No Bruises = No Abuse?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

One of the things that made our abusive family life so difficult to concretely validate was the lack of bruises.  It is possible my sons just don’t make bruises easily (I’m that way, so it is possible; I get bruises but they are rarely visible).  But for some reason, Gary always managed to hurt himself visibly, not the kids.  Prior to our first separation, he regularly ended up in an arm/wrist or leg/foot brace or spint because he’d torn ligaments or sprained something hitting or kicking one of the kids, or punching holes in the walls.  He always had excuses for everyone outside the family.  And I was afraid to tell the truth because I was afraid of DFCS.  I knew it would sound “worse than it was” since the kids weren’t “hurt” – but actually it would have sounded just like what it was.  At that point, I was still in serious denial.  I finally realized there was a name for what we were living with right before I left Gary the first time, at 10 years into our marriage.

After that first separation Gary got a good bit smarter.  He almost killed himself in one of his rages (the “last straw” event that precipitated our first separation) and after that he was a lot more selective about how he struck people, and he entirely quit punching holes in the walls so he wouldn’t hurt himself.  (That’s a story for another time, I think).  

But the fact that there were no bruises made our life that much harder for all of us.  When we did go to counselors, or in relating with the social worker, it was just my word against his.  You have to understand; I lived with this man and I still believed him even when I saw things happen with my own eyes.  Well, not entirely, but to a large degree.  He was so very, very, very good and utterly believable.  I doubted myself constantly.  He would tell me to my face I was lying about him punching holes in the walls, and he believed himself, when there were holes in the walls and his hand was torn up.  And I’d wonder if I could possibly be mistaken even though I had watched it happen – he was that believable.

But does the lack of visible bruises mean the abuse was any less real?  For a long time I thought it did.  I know for many years I thought it wasn’t that bad since other people have it so much worse.  Now, especially as I saw the way the whole package worked together – verbal abuse, anger, rage, violence, in one escalation/crisis/relief cycle package – I know this is not true.  I know there are people who say verbal abuse isn’t “as bad” as physical violence.  There are people who say verbal “abuse” isn’t abuse.  How little do they know. 

Abuse of any kind breaks its victims on the inside, regardless of whether there are visible bruises.  I think it can even be worse than physical abuse because visible bruises are clear-cut and undeniable (yes, I know the abuse is still denied, but it’s harder).  People will live a lifetime with verbal abuse and think it “doesn’t really matter” and “words can’t kill” when, in fact, words do hurt and they can, literally, kill.  I’ll talk about that more eventually as well.

Abuse is more about the attitude of the abuser than it is about the actions used to express that attitude.  A lack of visible bruises should never be used as an excuse to deny abuse.  We need to look deeper than physical bruises.

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