What We Work To Hide: Abuse In The Caribbean

For the past month, I’ve been in the United States and since coming here, I’ve spent my free time continuing my self-education about abuse of all forms including emotional and physical abuse.Before January/February of 2016, here are examples of some of the books I’ve read (including Amazon links)Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal RelationshipsHow to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get InvolvedWhy is he so mean to me?

Throughout all of these books, there are some pretty interesting conclusions to be drawn about abuse…What type of cultural environments make people prone to becoming abusers?How can you tell when abuse is happening (in your own life and in others)?Most people reading this will probably be in some form of denial about abuse as it plays out in their lives. Especially if they’re West Indian…But of course, abuse and denial are our drugs of choice (besides alcohol of course.)The realities of abuse in our society are often very difficult for me to narrow down. There are so many facets to abuse and all of these facets of abuse are woven through every aspect of our society to the point where nearly every social interaction is tainted by either the specter of abuse or abuse in the flesh…

Even the definition of abuse seems to vary from person to person. Among abusers especially, the definition seems to require only extreme behavior for it to “really count”. Something to think about….The biggest takeaway I’ve managed to gain from all of this reading is that emotional/physical abuse are such a part of Caribbean culture that healing will be a large task that will span across multiple generations. There's no band-aid. No quick fix. No viral video or cutesy slogan that will put an end to this.It will take work. Real hard work on the individual and community level.It’s difficult for me to take marches against abuse seriously in this case especially when imagining how many who march against abuse hit their children or verbally abuse them… Or use emotional manipulation to meet their own ends.

To me, it all feels overwhelming… From defining abuse to figuring out how and why it happens.A few things are clear though so I’ll try to tease them out and add a little bit of linear fashion to this circular blog post.1. Abuse affects every West Indian person every day of their lives whether they are victims or abusers2. Only you can decide how not to be an abuser but doing so will take a lot of unlearning — destroying old patterns of thinking and replacing them with new ones3. Eliminating abuse from your life might be impossible, but it’s worth a shot. The journey begins with yourself. (Corny, I know.)4. The way West Indian culture functions opens you up to abuse…Expanding on that point for the knee-jerk reactions:

The way you’re expected to hug family members even if you don’t want to… Even if they might be dangerous to you…The way you’re expected to do things to appease “what people will think” despite the potential damage it may cause…The way support for abusers is normalized in our culture when people blame women for not leaving their partners…The way women are blamed for men’s abusive/violent behavior when other women blame men’s behavior on the way women dress…(Now it’s time for you to add to the list on your own.)

This February, I knew I had to bite the bullet and write SOMETHING about abuse when I read the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for YourselfThis book opened my eyes to ALL the ways that codependency (for every abuser, there is a codependent) and by that count abuse has affected my own life. From my behaviors, to EVERY other person in my life. I knew I had to say something! It’s hard to distill all the great lessons from Melody Beattie’s book but let’s just say it was a game changer. There ARE ways that you can end the abuse in your life. There ARE ways you can exist in a world free from manipulation and abuse.

This is a touchy subject. The word abuse instantly turns people into shrinking violets. No one wants to admit that any one in their life has been abusive. (How would it LOOK to PEOPLE?! Gasp!) But it’s important to do so. It’s important to call a spade a spade or you will never have healing. If you keep calling your broken leg “a small injury” how will you ever get a doctor to set your damn bone so you can walk again?

I think that every West Indian (especially WI women) should take a look at this list of books. Pick up one or two. Split the cost with friends if you have to. If that’s not accessible, at least take the time to think long and hard about abuse and how it might be impacting your life. I’ll include a few links below that you will find very helpful — free resources that will at least get to some of the issues you may be facing.This is just a brief post to start off what will surely be a long list of posts about abuse in Caribbean culture. I encourage you to think about your experiences and your life…. How is abuse normalized in your life… In your behavior or in your family? What can you do TODAY to end a cycle of abuse or to break an abusive pattern? Comment below if you’d like! I’d love to open this blog up to a bit more conversation…