Domestic Abuse in a Fish Bowl

ImageDomestic abuse is like dirty water in the fish bowl analogy. In the fish bowl analogy, the fish doesn’t recognize that it’s underwater because it has only known the world from that perspective. We can look at the fish and it’s limited reality, yet we don’t recognize that we are in our own fish bowl of our perspective in the context of our lives.
To extend the analogy, the water in the bowl might get dirtier and dirtier, but the more gradual the change the less difference that the fish will notice. If the water never really gets clean, eventually dirty water will be normal and all that the fish expects.
Even though I was not the direct victim of domestic abuse, I still didn’t recognize it until I was out of that context. It doesn’t look like the definition I had in my head and it’s so much more complex than I ever though it could be.
The media gives us an image of what it should look like: physically violent, obvious to both the victim and the abuser, the abuser is a horrible person, the victim is helpless. In reality, it may look nothing like this and it often does not. This discrepancy keeps us from recognizing it for what it really is and doing something about it.
It was so gradual that nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. Don’t to that or it causes a fight, don’t bring that up because it’s not worth it. It’s like walking on eggshells to keep the other person calm and content. Slowly more activities and cut out and more habits are changed according to what has been deemed acceptable. Eventually there is a new set of norms and nobody notices until they are already in place.
The complicated part is that it’s not all bad, especially at the beginning. The abuser probably has some really good qualities; after all, the relationship formed somehow. Maybe they fix things and cook and clean and handle everything that was not being handled before. Maybe they have so much in common with the other, the same difficult past, the same taste in music. And maybe they showed up at just the right moment and said just the right thing.
At a certain point the dirty water becomes noticeable, no matter how gradually it appeared. By then there are so many obstacles because their lives are entwined. How would I pay for everything? Where would one of us go? What else would I have left? Would I be safe? On top of that, would I even find anybody better?
Now that I see it, what is there even to do? At one point I would have said “just leave.” But now I know better, there is a lot more to it than that. I feel that all I can do is be understanding, supportive and non-judgmental. It’s possible that it may never end or even greatly improve, but she is smart, and creative and resilient and I know she’s dug herself out of a worse mess than this.

5 thoughts on “Domestic Abuse in a Fish Bowl

  1. meganleys says:

    Lexis I love this analogy! Someone I am very close with is in a very similar situation and it’s interesting to see how immune not only the person in the fishbowl can be but also how immune a person viewing in to the fish bowl can be to the situation and the relationship. I don’t know if I’m making any sense but It wasn’t till I read this that I realized that the relationship that this article reminded of is unhealthy and how normative to me the relationship has become even though it hurts me to see.

    We were talking about this topic in class and a girl came up with another analogy about unhealthy relationships that I really liked. It’s really simple but she said to ask yourself and question if your world seems to be getting smaller or bigger in the relationship you’re in? The truth is your world should be getting bigger not smaller.


    • lexismanzara says:

      Thanks! I definitely agree and yes that does make sense! There is always the perception that everyone around the victim sees the abuse and is telling them to get out of it, but I bet it happens all the time that other people don’t even recognize it for what it is.

      Also the other analogy is great it’s so true!


  2. lexismanzara says:

    What you just said reminded me of the No More campaign which is everywhere lately. They has a lot of really great PSA that break down some of those misconceptions. You’re so right about victim blaming in domestic abuse, which is even more terrible because just like sexual assault a lot of the time they are already blaming themselves!
    Another interesting part of the campaign gets at the bystander effect, and the it’s none of my business mentality.

    Here’s a video if you interested!


  3. […] of many individuals facing abuse in their physical or emotional home, the reality of living in a “fish bowl” as Lexis Manzara put it; the reality of creating a new identity to diminish the pain one is facing. I want to see a world […]


  4. […] an earlier post, I pointed out that domestic abuse does not have to be physical and that emotional and […]


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