By Dywane D. Birch
Author of Silent Cry
Ahhh, young love—unfaltering, unadulterated bliss. That breath-taking, knee-buckling, I-can’t-wait-to-get-home-and-talk-to-you-all-night-because-you-are-my-everything kind of feeling you get every time that special someone comes to mind. From the never-ending butterflies you get every time you’re together to the text messages and tweets and smiley faces and LOLs; from those I-want-to-tattoo-your-name-across-my-heart-because-you-are-the-only-one-for-me moments to the late night into the wee hours of the morning phone calls, whispering—and most times breathing—sweet nothings into each other’s ear. The promises made to always be true to each other, the special pact made to never, ever, let anyone (or anything) ever come between you.
What happens when love turns on you? When it bites you and spits on you and punches you and blackens your eyes? What happens when you find yourself lying to everyone—including yourself, about what it (love) has done to you? When you start to blame yourself and make excuses for its abuse? What happens when, bit-by-bit, you start to lose pieces of who you are, and no longer recognize who you’ve become? What happens when love suffocates you with its jealousy and its controlling, possessive ways? When love has taken your heart and disrespects you, belittles you, and keeps you doubting yourself? What happens when love threatens to break up with you when you don’t do what it wants or says? What happens when you become a statistic?
Love holds you hostage. It keeps you afraid to tell anyone what is happening to you. It keeps you believing in its lies and broken promises, keeps you trapped in a vicious cycle. The silence, the loss of your voice, becomes your love’s best friend. Its image is everything. To be looked upon as anything other than the cool, well-liked, nice guy who everyone thinks is the greatest thing that has ever happened to you is not what your love wants to see happen. So it manipulates you—with tears, apologies, promises, and special trinkets. It tells you how much you mean to it, how much it needs you. It makes you believe you are the cause of its abuse. And then, just like that, it plants the seeds of self-doubt and guilt. And before long you are right back under its spell, frantically wanting to believe in the illusion. That its love for you has somehow gotten better, stronger. That love will never hurt you again. And, for a while, maybe it does get better. Maybe it (love) never slaps you, or punches you, or threatens you, again. Maybe.
Chris Brown and Rihanna: Unapologetic and Raising Eyebrows
And as many point fingers, waiting with baited breath, the spotlight is on our most public example of this vicious cycle: Chris Brown and Rihanna. The world is watching. And the irony of it all is that it heated up during October, which was Domestic Violence Month. Chris Brown and Rihanna (their relationship and their choices) are once again under the microscope; every move they make is being dissected. Every word spoken is pulled apart. And we, once again, are confronted with the ugly past, the horrible truth, that he beat her. And, whether we want to be or not, we are haunted by the images of what his fists did to her face.
Consequently, amid rumors and speculation that are spreading like a slow-burning fire, there are questions, doubts, and fears that are swirling through the minds of millions watching the public spectacle between the couple unfold. Are they rekindling a “love affair” that turned ugly and violent in 2009? Was it (the assault) an isolated incident or a pattern of behavior? What will be different between the two of them this time around? Will it only be a matter of time before he beats her again? Is she stupid/crazy for allowing him back in her life? What message(s) is she giving to young impressionable girls who look up to her? And, of course, there is the million-dollar question everyone wants to know: Has Chris Brown really changed?
Belief systems about relationships and love can change. They are both older—he is 23 and she is 24. Hopefully, they are now much wiser than they were three and a half years ago. Still, nothing changes if nothing changes. And, no matter how much he professes to still care about Rihanna—regardless of how apologetic he might be for what he’d done—only time will tell as to whether or not he has truly changed. At 19, he seemed to, for the most part, blame his behavior on his youth, stating that they were young and that no one had taught either of them how to love one another or how to control their emotions or anger. That may be his truth. And it might even be hers.
The hope is that whatever tools Chris Brown might have learned while he engaged in the domestic violence counseling that was part of his sentencing he’s internalized. And that he’s able to manage his emotions and his behaviors in a way that is not destructive to himself or dangerous to Rihanna or any other young woman.
However, anyone can stop behaviors, but that doesn’t mean they’ve actually internalized change. So, in the meantime, many of us will wait—with side-eyed glares, while shaking our heads, hoping that there is no next time. That Chris Brown is genuinely remorseful for what he did and has seen the error of his ways. That he will never, ever, lay a hand on another woman. Hopefully, for her sake, and his, he has truly changed.
Still, in a climate where silence is an abuser’s best friend and domestic violence continues to climb to epidemic proportions, there are a countless number of women who have lost their voices—and their lives—to love; women from all walks of life, who aren’t—nor will they ever be—under a spotlight like Rihanna, with blackened eyes, swollen faces, and broken spirits who live in fear, walking on eggshells, desperately wanting to believe that love is what love does. That love will always love them back; even when it (love) beats them and stalks them and, in most tragic instances, kills them—and leaves their children motherless. And, despite this knowing, many more will still hold on. They will forgive their abusers over and over and take him back. They will gamble with their hearts, clinging onto toxic relationships, and risk losing their dignity, their spirits, many times their children, and their lives—all in the name of love.
Then what? Whatever becomes of their children, the ones who suffer in silence? The ones who witness the abuse first-and-secondhand? Do their precious little daughters eventually become women who accept abuse as a part of relationships and love? Do their sons evolve into men who become abusers themselves? Does he become another Chris Brown? Does she become another Rihanna?
Patterns of Abuse: From Parent to Child to Parent
Brown himself knows all too well the effects of living in a home where domestic violence exists. In 2007, he shared in an interview what his experience was like growing up in a violent home with an abusive stepfather. How he was terrified. How he hated him. How he didn’t want to put a woman through the same thing his stepfather put his mother through. Yet, whether it was an isolated incident or not—despite whatever tears he shed as a child, despite whatever painful memories he has of his mother’s abuse, he still beat Rihanna.
And the tragic reality is that statistics indicate boys who witness family violence are more likely to abuse their partners as adults. And girls who witness their mothers being abused have a higher rate of being abused themselves as adults. So who really benefits by staying in unhealthy, violent/abusive relationships? Surely not the children.
The fact is, children do not have to be abused themselves to be impacted by violence in the home. Such is the case in my new novel, Silent Cry. It’s the story of 14-year-old K’wan Taylor, who suffered through his father’s sporadic outbursts and berating tirades against his mother. Feeling helpless and hopeless, K’wan spent most of his young life burdened with the pressure of believing he had to protect his mother from his father’s abuse, but not knowing how. It is in his silence that he shares insights and relives painful memories of growing up in a home of violence, revealing his anger toward his father that spiraled into a deep hatred that consumed most of his thoughts, and eventually turned tragic.
Although a fictional account of the devastating effects of secondhand abuse, Silent Cry explores how children, particularly boys, are shaped by domestic violence. How it affects their belief systems about women and relationships. How the fear of becoming an abuser themselves is real. Sadly, many—if they do not receive the proper counseling and intervention with trained professionals who understand the dynamics of domestic violence—probably will. And, someone, somewhere, will be beaten about the face and body. Someone’s screams will go unheard. Someone’s tears will fall unchecked. Their bruises will go unnoticed. Their home will become a battlefield. And without remorse, without regard—another life will be taken.
And no matter how many times we try to forget it exists, or make excuses for it, or try to justify it, the painful reality is, there are many K’wans and Chris Browns in the world who have been shaped and molded by violence, who have lived in fear—witnessing men abuse their mothers, who will become men themselves. And the daunting question will always be: Will they, too, become abusers?
With all that is in me, I hope and pray not. Because, fact of the matter is, they do not ever have to be. There is no reason for disrespect. Violence is a choice. It does not happen by chance. It is learned behavior that can be unlearned. It begins with a thought. It is reinforced by a belief. And it continues as a cycle. And if we are to ever stop this destructive, never-ending spin, we must confront belief systems that support male dominance as the norm in relationships with women. We must challenge behaviors that reinforce stereotypes that encourage boys/young men to act aggressively or to use violence as a way to solve problems. We must teach children at an early age non-violent ways in resolving conflicts.
There is no quick fix. Still, adults must learn to take responsibility for their choices in their relationships; to own their behaviors and seek the proper help in addressing unhealthy, destructive ways of being. And, in doing so—hopefully, the K’wans and Chris Browns of the world will know (and understand) that they are never, ever, responsible for what they’ve experienced as children, but they will always be responsible for what they say and do as adults.
Dywane D. Birch is the author of Silent Cry, Beneath the Bruises, From My Soul to Yours, and Shattered Souls. A certified forensic counselor, he works with male offenders of domestic violence. You can contact him via email or visit his website.
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