Rihanna and Chris Brown, the man who practically killed her right before the Grammys in 2009, are back together. She’s proclaiming to the world that their reconciliation is her decision and she knows exactly what she’s getting herself into. Like many women who go back to their abusers, Rihanna says it’s different this time around. Based on what we’ve seen from Chris Brown lately, including a brawl he got into with Frank Ocean, I say good luck, Rihanna, because you’re going to need it.
As I learned from watching abuse in my home growing up, breaking out of the cycle of domestic violence requires constant vigilance and a genuine desire to change, on the part of both the abuser and the victim. From what we see with Chris Brown’s public behavior, there is no remorse and no humility. Just take a look at his twitter war with comedian Jenny Johnson. Only a few months ago, he responded to one of her needling tweets about him by saying, “Take them teeth out when you’re sucking my d** HOE.”
I imagine for someone like Chris Brown, the ability to break the cycle of violence is extremely difficult for two reasons. One is that despite his shithead behavior, he is worshipped by millions of fans. The second is that he watched his mother suffer abuse at the hands of his stepfather. You’d think it would be the opposite; once you see or experience domestic violence growing you become less likely to be involved in it yourself later on. But that’s not the case. In fact, children who come from abusive homes are more likely to either become perpetrators or victims of domestic violence as adults.
Fortunately, it is possible to break the cycle of abuse. Many of us seek professional help and we go on to become good partners and parents. But the pain and fear never go away. I will never feel completely safe in the world. I will never stop having nightmares about what I saw and experienced. And I will never forgive those who hurt me. Though it’s no longer the fuel that propels me forward in life, my anger and feelings of brokenness will be a significant part of me forever.
If I could, I’d tell Rihanna what’s likely to happen if she stays with Chris Brown and has a family. Someday, they’ll be at home, enjoying a quiet afternoon, and Rihanna will say something that triggers Chris’s rage. Words will be exchanged, tempers will flare, and their child will watch in horror as her mom gets pushed, slapped, or punched. That child will feel a helpless rage as Rihanna either tries to placate Chris or fight back, only to be hurt some more. She will grow up afraid for her mother and for herself. And, sadly, she will take that complex love/relationship with her father into her own adult relationships.
Perhaps Rihanna thinks she’ll be able to keep the abuse away from her child’s eyes. Regardless of whether the child sees it directly, Rihanna shouldn’t kid herself. Children know, even when they don't see it firsthand. I heard my mother getting shoved against a wall. I heard her grunts and quiet pleas. And I saw the fear as well as the bruises on her face the next day when she tried to tell me it was an accident or blamed it on her own clumsiness or, even worse, her nagging. Again came the rage, a rage that went nowhere but back down deep inside of me because I was just a kid with no voice and no power. Before long, when that same man came after me, no one protected me. Not my mother, not my father, no one (you can read more about my story here).
So Rihanna, if you do happen to read this, I hope you figure out why you’d want to be with someone who did this to your face.
And I hope you get the help you need to finally break out of the cycle of violence. If not for you, then for the little ones you may have someday who should never see their mother afraid and should never hear her sob after another beating she didn’t deserve. Why you think you don’t deserve better, Rihanna, is beyond me, but you do. You really do.
Click here to learn more about the impact of domestic violence on our kids. Here are signs that you may be in an abusive relationship. If you are in a relationship that is causing you or your children harm, contact a trusted resource that’s close by. In Chicago, two health care professionals I know have recommended LilacTree.org. Their phone number is 847-328-0313.