I once participated in a radio interview during which the presenter and I focused on the topic of emotional and psychological abuse by spouses.
While some attention has been given to physical violence and laws exist to protect victims, there is so much more to be done for emotional and psychological abuse, which are not defined as acts of Family Violence under the Women’s Charter. This means that the community is largely powerless to intervene if someone uses abusive or disrespectful language and behaviour on another family member.
Unlike physical violence that may leave visible scars, the impact of emotional and psychological abuse does not show up immediately and may go unnoticed. However, long-term abuse can lead to effects such as depression, mental breakdown and even suicide.
The day after the radio interview, I received an email from a lady seeking help for her sister. She wrote of how her sister was emotionally abused by her husband on a daily basis. He called “her crazy and threaten[ed] to send her to a mental institution”. Moreover, he controlled all the finances, leaving her little to even feed herself. The fact that he had a mistress might have been a factor in his ill-treatment.
In my course of work, I have often heard such accounts. What is less common is when abuse victims have someone caring enough and willing to go out of their way to help. I use “less common” because many of us are told to mind our own business and not poke our noses into others’ affairs. We may also fear causing more harm than good through our intervention. All these leave the hurting parties feeling alone or even guilty about burdening others with their problems.
The email reminded me that there is often someone out there who cares. There is someone who hears the neighbours’ nightly arguments. There is someone who notices the downcast looks and vacant expression on their colleague’s face. There is a teacher in school who observes the pupil withdrawing into themself.
Thank God for people out there who care. May they grow in number and in courage to speak up. May those who hurt also be aware of their presence and support. Perhaps then, and only then, can we have a more humane society in which abuse of all forms cease.
Will you be that someone to somebody?
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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