Sticky Stigma

I can remember sitting in my 4th grade science class and learning about the parts of a flower. There was a quiz. There was always a quiz. We had to fill in the blanks on the diagram of the flower, including the three parts of the pistil: the ovary, the style, and the stigma.

That was the first time I learned the word, “stigma.” And it wasn’t the common definition most of us are familiar with as adults.

In case you don’t know, the stigma on a flower is the part that receives the pollen from bees. It’s designed to trap pollen and is quite sticky, in an effort to increase the ability to capture pollen.

A stigma is sticky.

And confusing. How can one “stigma” be life-giving and another “stigma” be life-destroying? It’s quite a paradox.

The stigma surrounding domestic and sexual abuse is painful and destructive. What would your co-workers think if they knew you were in an abusive relationship? Would your friends believe you if you said something? Will people blame you for it happening?

The potential of the stigma—being marked with disgrace—swirls in the back of a victim’s mind. Self-doubt creeps into your thoughts. No one will believe you. Your partner is always so nice to everyone else in public. No one has a clue about the monster behind closed doors.

Imagine repeatedly enduring abuse and humiliation in your home and then trying to put a happy-go-lucky face on in public. Inside you’re dying. Your spirit beat down to the point you’re struggling with serious bouts of depression.

Keeping the abuse hidden is exhausting, and finding the strength and courage to share your secret can certainly feel impossible for many. This problem rips at a person’s mental state. It distorts what a healthy relationship should be. A victim starts to accept the abuse as just the way things are in an effort to survive in their world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to normalize the discussion surrounding domestic and sexual abuse, so that it doesn’t remain hidden in the shadows. Victims need to know that there are more people who will believe them when they find the strength to share their story.

And when someone musters up the courage to share their truth, it can inspire others to share theirs. You are not alone. It is not your fault. Help is available.

The Crisis Lines are open 24-hours a day at New Horizons. In the La Crosse area, call toll free 1-888-231-0066. In the Whitehall area, call toll free 1-800-706-8586.

If you’d like some tips on how to support a friend or family member who may be experiencing abuse, please click HERE.