abuse childhood


6:00:00 AMGrace Davies

What in the world could be as popular as the Super Bowl? 

Well, maybe the commercials. We’ve all enjoyed watching those inventive and entertaining advertisements. Some of them, though, have a more serious tone. 

This year the Super bowl featured an advertisement about domestic violence and sexual assault:

This ad was presented by NO MORE, a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault. The ad has a simple message: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

Domestic violence and sexual assault are serious and insidious evils. This is a heavy topic. And although sensitive topics must be treated respectfully, that doesn’t mean we can keep silent about them. On the contrary: all evils must be combated by being brought out into the daylight. 

This is especially true of domestic violence and sexual assault; both are commonly hidden and very decidedly not talked about. But as NO MORE’s website says: 

“If we talk about these issues the silence and shame can end for good.”
The first thing I want to communicate here is that silence doesn’t fix anything. Wherever there is abuse happening, that abuse needs to be exposed, in a safe way, to the appropriate authorities. Silence and hiddenness only allow the evil to continue. Furthermore, hiding past abuse prevents healing and holds us back from living fully and freely in the future. Freedom comes in breaking out of that silence. 

NO MORE has a wealth of resources and information on their webiste, including a page for those who need immediate help go here.

In this post, I would like to address three problems that can keep us bound in our silence and isolation: shame, fear, and resignation.

Shame is stifling. 

Shame keeps us silent because we are afraid to let anyone know what’s really going on (or what really happened in the past). We are afraid to let them see. This is based on the lie that we are alone - that we would be judged by all of the “normal” people out there and they wouldn’t understand.

That is a blatant lie. We are not alone. NO MORE’s website provides the following statistics:

  • “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes.
  • 1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
  • 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape.
  •  1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual victimization in their lives.
  •  1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.

These are not numbers. 

They’re our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, co-workers, neighbors and friends.”

No, we are not alone. So it’s time to start talking to each other. By finally using our voices to speak up, we can break the social stigma and normalize the conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault.

Another aspect of shame is denial. 

Not only are we afraid to let other people see what’s really going on - ultimately, we are afraid to let ourselves see. Denial is a powerful force; our unconscious mind uses it to protect us from evils too painful to acknowledge. But in the long run, it doesn’t protect us. It keeps us in that place.

Don’t be afraid to be honest. Honesty has never killed something good - but it always saves us from evil.

Let’s talk about fear. 

Fear is paralyzing. When none of our options look good, fear keeps us from doing anything at all. I’ve been there. It takes courage to break out of that paralysis. But again, we are not alone! All we have to do is reach out. Ask for help. Tell someone what’s going on. Or finally be honest about what happened in the past, and bring that hurt into the healing light.

The flip side of this coin is listening. “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.” It is crucial that we be attentive to the people in our life, since they may be unable to say very much. And if we are made aware of an instance of abuse, we must not allow ourselves to be frozen by fear. We must speak up to protect the safety of that person, and alert the appropriate authorities when necessary. The worst thing we can do at that moment is turn a blind eye.

For a German philosopher aware of the emerging evil of Nazism in 1933, Germany was a threatening place to be. Almost no one had the courage to speak out against it, due to the stifling atmosphere of fear. But Dietrich von Hildebrand was not afraid:

“[...] as a Catholic and as a Catholic philosopher I could not in good conscience witness all these horrors and remain silent.” (1)

Lastly I’d like to speak about resignation. Resignation is numbing. 

For the vast majority of Germans, the Nazi government seemed a force too large to combat. Hildebrand earnestly warned his dear friends (who were living in Germany) to be vigilant - never to unconsciously accept the evil around them. He writes:

“It is unbelievable how vulnerable our human nature is to falling into illusions and to growing numb in our indignation over injustice we come to accept.” (2)

If we don’t speak out and choose to leave an abusive situation, then the resignation sets in. We implicitly accept that this is just the way things are. We may even come to believe that we deserve it.

Another lie.

No one deserves abuse. 

Abuse is a violation of our dignity. Those who perpetrate abuse cannot be trusted with our hearts. We deserve someone better than the irreverent man whom Hildebrand describes in the following passage:

“The irreverent and impertinent man is the man incapable of any abandonment or subordination of self. He is either the slave of his pride, of that cramping egoism which makes him a prisoner of himself and blind to values [...] Or he is a slave of concupiscence, one for whom everything in the world becomes only an occasion to serve his lust.” (3)

Not everyone in the world is like this. There are many who are trustworthy. Gentle. Reverent. But in order to find something better, we have to let go of the abusive situation. We have to act. It’s up to us to use our free will, and do what’s necessary to keep ourselves safe. We have the power to do that. We shouldn’t let fear hold us back, or the despair which tells us we won’t find anything better. That’s also a lie. Listen to Hildebrand’s description of the reverent man:

“The man possessing reverence approaches the world in a completely different way. He is free from this egospasm, from pride and concupiscence. He does not fill the world with his own ego, but leaves to being the space which it needs in order to unfold itself.” (4)

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, as a matter of fact, we deserve no less. It’s not just a sentimental phrase - I am utterly in earnest when I say that we deserve to be cherished. In our human dignity, we are precious. And we deserve to be truly loved. Believe me, this love is out there. This reverence is out there. And it is better than any abuse we may be ashamed of, or afraid to leave, or numbly resigned into accepting:

“Reverence for the beloved one is also an essential element of every love. To give attention to the specific meaning and value of his individuality, to display consideration toward him, instead of forcing our wishes on him, is part of reverence.” (5)


(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler, 57. 
(2) Hildebrand, My Battle, 168. 
(3) Hildebrand, Fundamental Moral Principles, 6.
(4) Hildebrand, Principles, 9.  
(5) Hildebrand, Principles, 13. 

Image 7


Grace Davies 

Reality fascinates me. To me, everything real is precious and worth finding out about. That's why I am a student of the phenomenological philosophy to which Hildebrand contributed. Hildebrand practiced what he preached when he said: "Confronted with being, the reverent man remains silent in order to give it an opportunity to speak."(The Art of Living) I hope to achieve Hildebrand's depth of integrity, both as a philosopher and as a person.

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