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Little girl listening to parents fight - A dream to get through the nightmare

Excerpted from Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing up With Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free, in which author Brian F. Martin uses a combination of researched findings and personal experiences to provide readers with a comprehensive view of domestic violence and its effects. 

A dream to get through the nightmare

In my final year of high school I worked hard to get my grades up and got into a county college. It was there that I met Stacey, the woman who was to become my wife.

I didn’t believe I was naturally smart. This is a belief that I share with other people who grew up living with domestic violence. How could I spend time thinking about school when I was busy running to the police station in my pajamas? How could you? Didn’t you spend most of your time in school trying to figure out what your classmates and teachers were thinking about you? Perhaps worried about what the night would bring? How could we pay attention? Thus we were made to believe we weren’t smart, and our brain found evidence to support it.

But I was determined to make it. I did well enough to get accepted to graduate school and get an MBA, after which I married, started a family and got a good job. Then I took a risk to start my own business and built a successful company that would give me, my mother, my wife and my children the kind of financial security that I had craved when I was growing up. By the time I hit my late 20s, early 30s, my life revolved around work.

I wasn’t as close to my wife and children as I thought I should be, but I believed I was doing it for them. And besides, I was good at it. This was an area of my life where I had complete control. I kept on reading and learning—for the purpose of getting better at my profession, which would lead to more money, to more security and ultimately to the power I never had when I was a child. Now I would be the one who was important. Or so I thought.

One day during a meeting at Nickelodeon, their executives shared a fascinating statistic: When parents were asked to name their fondest childhood memory, the vast majority said, “Memories of my time vacationing with family.” As I thought about that later that night, I asked myself, “What were my fondest childhood memories?” Well, most of the ones I remembered all sucked. But why should that have to be the case for others who grew up in the same way I did?

So, in 2007, I decided to create a foundation called Makers of Memories, which provided trips for children who shared my background of living with domestic violence. I saw the excitement in the eyes of my young son and daughter when I took them on trips and exposed them to new discoveries, so I thought it would help create joyful memories for kids who grew up like me.

At the end of one trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, we all watched a spectacular fireworks show called “Wishes” that ended with Jiminy Cricket singing, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” At the end a star is shot over Cinderella’s Castle and you’re supposed to wish upon it. I mentioned that to the six-year-old boy sitting next to me and then asked him, “What’s your wish?” He looked up at me and quietly answered, “I wish they would stop hurting each other.” I put my arms around him and just sat there in silence. Of course, when I was six that would have been my answer too.

This should not be the wish of any child. But there it was—a young life filled with nightmares. If he couldn’t dream at that moment in life, when could he ever dream? He needed a dream to get through the nightmare and I didn’t deliver.

Helping those who grew up living with domestic violence

I was haunted by my conversation with that child. It bothered me that our foundation’s mission wasn’t having the kind of impact I’d hoped for. So in the days following that Disney trip I started intensively researching and came across “Behind Closed Doors,” the UNICEF study on children of domestic violence.

That night I reread the short document about 30 times. I was blown away by the size and scope of the problem and that, despite the sheer numbers—hundreds of millions—who’d lived or were still living with domestic violence, among the general population there was almost no awareness of these facts. I knew that I wanted to get word out to all these children and to adults who were once these children. I wanted them to understand that they were not alone and that they could reach their full potential in all areas—socially, professionally, financially, emotionally—in all the ways that mattered most to them.

Of course, I’m no expert. I’m just a guy who’s lived through this and didn’t want others to have to suffer under the same legacy. Because I’m not an expert, I reached out to those who were.

Great minds come together

In 2010, we hosted a summit of academics, neuroscientists and researchers to figure out promising ways we could use their knowledge to help the billion people across the globe who grew up living with domestic violence. My original intent was to film this gathering as part of a documentary, to raise awareness. Several ideas were discussed at the event. But a key question was: What creates resiliency? Some people who grew up living with domestic violence do better than others, and the information we shared led us to the conclusion that the most resilient among them have had an adult who stepped into their lives—a teacher, relative or friend—who reinforced truths and helped them unlearn the lies.

Woman holding little boy's hand - A dream to get through the nightmare

These findings eventually led to our foundation’s alliance with UNICEF and the world’s leading scholars to develop and implement the Change a Life program, a scalable solution that trains adults to elevate awareness and deliver key messages to those still living with domestic violence, to help change a life.

It was a productive day—many of them had never met one another.

As the session was coming to a close, I asked a few questions that had been on my mind for a long time: How do people who’ve grown up living with domestic violence feel? What do they believe about themselves? What feelings do they experience most frequently? The group put forward a number of ideas but the words most often used were guilty, resentful, sad, alone, angry, hopeless, worthless, fearful, self-conscious and unloved. These are, in fact, the ten lies you learn growing up with domestic violence—lies that you can unlearn after you uncover the truths.

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on domestic violence? Add your comments below.

Brian F. Martin grew up living with domestic violence, with the impact of his experience lasting into his adulthood. In 2007, he founded the Childhood Domestic Violence Association. Martin has testified before Congress, appeared on national television programs and has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. He also produced the award-winning documentary, The Children Next Door, which premiered in the fall of 2012.

Excerpted from Invincible by Brian Martin with the permission of Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2015 by Brian Martin.
image 1: Crying little Asian girl with her fighting parents via Shutterstock; image 2: The woman is engaged in raising a child diligently via Shutterstock

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