AIBU: How the Internet Slang of Self-Doubt Might Obscure Opportunities for Women to Seek Support for Domestic Abuse

25/07/2016 11:21 | Updated 25 July 2016

These days, internet slang is everywhere. In particular, one four letter word keeps cropping up over and over: "AIBU...".

AIBU stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?", and sites like Mumsnet and other forums are full of questions that begin with it. The idea is that you can use the abbreviation to get help and advice from others online, often to either validate or challenge your feelings about a particular issue. We use them to check in with others to find out, am I right to feel a certain way about this? For example;

"AIBU to be annoyed with my MIL?"

"AIBU to feel upset about what happened with my friend?"

Hearing agreement from our fellows online can help us feel justified in our opinions. All of us, at one point or another, experience self-doubt. We worry if we fit in, we are clever enough, tall enough, we said the right thing, if we're on the right path in life. Doubting ourselves is arguably part of being human. AIBU is part of our need to feel we are rational, reasonable beings, and if we do feel upset, angry or embarrassed about something, we are warranted in doing so. However, these four letters I believe can be symbolic of a much wider, and worrying, issue which it is important to be aware of.

For a woman in an abusive relationship, it can often be difficult to work out how she feels, and she may question herself about whether she is being unreasonable. Abusers will tell their victims it is their fault, they deserved the abuse, that they are the abuser. The nature of abuse means that perpetrators can be charming one minute, violent the next, and then apologetic and sobbing after. Being in a relationship like this is a whirlwind of emotions, and she may feel that she is walking on eggshells when trying to work out where an incident came from. Sadly, AIBU is also a common acronym on sites where survivors are asking for support, and validation, from others in recognising abusive behaviour, and whether they deserved it.

In sessions I used to run as a domestic abuse support group facilitator, I would often try and raise awareness with women about domestic abuse. This was about talking through what behaviours may constitute abuse, and how you might be able to recognise if you are in an abusive relationship. It can feel really scary to put a label on it and think that you might be a victim. However, I always told every woman in the group- don't let anyone else define what abuse is for you! In one relationship, being bought a new dress by your partner can mean one thing, but in another relationship, being bought clothing can be symbolic of coercion and control. Trust your own instincts and go with your gut feelings, no matter how doubtful of them you feel.

AIBU is a phrase that we all need to become more aware of. If something makes you feel bad, uncomfortable, afraid, you don't need anyone else's validation that it isn't right. Supporting survivors of abuse, as a friend or as a professional, is about helping the woman trust herself again and encouraging her that she is the expert in her own life. If it doesn't feel right to her, that means it isn't, no matter what anyone else says.

Being abusive or violent to another is always the responsibility of the person using that behaviour. Whether you are a survivor yourself or a supporter looking for help and support, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.