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A Reckoning with Guilt and Domestic Violence

Editor's Note:

Trigger Warning this article discusses detailed experiences with domestic violence.

It is estimated that between 10 to 12 million people each year experience domestic violence.

For any one who may need it the hotline for domestic violence is 1-800-799-7233.

You can find additional resources here: Domestic Violence Resources


When I was seven years old I saw my grandfather hit my grandmother in the face, grab her by her hair, and then drag her to a mirror to force her to look at herself as he called her a worthless piece of shit. At twenty-four the memory of that day and many others like it feel burned into my brain with every ounce of fear, anger, and pain I felt in those moments. However nothing feels stronger than the guilt that lingers.

As a child I couldn’t make peace with the feelings I had towards my grandfather. I resented him for the things he did to my grandmother but I never viewed him as a monster because on most days he was this super charming, loving, affable guy. It was as if another person lived inside of him, and whenever he lost control this small, insecure, petty, and violent man replaced the usual charming, loving, affable guy. It was hard to reconcile my feelings as a kid and if I’m being honest, it’s still something I struggle with today. As strange as this may seem, for a large part of my life he remained the man I looked up to despite all the things he did . If you asked me who taught me some of the important life lessons and skills I know the answer is him. Even if you asked me what’s the longest standing relationship I’ve seen in my life the answer is his.

My views on relationships both positive and negative were heavily influenced from seeing that relationship. That always scared me because for the majority of my life that relationship was the only one that was “successful”. So early on in my life through my late teens I had very little interest in dating and avoided putting myself in romantic situations because there was a deep-seated fear that no matter what I’d end up unhappy in a relationship. So, there was no purpose in investing time, energy, and emotions into one. That fear gradually subsided as I grew older, but once I did start dating I struggled with functioning in a healthy relationship because I had no true understanding of what one looked like. In every relationship, at some point you and your significant other are going to have an argument or disagreement that you're going to have to talk through in order to resolve it. This was extremely difficult for me because at no point in my life did I witness that, so whenever my significant other and I got into any type of argument I would either shut down or concede to their argument to avoid any conflict. That led to the downfall of all my early relationships because in my effort to avoid having a relationship like what I witnessed growing up I was creating an environment in my relationships where no conflict was ever truly addressed or resolved.

When I reflect on the lingering effects caused by the trauma of domestic violence a wave of shame tends to wash over me because I always feel like I’ve dealt with the pain and made peace with it but a part of me clings on to the guilt. There’s always the thought of my grandmother and the things she went through while I was too afraid to help. Along with the fact that through it all she remained so kind, caring, and loving. It ate at me that she never wavered in her love or care because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I always thought how do I deserve her love if I’m not standing up to protect her, how could I be hurt when she’s the one hurting. Even as I grew older and understood that she was doing all that to protect me it’s something I couldn’t quite make peace with. Even after years of therapy it’s something that lingers. The only time I gained some solace is when I began to open up about these feelings publicly and sadly learned how common my trauma is.

By Kevin J.

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