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What I, Tonya got right about domestic abuse victims


You’ve probably heard about I, Tonya. The bad ass, fun and sometimes tragic biopic about the figure skating legend Tonya Harding. I actually loved the movie, and you can read my review of the movie here… But for now I want to discuss one other aspect of the movie. The domestic violence, how it’s portrayed and what I, Tonya got right about it.

I, for one grew up in an abusive household. I wasn’t the primary victim, but my mother was and up until I reached my late teens (19-20 years of age) I was faced with domestic abuse on a weekly basis. It’s brutal even for those who witness it, not to mention to those who experience it firsthand, and as the eldest child I bared the most of those ugly scenes. My mother suffered a lot from the hands of my father, and sadly, I, Tonya brought back some ugly memories.

Now, Tonya Harding reportedly was abused first as a child by her mother, then by her husband and in both cases the abuse was both physical and emotional. I saw similarities with the abuse I’ve evidenced and let me tell you what the movie got right on this subject.

Well for one… Just in Tonya’s case you fall in love in the first person that shows slightest amount of attention to you. Or you marry that person, which is far worse. You’re either desperate to leave the abusive environment that you’ve become (sadly) accustomed to, or you’ve been so emotionally detached and isolated in fear that it might happen to you too, that all the logic goes out the window. You fall into the trap of picking a partner after years and years of self-proclaimed isolation. I was very afraid not to repeat the mistakes my mother made, so I stayed single for a looong time.

When you’re raised with domestic abuse 1. You sub-concisely expect it to happen in your relationships as you grow older or… 2.  Even if you don’t expect it… you fear that it might happen to you so you shut down, you put you guard waaay up and you turn yourself into an emotional shell of a person. Because you grew up with abuse, chances are you’ll likely attract a person who will do the exact same things to you too. I discussed this at lengths with my therapist.

And finally… It would take a looong long time to get out of an abusive relationship. The excuses in your head for staying in a toxic relationship will be plenty and probably won’t make any sense. You will find ways to justify that behavior and even to not report the abuse to the authorities. Just like the many beatings that Tonya Harding got from her husband before she divorced him, it took a significant amount of time my mom to say enough. She put the blame on the social stigma (what would the neighbors say?) and hey… she even said that she stayed married because of me and my sibling… You know not to become children of divorce.

But in the end I want to mention the emotional abuse that I witnessed growing up, and that i saw in I, Tonya. The constant ridiculing, degradation, putting down and discouraging angry sentences were daily occurrence. Maybe Tonya’s mother tried reverse psychology to get Tonya to succeed, but the emotional abuse hurts just as much as the physical one. You will never amount to anything, you’re a failure, and you’re nothing. Yeah… Those things go hand in hand with the punches, i’m afraid.

So, yeah… I, Tonya brought back some ugly PTSD and terrible nightmares I thought I’d forgot about abuse. I’m now in a loving, supportive and wonderful relationships but that came after long, dark and lonely periods of fearing I’d have the same fate. Just like Tonya.


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