invisible fractures

Dig Boston Cover Story, 1/26/17: "Photo Feature: Invisible Fractures" by Rachel Tine

January 26, 2017 By RACHEL TINE Leave a Comment



A new exhibit reveals nonphysical bruises in healing light




Not all scars are visible on the surface. But as Boston-area photographer Rachel Tine reminds us, “many  domestic violence shelters require that a victim has sustained physical injuries in order to receive assistance.” Even though “emotional abuse has been shown to be equally if not more damaging to victims in the long term.”


Partnering with the Dorchester-based nonprofit Casa Myrna, which provides help to emotional abuse victims (as well as physical and sexual abuse victims) to raise money and awareness for their organization, Tine photographed nearly two dozen individuals for her latest series, “Invisible Fractures: The Enduring Trauma of Emotional Abuse,” which opens at the Piano Craft Gallery on Feb 3.

“All of the series participants are deeply impacted by the emotional abuse to this day,” Tine says. “But by sharing their history through this series, participants have been able to utilize their own suffering to benefit others, which has helped to empower survivors who were previously nervous about coming forward with their experiences. It’s been really moving to see how transformative participation in this series has been for people.”


In one case, the photographer says there has been impact even before the opening reception.


“One woman actually left her emotionally abusive relationship when she read one of my posts about the series and realized that she was being emotionally abused,” Tine says. “She knew she would end up suffering like the participants in my series if she didn’t get out.”


Below we have included excerpts from the difficult and moving interviews that Tine did with her subjects, along with photographs (please note that pictures do not correspond to specific quotations). Those who have suffered from relationship abuse may want to consider the troubling nature of the experiences described herein before reading further.  




What, if anything, made you fearful, sad, question your own self-worth or intuition, etc.?

My relationship made me fear for the life of my family. Often while trying to escape this relationship, [he] would threaten to go to my house and hurt my family. He swore time and time again that if I left him, when I was married with my own family in the future, that he would find me and first kill my child, then my husband, all in front of me. As a teen, nothing was more scary than this. I questioned my self-worth every time I went back … Every time I found myself on my knees begging for him to stop what he was doing to me.


Can you succinctly describe some of the most damaging things that were said or done to you over the course of the relationship?


He would tell me he loved me more than anything or anyone in the world; he even drunkenly proposed to me one night. But the next day would be completely different—he said that he’d never really felt anything for me, that he was just confused and now he understood how little I really meant, that he didn’t want to see me anymore. This happened several times. In the course of our relationship, he broke up with me three times, and each time it devastated me. We’d end up getting back together because he’d come back to me and apologize with that cliche “you don’t know what you have ’till it’s gone” line. The emotional yo-yoing really damaged my self-worth.


What, if anything, made you fearful, sad, question your own self-worth or intuition, etc.?


I was subjected to brutal debates on any topic, and, over time, began to live in terror, afraid to say anything that might provoke him. He argued to win no matter what and said that it was “fun” even when these “fun” and “friendly” arguments would reduce me to tears, and sometimes would continue even when I pleaded with him to stop. This occurred fairly often, but was unpredictable, so I felt on edge most of the time. He derived tremendous pleasure from dominating me and crushing any attempt at disagreement.




How does the image of you in this series represent your experience in an emotionally abusive relationship?


Because of how painful life was for me when he wasn’t getting exactly what he wanted, it became ingrained in me to, without realizing it, second guess every word and action before they came out of me, always aware that I would be punished in some way, big or small, if I didn’t behave in exactly the “right” way. For this image, I chose to be photographed with my tongue taped down, because my abuser cleverly manipulated my ability to ever feel safe to speak freely.

What was the “last straw” that allowed you to leave for good?


He used to work some nights over night, and one night he went out to work and then I decided to go with some friends to a party, and then I got back and there he was. I’m pretty sure he set me up because he thought I was going to go out, and I came home and there he was on the couch and it was dark and he was looking crazy and then he pulled out a gun on me and pointed it right at my face, and then he was acting like he was going to shoot me. And I don’t know how I kept my cool, but I was like “do it, go for it,” but in my head I was losing it, and then he just popped out the clip and just emptied the clip of bullets right in my face, like flicked them at me. And I stayed. I think the last straw for me . . . was I threatened to leave and then he threatened to hurt my dog and then sleep around with a bunch of my friends, and that’s what made me leave. But then I got mad at myself later, I realized I got more upset that he threatened to hurt my dog and sleep with my friends than shoot me with a gun. I think that’s when I realized it wasn’t a normal relationship at all.




How does the abuse still affect you today?


Every time someone raises their voice near me, there’s a part of me that shuts down immediately, and I can do nothing but cry and hold myself until the feeling passes. In relationships following … my significant others have often felt offended that I could ever fear them or think they would belittle me in the way he did. They have gotten angry at times for immediately assuming the worst to happen.

How does the abuse still affect you today?


I have lost all of my self-confidence and hope for the future. For the first time in my life I am really insecure about my appearance. I have nightmares. I am too fragile to form new relationships. I am plagued by all of the physical symptoms of PTSD. But mostly, I struggle still with cognitive dissonance—after years of being told that my essential basic human needs for intimacy, security, fairness, respect, were invalid, were due to my “wrong thinking,” because I am inherently flawed. In time, I came to believe it. As a result of years of gaslighting, I lost my sense of agency and came to accept the reality that was manufactured for me; I began to doubt my own mind. This persists even when I know now, empirically, that I was emotionally abused.

Check out the Invisible Fractures opening reception at the Piano Craft Gallery on Fri 2.3 from 7–10pm. After-party to follow at Hojoko. For more information visit