The book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is one of my all time favorite books, and is beloved by millions of others around the United States and the world. The story of a tree who would do anything to make the boy he loved happy and in the end, giving of her own life in order to please the boy. It is a timeless classic that speaks to many people from all walks of life. But I never imagined that this book would be the tool which helps me explain how it feels to be in a domestic violence situation.
When a relationship starts, it’s happy and wonderful. Everyone is having a good time, there’s no red flags and all is good. Just like in the book, the people in the relationship enjoy one another’s company, and each is devoted to the other. Just like in the book, the partners play and both are happy.
As time goes by, little bits of unhappiness creep in, but nothing alarming and each tries his or her best to remain happy even though things are starting to look not so shiny and new anymore. In every instance of domestic violence, one person takes the dominant role (the boy) and the other takes a more submissive role (the tree). The dominant person becomes more and more demanding and powerful while at the same time becoming more distant emotionally. Meanwhile, the submissive person becomes more and more powerless, and in an attempt to make the dominant person happy, gives and gives more of him or herself in an attempt to make the relationship work like it once did when everyone was happy. The submissive person starts to see that the relationship is unbalanced, but doesn’t do much to change the situation other than offer the dominant person more and more of what he or she wants.
In the end, the submissive person runs out of things, or in this analogy affection, to give the dominant person much like the tree in the story, and the relationship becomes exhausting to the submissive person. Yet still the submissive person stays, hoping that one day things will get back to where they started. However, at this point, the submissive person has become a shadow of the person they once were. All the beautiful things that this person once shared with his or her partner are now gone just like the tree which has now become a stump in the book.
Now I will be the first to admit that domestic violence knows no genders, no sexual orientation and occurs in every culture, but more of the domestic violence cases are men abusing women. Part of me wonders if this is in part because so many women are mentally wired (either by nature or by their upbringing) that they need to please others. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was taught at a very young age to play nicely, don’t say rude things, look and act nicely, especially when others are around. My family greatly valued how others perceived me and were not happy when I started to speak my mind and the feedback they got from others about me was that I was an opinionated loud-mouth who was bordering on rude.
I was thinking today about how so many people in this world are also so afraid of what others will think that they change their own behavior in order to accommodate that instead of doing what makes them happy or even what’s right. For example, I know there are many people who have witnessed something happening they don’t like and stand by and say nothing. I’ve heard a friend tell me they watched a child get physically abused in Wal-Mart. I asked them “Well did you say something to the parent?” and they said no, they did not. When I asked why, they said “Because it was none of my business.” So apparently my friend cared enough to tell me about what she had seen and how opposed she was to what this woman did to her child, but not enough to say anything to the woman or anyone else who could potentially stop this from happening in the future.
The reason I say this is that I guarantee that you know people who are currently in a domestic violence relationship or have been in the past. I don’t want anyone to try to stand up to an abuser and get injured, but if you find out someone you know is in one of these situations, help them. Offer them a safe place to stay to get away for a night or forever. Offer to watch their children if they need you to. Offer to talk to them or go somewhere with them if they want company. While this is a small gesture which won’t take much effort on your part, this can mean the difference between someone giving everything they have like “The Giving Tree” and having a healthy relationship. Everyone should care enough about their friends to be honest about what they see in a relationship from an outside perspective.
YOU can be the one who says “Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound healthy.”
By doing this, you could save someone’s life. Just remember that.