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Say what you will about social media, but it remains one of the most effective ways of drawing attention to issues. Sure, we often draw attention to the trivial or idiotic, but on occasion, social media gets people talking about important issues. Such was the case this week when the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou gained traction.

The hashtag was started by Zahira Kelly when she tweeted “#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but threw a huuuge raging weeks-long miserable fit coz u cut your hair ‘without his permission.’” The hashtag quickly became an outlet for women to share their experiences with non-physical domestic abuse.

#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but reminds you how worthless and lost you'd be without him,” reads one. “#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but he threatens your friends, family, or pets. Threatens to reveal person information about you to your peers,” reads another. Still another, "#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but he manipulates you into thinking that you're ugly, worthless, stupid and undeserving of all the good things in life.”

All together, the collection of tweets drives home some important points about the nature of domestic abuse. First and foremost, abuse is not always accomplished through physical means. Abusers use emotional, psychological, even financial means to control, hurt, humiliate, and manipulate victims. And although it doesn’t cause bodily bruising or scars, nonphysical abuse causes a lot of the same damage as physical abuse. Victims often feel worthless, trapped, unloveable and powerless. 

But #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou pinpoints another poignant aspect of verbal abuse—the heightened challenge of identifying it. Identifying and addressing physical abuse is a monumental challenge on its own; the line between abuse and “not abuse” is not always clear, particularly to those in the thick of it. The same is ever more true of emotional or psychological abuse, which lack tangible identifiers. To make matters worse, it is in the nature of emotional abuse to make victims feel responsible for what they endure, making it more difficult to place blame where it is due.

But the vague and hidden nature of nonphysical abuse does not make it any less important to address. Emotional abuse left unaddressed often escalates to physical abuse. As Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, explains, “[Physical violence] is used if the emotional abuse and the control isn't working anymore" for the abuser to reach their desired gains. Regardless of whether or not it leads to physical abuse, however, emotional and psychological abuse brings real and devastating consequences for victims, leaves lasting scars, and has no place in a healthy relationship.

This hashtag is our latest reminder that (1) we aren't alone in the things we experience. If you're struggling with something, don't be afraid to talk to someone. It doesn't have to be a social media declaration, but do something to help yourself feel less alone. (2) Our feelings are valid. Just because something doesn't immediately reveal itself as abuse, if it makes you feel devalued, you're entitled to that feeling. You're also entitled to do something about it.

Maybe he doesn’t hit you, but if you think that his behavior is unhealthy, you are not alone. Reach out.

Photo Credit: Regina Leah