I can’t stop thinking about the boy.    The one who was abused in front of me recently.   I am still shocked by what happened to him in front me.

My husband and I were having a quiet, relaxing dinner at one of our favourite spots.   Sitting in an outdoor square watching all the children rollerblade.  Lots of happy dogs bouncing around.   Enjoying the lovely Spring evening now HK is warming up again.

We were just finishing our meal when a couple of blokes sat next to us with their young sons. They asked them what they wanted to eat. ‘A bacon hamburger’ said the first one. ‘Nothing’ said the second boy, in a shy voice, his head looking down in the way Princess Diana always did.

Father number one walks off to put their order in.  Father number two then squares up to his son.   Legs apart, chest forward, he starts interrogating him with aggression.  Firing questions at him military-style.

‘Look at me’ he barks.  Asks a question.  There’s a scared, timid response from the boy.  ‘And what did you do?’ Dad orders, forcing him to respond to said questions. ‘Look me in the eye and say it again’ he orders.  When the boy’s answer wasn’t the one he wanted or up to his standard, he grilled him more aggression.  His face ever closer to him. I could see the spittle flying from his mouth. His eyes bored into the child.

This was a guy well over 6 feet and built like a Rugby player. The kid was around 10 or 11. A skinny little thing. My husband got up and said he couldn’t sit there and listen to this asshole anymore.  He was as upset as I was.  I couldn’t walk away without confronting him.   I could not sit by and condone this.

I stood up and said to the father ‘excuse me, this is no way to talk to a child’.  He turned to me in anger and in a threatening voice responded: ‘If I want your f***ing opinion, I will ask for it’.  I felt his venom.  He pushed my buttons and I felt the fear of the abuse I suffered in the past.  But I stood firm.  ‘You don’t need to ask for it, I already gave it.  You’re geing aggressive and abusive and this is no way to talk to a child’.

I turned and said to the boy: ‘I hope you are okay?’.  Instantly, he crumpled into tears.  One word of kindness towards the child and he fell apart.  The child’s friend sitting next to him looked at me in a way that told me he knew what I was saying.   My immediate thought was ‘this guy hits him’.  If he can do this in public and not give a damn, then what happens behind closed doors?

At that point I felt the aggression go up a notch and it was aimed at me now.  The man’s friend returned.  I felt it wasn’t safe to stay.  I walked off shaking.

You see this is where it all starts.  This is where you embed shame into a child.    This is where you teach a child they are worthless, that their feelings do not matter.   This father required total compliance.  His child was like a possession.  His feelings were irrelevant.  They were overriden by his dominance.   This father’s behaviour was about control, it had nothing to do with love.

Growing up in an environment like that, where a child’s feelings are ignored.  Where they learn the only way to get positive attention and affection is to comply to their parent’s aggression.  This is how a child grows up to be an adult with little self-esteem.  An adult who no longer trusts their gut instincts, as they’ve been told for so long their emotions don’t matter, their feelings are wrong.    My fear is that this boy will grow up to repeat these negative patterns ingrained in him by his father in one of two ways.

1 in 3 women have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.   1 in 4 men have as well.    I met a man recently, who’d been abused by his wife for five years.    He told me ‘you can’t imagine the shame I felt, as a man of over 6 feet tall, being abused by my petite wife’.  He didn’t dare tell anyone it was happening to him.

Internal shame.  That feeling that we are not good enough.  That void inside us is what becomes the invisible ‘victim’ beacon that narcissists pick up on.   They smell vulnerability like a blood hound.  When they do, they hone in on it.   Those of us whom they detect to be insecure are easy prey for them, to manipulate at their will.  That’s how we become victims of domestic abuse.

Perhaps this boy doesn’t grow up to be a victim?  What if he repeats the cycle of abuse by becoming an emotionally abusive man himself?  That happens too.  The abused becoming abuser.  This too is where domestic violence starts.

And what of his friend?  What effect does that have on him watching this abuse, yet unable to help his best buddy?

The only way to break the cycle of violence is to nurture a child’s self-esteem.  Give them a safe space to feel loved and able to express their emotional needs.   I broke this cycle of violence.   Although leaving my ex when my son was a toddler was tough.   But this was the boy I was seven months pregnant with when my ex strangled and almost killed me.

Like most parents I have many moments where I’m convinced I am a bad mother.   But I provided him a safe home, I nurtured his needs and showed him unconditional love.  He did not grow up to become a violent man.   I am grateful that both my boys are now well adjusted, healthy men.

I am still so upset about that night.   I wish I could have picked that boy up and given him a hug.  I wish I could have done more to protect him. It breaks my heart that he is the next child to grow up affected by emotional abuse.  Possibly even domestic violence.

If you ever see anything like this, I urge you not to condone it with silence.  Domestic violence is not a women’s issue.   It’s a family one.   And the seeds of it are planted in the young.   We must all speak up and call abuse out every time we see it.  Especially when it’s directed towards someone so vulnerable.  Someone unable to stand up and say no.

I only hope that one day, when it matters most, that boy will remember the time a stranger stood up for him.  That someone spoke up and assured him ‘this is not okay’.

I’d love to hear what you think about this issue in the Comments below.

Domestic violence resources are widely available.    If you need further help or counselling please refer to the following helplines (or the equivalent in your country):

1800Respect: 0800 737 732  RESPECT
Lifeline: 13 11 14  LIFELINE

National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 NATIONAL DV HELPLINE UK
Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service 020 3866 4107  PALADIN UK

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233  THE HOTLINE USA

DrugRehab.com 1-855-400 4382  DrugRehab.com

CANADA: DAWN Canada crisis hotlines:  DAWN CANADA

If you would like to add others, please feel free to do so in the comments below.


Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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