Beat Me Black and Blue

Beat Me Black and Blue Cover Image

Beneath a smiling face, she has been carrying deep scars of childhood trauma. Now a 25-year-old banker, Sarwat Mir recounts terrible experiences of domestic violence she has had to witness as a child. Mir bears confused and contradictory feelings, worrying for the safety of her mother. Despite horrible episodes having long passed, she lives in constant fear.

Her earliest memory of the incessant abuse her mother would be put through physically, emotionally and psychologically goes back to when she was six years old.

“Understanding violence at a very early age helps shape your consciousness in an aberrant way. Rage becomes the foundation of every other emotion. The rage that is nuanced. Trust deficit and inability to comprehend any other reality become your defences. A quiet fear looming inside overpowers everything,” she says.

At a tender age, living in a dysfunctional environment, Sarwat had to go through a role reversal stemming from the insecurities over her mother’s well-being. “I protected my mother. I made no friends; never went out to play with other children. I had to be there for my mother all the time,” she says in a shaking voice. “I somehow felt that my mother needed to be protected from everyone who was around at that time. I would stay up till late guarding her while she slept. Most nights I’d stay awake thinking what God would let this monstrosity prevail”.


Domestic violence, by its nature, is chronic and ever-lasting as the perpetrator is often a close relative. “I saw my people who were abusive as generous and loving some of the time, and terrifying and dangerous at other times. I never felt that my loyalty was caught in the middle,” Sarwat rues.

“Often when my mother would be beaten, I would physically shove myself between my people and my mother. Imagine, being a 10-year-old girl and having to manoeuvre yourself as a human wall between an abuser and the abused. In the aftermath of the abuse, I would sob next to my mother looking at her cuts and bruises, would never let me sleep in peace,” she says.

On a cold winter afternoon, when Sarwat’s paternal family came over for lunch, her mother was on the toes ensuring the best of the Kashmiri hospitality for the guests.

“My mother cooked and fed them. Gave them blankets, kangri and nun chai. She wore a green pheran with intricately detailed embroidery work. After the visitors, my aunt among them, settled, mother started helping me with my homework. She was overworked already and smelled of fresh morning dew,” Sarwat recalls.

The women had a tiny friction over the aunt’s disagreement regarding the design of the pheran. “While we were busy with my assignments, my aunt walked up to us, picked a kangri and whammed it on my mother’s head,” Sarwat recalls as her voice chokes. “My mother held on to me, saving me from the glowing coal and ashes. She received burns that took weeks to heal. She never wore the same pheran again.”


On reacting to reminders of the domestic violence in the form of sights, smells, tastes, sounds, words, things, places, emotions, Sarwat adds, “I can’t stand the sight of burning coal. It churns my gut. The embers, transport me back to the time they tried to burn my mother. I can’t remember or understand the reasons why such things would happen to her.”

 The authority that her father’s relatives thought they had over Sarwat’s family -- to march over and beat her mother with no pity or mercy -- fills her with anger.

Elaborating the structure of violence and the impact it had on her life, she says, “I'm always cold. My mouth often dries up. I have trouble swallowing. I feel a terrible lack of energy and motivation for even the simplest tasks in life. When I do accomplish something, I feel no sense of satisfaction. It is this overwhelming paranoia of confused, lost, helpless, and a hopeless self, daily.

Sometimes I fear getting out of bed in the morning. I fear walking out of my house. I tremble when I talk to anyone out of fear and uncertainty. I have this innate disgust for everything human. It has also shaped my faith differently than others.”

When discussing the traumatic events with a child victim, it inevitably causes the child to experience profound grief. “These uncontrollable outbursts of rage that I have now, I wish I could use it back then,” she says.


Domestic violence affects all who are exposed, from the perpetrators, victims, to the children who witness the violence. It is important to understand how complex domestic violence is to effectively understand the systems that are affected by this crime. The loss and grief experienced by children can lead to the child having to change homes often. The impacts of domestic violence help explain the difficulty that many experiences in parenting as well as in intimate relationships.

Children who witness trauma exhibit an array of emotions when it comes to coping with witnessing domestic violence. These emotions include sadness, anxiety, and fear. It is critical to understand the coping skills children respond with so there is an understanding for the varied experiences that children face and how these relate to their well-being. There appears to be a variation in coping methods used by children: problem-focused or emotion-focused. Problem focused meaning the coping is focused on problem solving and emotions focused meaning acting in a way to alter the level of stress being experienced or attempting to manage the emotional distress associated with the violence.

According to Judith Herman, an American psychiatrist, “trauma inevitably brings loss”. She continues to describe how for those who are lucky enough to escape physical abuse, those who are physically abused lose sense of themselves and their bodily integrity.

Domestic violence continues to be a problem among families. It is clear that exposure to violence places a great burden on children across all developmental stages, as well as cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. It is possible for families exposed to this to overcome the issue and not go on to abuse others. Unfortunately, the effects of family violence are likely to produce long-term inter-generational cycles of abuse if not treated early.


Sarwat, after witnessing the violence as a child, now has trouble balancing her life. She says, “I keep re-experiencing the violence when I am asleep. I turn and I toss, until I pass out from crying and fatigue. It is almost borderline funny that I relive images, sensations, and memories of the abuse. I try really hard to let them go. But they haunt me and have latched on to my soul forever. I avoid situations, people, and reminders associated with violence. I even try not to think or talk about it. But I feel as if I am cut off from normal life and other people.”

The response of the community has a huge impact on how the traumatic event is overcome by the victim. Often times with domestic violence, this is looked at by the community in a negative view, leaving the victim to be re-victimised and to feel shameful. Children are often affected by domestic violence through witnessing it, they have to remain in the situation and be traumatically and repeatedly victimized.

She further adds: “Everything has turned me into a bitter being. I fear anger, my own and everyone else's, even when anger is not present. I fear rejection. I fear success and failure. I get pain in my chest and tingling and numbness in my arms and legs every day. I almost daily experience cramps ranging from menstrual-type cramps to intense pain. I really feel hurt most of the time. I feel that I can't go on. I have headaches, followed by anxious tremors and panic attacks. The disorientation is so unreal. The shortness of breath and a racing heart– it paralyses me.”

It took her years to understand that it is alright to feel more than one emotion at a time, and to cope up with it. “It is normal to feel angry at either or both parents when violence occurs. It is okay to love both parents at the same time. It is not your fault or responsibility,” she says.