
1. Listen to their problems and do not be judgemental. Regardless of their circumstance, they do not deserve to be abused.
2. Respect their decision. Often the family members facing violence are economically dependent on the offender and it is not easy for them to leave their homes. On the other hand, do not stop them from leaving home if they have decided to do so.
3. If they are depressed or confused, suggest that they seek professional help from a counsellor.
4. Offer information on available resources – counselling services, hotline numbers, numbers of nearest hospital and neighborhood police post, crisis shelter homes and procedure for getting a PPO.
5. Work together to develop a safety plan.
6. Accompany them to the police post, hospital, counselling centers or help them get into a crisis shelter home if they wish to do so.
7. If you suspect domestic violence in the homes of your neighbours, relatives or friends, call the police or other agencies that may be able to help. Do not hesitate because you think you might be interfering in someone’s personal matter. You are doing the right thing by speaking out and feeling responsible for saving someone from violence.
I hope that we start to do our part in keeping our friends and family safe.