“At least you weren’t beaten up!”

Untold numbers of abuse survivors probably hear this sentence, and I have been told this multiple times myself by multiple people. For example, in the aftermath of an abusive relationship with someone who was emotionally and sexually abusive but never hit me (probably because he knew hitting me would make him look bad), I was told by multiple people that it wasn’t that bad and I needed to be grateful and think of the women who were being beaten up because they were the ones who actually had it bad. Being told those things cut me really, really deep and made me feel like I did not matter. Because I was not the victim of savage beatings, my pain was invisible to the people around me and not taken seriously; and actually made the pain more difficult to recover from. By its very nature, this sort of talk is deeply invalidating and undermines the person on the receiving end. The message behind it is: because you did not experience the only kind of abuse that many think counts as “real” abuse, your pain doesn’t matter.

This is in no way an attempt to belittle the experiences of people who were beaten by their abusers. What they went through is terrible, there’s no denying that, and it absolutely needs to be taken seriously. No one should have to be beaten and fear for their lives, and there are many people who live with PTSD as a result of physical abuse or have been killed as a result of it. Physical abuse needs to be stopped and the pain that these people have experienced should not be dismissed.

However, unfortunately, many people believe that physical pain is the only kind of pain that is “real” or that matters, and that the other forms of abuse “don’t count” because they don’t leave visible bruises or scars, or aren’t as violent. When people think of abuse, they think of beatings. Emotional and verbal abuse are probably the most misunderstood kinds out there. Even the phrase “emotional abuse” can sound rather ridiculous and like no big deal, and few people seem to understand the deep, long-lasting psychological scarring that emotional abuse can leave a person with even when it looks subtle to people outside of the situation (and indeed, it can be a contributing factor to depression and suicide). It is time to stop dismissing each other’s pain and calling it not real. Abuse is abuse.