Before my life as an animal rights advocate, I was exposed to domestic violence. I was an observer, perpetuator, and victim of violence. To assuage any doubts about this statement, I will spell it out. I grew up in an environment where my parents were physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive towards each other. Like a stereotypical case study, I also got involved in an equally abusive relationship in my adult life. I was both on the giving and receiving end of violence. While I am convinced that I have worked hard enough never to go back to that situation, the survival of it has made me ready to see the truth of violence towards others. And not only despite but because of this exposure, I understand the plight of animals. I understand the offensiveness of the violent act. I once felt the same helplessness. It is not empathy that I have. It is sharing the same pain.
The relevance between the two types of violence may not be obvious to many, but let me explain. While the pain of the victim of violence is the same, the cages built for humans are often psychological but the cages built for animals are always physical. I can get myself out of an abusive relationship with continued self-care, but an animal cannot will himself out of a human’s knife with his screams. Furthermore, violence comes from the same root of discrimination and regarding others as inferior to us.
The equation of violence necessarily involves the exertion of force on one end and suffering pain on the other. For human relationships, there is an element of complicity because of our psychological brainwashing. This is not to blame the victim, but to explain the complexity of how we end up choosing the same situations that hurt us. No individual who grew up with abusive parents knowingly seeks out abusive relationships. But we are drawn towards the signals that we know. We gravitate towards the tension that we mistake as passion. We tread on that undercurrent of which we do not understand.
If we saw our parents being violent towards each other, then our deep-seated but unspoken belief is that violence is acceptable and is not a pre-requisite for a separation. It does not occur to us that we can leave. It does not occur to us that we are actively reliving our childhood memories. It does not occur to us that we have this futile and unconscious desire to be in the same situation but a different outcome. We were fed an addictive dose of drama and we were typecast into a role that is familiar to us. That is, until we hit rock bottom and make the decision to stop. Until then, the prevailing mindset is one of helplessness, feeling stuck and trapped, unable to leave a situation that destroys us.
Animals do not have the luxury of hitting rock bottom. When they become victims of abuse, there is absolutely no masochistic complicity on their part. While victims of domestic violence choose their relationships, animals bred by humans for the sole purpose of their death and consequent use have no hand in choosing that situation. It was chosen for them and designed systematically so that they cannot escape. Their suffering is afflicted not by a single individual’s need for control, but by an entire society’s complicity and speciesism.
Violence comes from the same root. The offensiveness and helplessness surrounding both the issues of domestic violence and animal abuse are the same. When animal rights advocates speak out in behalf of animals, we are not choosing animals over humans. We are opposing violence of all kind. On a personal level, surviving pain and healing from it gave me the gift of seeing this in others. And once my eyes were opened, I found it easy to make one connection after the other; I found it natural to recognize that all types of violence and injustice and hopelessness are one and the same.
Note: If you are in an abusive situation with your family member or partner, please seek professional help. Learn more about codependency, drama addiction, and dysfunctional families. Visit Codependents Anonymous at www.coda.org. If you are unaware of the violence against animals, please watch Earthlings at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6361872964130308142#. We can remove violence from our lives and we start by educating ourselves.