The Scars that No One Can See


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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.”



7 thoughts on “The Scars that No One Can See

  1. I run two refuges in London and as you’d expect my heart breaks just that little bit more when it’s a south asian that comes into refuge. It takes so much work to help them realise that the abuse doesn’t just stop at the physical and that no religion endorses this kind of behaviour.
    There is so much work that needs to be done at a grass roots level. I just hope we can do something about it sooner as the numbers of murders that happen every day in the UK are shocking.



    • Hi Rosie! Thanks so much for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I’m really sorry for a late reply to your comment: I’ve had tech problems on WordPress.
      I can only imagine the heartbreak you must feel every time you see and experience this. For someone of South Asian descent, it’s arguably harder for us to get the help we need, because we tend to come from cultures, communities, families and ways of thinking which are ultimately very toxic. It’s a shocker that no one has even bothered looking into the impact such ways of thinking have upon South Asians (perhaps that’s a future blog post!) and it doesn’t surprise me that the incident of suicide is now the highest killer amongst South Asians from India and that we have very high levels of mental health problems in our various communities.
      Unfortunately so many of us, I notice it more in women, blame themselves for the abuse and if anything goes wrong. It’s a behaviour pattern we have seen our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and women in our circles do and we have all internalised it. We believe that this is normal; when it’s not.
      I agree with you: more must be done. I’d be more than happy to connect with you and learn more about the refuge that you work at. Please email me at:


  2. I was listening to that editon of the show and sadly I was not surprised of the lack of support from extended families when dealing with abuse. They simply just “sweep it under the carpet” and push victims away. In such circumstances it is our duty to help not just the victim but also the abuser so as to help them reform, appreciate the latter is sometimes not possible as some abusers just don’t learn or want to change the error of their ways. I have to commend every single caller who came on the show to speak about their terrible experiences, that takes some bravery. Nice post.


    • Hey! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I’ve had tech issues with WordPress, which is why I’ve not been able to reply to comments or even approve notifications!
      I was very privileged to have been a part of producing that show and I cannot begin to say how brave everyone who phoned in that morning was.
      Many people believe that it’s only women who suffer this; I was glad to hear from men who had experienced it – directly and/or indirectly.
      I agree: it’s a common trend within many families to sweep it under the carpet due to feelings of shame. But the problem here is that this shame is a double blanket. Firstly, we have the shame that the victim feels (which is also a projection from their abuser) and secondly we have the same of the victim’s family. We end up in a situation that’s very similar to a Chinese wall and no one wins, no one gets justice and the vicious cycle of self-hate continues. Sometimes, it even drives a wedge between families that becomes irreparable over time.
      I don’t know how I feel about abusers reforming; we all have a choice when it comes to doing good and bad acts. Unless one has a mental health illness – this is the only exception in my eyes.
      We definitely need to dispel the myth that ‘abused children become abusers’ because that it is simply not the case. I’ve had discussions with multiple children who have been abused, adults who have been abused and who’ve never abused a child, as well as psychologists.
      With regards to abusers, they must always be held accountable for what they have done; they have ultimately destroyed another human being and that human being’s sense of self-worth. I cannot think of anything worse happening to an individual.
      Perhaps abusers may be able to reform; I personally don’t think they ever can because in order to have committed an act of abuse (in its many forms) firstly requires the abuser to view their victim as an insubordinate, inferior and sub-human. They do not have a shred of empathy in them and this is what ultimately makes us human. It’s the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another human; abusers do not have that.


  3. “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” It’s true that society sees physical abuse as bad and emotional abuse as no big deal, in spite of the fact that emotional abuse leaves life-long psychological scars.


    • Hi Lynette, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I’ve had tech issues in the past and have been unable to reply to comments etc. I agree fully with your point. Someone that I spoke to, who had suffered emotional abuse as a child, said that no one took what happened to her seriously because there wasn’t any physical evidence of it ever happening to her. Abuse is, and always will be, abuse regardless of there being physical bruises etc. It’s a bruise upon our souls


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