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Mental Health

Invisible is Not Imaginary

November 30, 2016

The Presidential Inauguration Day is rapidly approaching, and as always with each week arrives a fresh wave of socially charged and often sensational media to digest. Both in political news and out, it’s undeniable that recent publications have been spotlighting issues of social justice, assault, and abuse. Although it’s important to bring these issues to much-needed light, the casual normalcy of things like threatening language, marginalization, and outright dismissal of harm appears to be at full force. In a political as important as this one, it therefore seems as appropriate a time as any to remind ourselves of some vital facts surrounding abuse—both physical and otherwise. 

Even the most socially conscious among us needs affirmations every now and again that abuse goes far beyond the matter of physical violence. In their purest forms, violence and abuse are the removal of choice, and this can take many shapes. Abusers, and even those who exhibit warning signs of abuse, very rarely make physical fisticuffs their singular mission. Rather, they demonstrate patterns of a quest (often forceful) for control. While in no way are we minimalizing the harm that physical control can inflict, it is imperative to recognize that this seizure of control—read: this removal of another’s choice—comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be financial, spatial, and emotional. It can involve mental coercion, emotional blackmail, and threat of pain to the survivor and others near them. It can be physically invisible, and aside from being a precursor to actual battery, it can wreak absolute havoc on a person’s wellbeing and safety. 

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of nonphysical abuse is that it can be so easily dismissed: as overreactions, as over-the-top political correctness, and even as imagined. 

We want to establish once and for all: nonviolent forms of control are real, harmful, and absolutely no laughing matter. 

In a media climate as incendiary as this one, it can be all too easy to feel overwhelmed with uncertainty, and to forget that the route to violence is a complex one, and one paved with nonviolent forms of destruction. But the treatment of nonphysical forms of threat and abuse as invalid or silly does more than toxify an already stressful environment: it contributes to the continued silence of all types of victims. Dismissal of the harm that nonphysical abuse inflicts creates a society where those in danger have even greater difficulty in speaking up and regaining safety, and this goes double for those who are otherwise marginalized.


In the face of the work that lies ahead, let us now support one another and affirm what should have been part of the discourse a long time ago: that invalidating victims of nonphysical abuse is a step backwards. There is no justification to tolerating abuse, especially if the reason boils down to an absence of visible bruises. Nonphysical in no way means nonexistent. Invisible abuse is not, nor will it ever be, imaginary, and to survivors and those struggling today: it is important that you know that you are heard; you are seen; you are valid.

Taylor Barton

Taylor Barton is a professional actor, dramaturge, and director, and holds a B.A. in Theatre from Columbia College Chicago.