Know what love is, what it's not

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ceaira Tinsley
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
"If you don't leave him he's not going to stop until you're dead," my mother said. With sadness in her voice my aunt replied: "I know."

I remember sitting in the backseat of the car as my mother and aunt whispered to each other. While my aunt cried, I looked at her and the fresh bruises that covered her face. This wasn't the first time I saw her skin painted black and blue. I had lost count, and I think she did too. I saw the abuse, and pain but never in a million years did I think that would be one of the last times I saw her.

When my aunt went missing, we searched everywhere, hoping she ran away and finally escaped the abuse.  Four days later, her body was found. 

The pain from that day still lays fresh on my heart. A person doesn't have to be a victim of domestic violence for it to shape their lives and leave them scarred for life. I was only 9 years old when my aunt was murdered and it was then that I began forming my idea of what a relationship should and shouldn't be. This decision I made more than 14 years ago led me to have the healthy marriage I have today.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, but teen violence happens every month, every week and every day. When the month is over and the events held to highlight the importance of violence awareness end is when the real fight should begin.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the beliefs and experiences that comprise what a person considers to be a healthy versus unhealthy relationship starts to develop early and lasts a lifetime.

More often than not, children use the relationships they see as a model for their own relationships. I made the conscious decision that the type of relationship my aunt had was not one I wanted and I knew there had to be more. I wanted a loving, caring and healthy relationship partner, not someone who was abusive, controlling or possessive.

The need to love and belong is more imperative to survival than the need to be and feel safe, according to Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who created the hierarchy of needs. He further explained that it is not uncommon for people who are abused to cling to their abusers just to feel what they believe to be love.

Perhaps that could explain why the CDC reported more than 700,000 people between ages 10 and 24 were treated for nonfatal injuries sustained from assaults in 2011.

No one wants to find out their child is a victim of violence, but it could happen to anyone. Awareness and early education is imperative.

While healthy relationships can have a positive effect on a teen's emotional development, an unhealthy relationship can have detrimental consequences that can be short lived or have lasting effects.

Parents must strive to be an intricate part of their child's life as they grow into the dating age and recognize the signs of domestic violence. According to the CDC in 2013, 1 in 10 teens reported being hit or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in 10 means someone in your child's class is likely abused.

The CDC says victims of dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. They further explained that victims of violence may also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco use, drugs or alcohol.

I challenge parents to ask themselves, could their teenager recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship? Would they succumb to the need to feel loved, even if it means being with someone who abuses them?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren't as clear and concise as one would think.  The need to love and be loved is vital for survival, especially in children. Know and recognize the signs when your child is in an unhealthy and violent relationship. Say something, before it is too late.