As I write this, the ongoing drama of Crazy English founder Li Yang’s divorce from Kim Lee continues to reverberate in a remarkable public discussion of domestic violence and whether and how it’s tied to culture.
People’s Daily reports that 35% of Chinese families have experienced domestic violence, which is comparable with other societies worldwide.
But even more prevalent than physical abuse is emotional abuse. And emotional abuse is an issue that’s even more hidden.
Emotional abuse is also abuse
We can’t examine something we can’t define, and often the hardest part of confronting abuse is knowing when it’s happening. That’s why I appreciate that the New York Times bestselling author and psychologist Terrence Real in his book The New Rules of Marriage offers a definition of abuse:
- Yelling and screaming
- Name-calling: Any sentence that begins with “You are a …”
- Shaming or humiliating: Communicating that someone is a bad or worthless person. Ridiculing someone, mocking, being sarcastic, humoring or being patronizing.
- Telling another adult what she should do, or how she should think or feel.
- Making promises and breaking them
- Lying or manipulating: Deliberately falsifying information or dishonestly changing your behavior in an attempt to control your partner, for example: “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine out here in the rain. You go have a good time.”
As Dr. Real explains, having a list of abusive behaviors is useful, because if a particular behavior does not appear on the list, it isn’t abusive. Both men and women can be abusers, so beware abuse in all your relationships.
When abuse is ignored, our children – and their children – will suffer
What makes abuse so confusing is that most abusers are not like the evil bad guys that we see in the movies. Abusers are human too, which means that at times, they show kindness and generosity. Usually they don’t even know they’re being abusive. In their minds, they’re the victims, misunderstood and under attack, and their abusive behavior is only a response to a provocation. Many abusers lack the basic emotional skills necessary to be competent adults with functional relationships.
But just because abusers don’t recognize their abusive behavior does not make their abusive behavior any less dangerous to those who try to love them. When we ignore or cover up abuse, it doesn’t go away. It escalates. And when children are present, abuse has cascading effects on future generations, since children who grow up witnessing abuse become perpetrators and victims of abuse as adults.
Let’s stop the legacy of abuse right now
There is absolutely no reason that abuse should be a part of your life. There are plenty of good men and women in this world who do not perpetrate or condone abuse. Do not date or marry someone who abuses you. If you are married to someone who abuses you, seek help right away for yourself and your family. You can and must demand that your family be healthy.
And because we choose not to live in a society governed by abuse, let’s not tolerate abuse when it’s directed at our sisters, brothers, friends or colleagues. For us all to say no to abuse would be for us to step out of women’s traditionally passive role and stop the legacy of abuse in Chinese society.
Because we’re making culture now, too. And the culture we create will be based on dignity and mutual respect. If together we link arms to say no to abuse, then in a generation’s time, no one will be able to say that abuse is a normal part of Chinese culture anymore.