As a writer, I love reading and writing stories, yet it is listening to other people’s stories which fills me with a sense of wonder.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always imagined that other people walk around with a massive scroll of inky parchment inside of them, which spills out of their eyes, mouths and hearts whenever they talk about an aspect of their life
Yesterday, I was working with BBC Asian Network on a radio package which has turned out to be one of those experiences which has imprinted itself in my mind and my heart. It was a really emotive and powerful phone-in discussion which saw many people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religions etc) feel compelled to contact the show to tell their stories.
“Literature, the arts and storytelling are the ultimate expression of what it means to be a human being – the good, the bad and the ugly.”
The playback link is here, I’d urge you to listen to it, even though it is heart-wrenching in places because of the topic we were discussing, it’s important for us all to listen to these people’s stories about emotional abuse.
What struck me, was how many people contacted the show to tell their stories, how candid they were and how widespread instances of emotional abuse are.
I, like many others in the South Asian Diaspora, have often grown up either indirectly/directly/seeing/experiencing emotional abuse happen to someone we know – or even to us as individuals. Many of us have grown up knowing the stigma surrounding mental health, divorced families and having children out of wedlock – there’s a reluctance to discuss depression let alone emotional abuse!
At first I thought: “How have we managed to fail so many people across generations, in the motherland and the Diaspora, and not address a toxic behaviour that has the ability to destroy people’s lives, their families and sense of being?”
It was heart-breaking to listen to people crying on the phone, their voices breaking as they told their stories and this only reinforced the latter. I felt furious that this sort of behaviour is generally not taken seriously because some people believe that it is ‘not as bad as physical violence.’
“It chips away at you; it’s not like a single nasty statement which would make you walk away. It’s difficult for South Asian women to walk away and leave everything you love/know behind.”
What was even more poignant, was the number of people who realised that it counts as a form of abuse and is illegal under UK law, when they looked back on their experiences.
Growing up, I remember being told by teachers that: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will not affect me.”
As a young adult, I believe that this the stupidest phrase I have heard in my existence on planet Earth (so far). Everyone knows that words are specifically designed to either boost or cut people; look at how most women react after someone calls them fat.
Throw a rock at someone any day (not that I endorse or advocate such behaviour). They’ll go to A&E for a bandage to heal that wound and be ok, but it is scars from cruel words that no one can see which cause us the most excruciating pain, because no one can see it.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will not affect me.”
When it comes to trying to define emotional abuse, it’s often like trying to navigate your way through smoke with a blindfold on.
So many of us are simply not aware of what it entails or what counts as emotional abuse, yet, we know the devastating impact that it has on the lives of thousands of men, women and children across ethnic groups, religions and cultures.
Towards the end of the phone-in discussion, I suddenly felt a golden balloon of hope begin to swell inside of my throat. While I had initially felt a sense of white-hot anger and disgust at the unnecessary suffering these people had experienced, I suddenly felt proud of them.
I felt so proud of them for being brave to tell their stories, to discuss an issue that many South Asians are not willing to acknowledge (let alone discuss), to challenge bigots on national radio, to stand up for themselves/other victims of emotional abuse, to reclaim their sense of self, their power and break through that barrier of silence that so many South Asians have become accustomed to living under.
It felt like every single one of these people were subconsciously trying to help others who might be in similar positions and to give them a simple message:
“You are not alone. There are people who will help you.”