Trigger warning: abuse
I decided to read the book, “Maid,” by Stephanie Land, before I started watching the show on Netflix. I found it relatable, especially as the child of a single mom who also struggled deeply with money, exhaustion, and insurmountable stress as she tried to rebuild a life from herself after a difficult breakup.
I knew that “Maid” contained depictions of domestic violence, and I was disturbed by them as I read the book. From what I saw on social media, the Netflix series zeroed in strongly on the domestic violence part of the book and people who had experienced domestic violence firsthand felt strongly triggered.
Personally, I have never dealt with spousal violence, so I wasn’t too concerned about being triggered when I watched the show. So, last Friday, I turned it on. And, well, from the moment it started, my heart began racing, and I felt emotions that I haven’t been in touch with for a while.
I am a victim of childhood emotional abuse. I had a stepparent who raged at me and my brother, belittled us, threatened us. She never hit us, but she’d throw things in our direction, stomp her feet in a rage, slam objects down around the house, etc. After all that, she would stonewall us, disappearing for days, unwilling to talk about what happened.
Although the main character in “Maid” (Alex) is dealing with abuse from a partner (Sean), there were so many parallels to my experience with my stepparent. Sean is mostly okay when he isn’t drunk, but then he flies into a rage.
He isn’t physically abusive to Alex or their daughter, Maddy, but he shouts, screams, and disparages. He doesn’t hit them, but he punches a wall. He throws a glass bowl full of noodles right in Alex’s face.
There is something about seeing this stuff in real life, depicted on a screen, that is different than reading about it. It’s different than remembering scenes like this from your own life. As I watched this stuff unfold on the screen, I panicked, as though I could feel it happening to me.
As I watched it again, alone at home, in anticipation of writing this article, I began to cry. Audible, loud sobs as I watched.
I think maybe the most triggering moment for me is after Alex leaves, when she visits a social service program in order to find a place to stay the night with Maddie. The social worker asks her questions about her situation and why she needed to leave Sean.
Alex describes Sean’s verbal abuse — and there’s a flashback to when he punches a hole in the wall while yelling at her — but she makes sure to mention that he never hit her or Maddie.
In an effort to help her find a place to stay, the social worker says, “Well, there are shelters for domestic violence victims, but you need to go on record with your abuse.”
“I’m not abused,” Alex answers.
This moment gave me chills. As you watch her say this, you know that she was abused. You just watched it happen. But the sneaky thing about emotional abuse is that it’s so easy to deny it. So any of us grew up thinking that abuse = physical violence, and that’s it.
I was never hit either. It took me years to realize that what happened to me was abusive. I, too, focused on the fact that I was never hit. Sure, stuff was thrown in my direction, but it never hurt my body, so I assumed I was okay.
I wasn’t able to characterize the stuff that happened to me as abuse until I was in my thirties. This was after ten years of therapy. I’m still trying to understand and reconcile what happened. I’m still recovering. There’s still a part of me that’s in denial, too.
So, yes, “Maid” is incredibly triggering for people who have experienced abuse, any kind of abuse. I think it’s particularly triggering for folks who have experienced emotional abuse, because it very realistically portrays the thought process — the deep denial that happens when you have experienced this type of abuse.
To anyone who has found “Maid” triggering in this way — and to anyone suffering or recovering from emotional abuse right now — I want to tell you something.
What you experienced was real. Emotional abuse is real abuse, and can be as harmful as physical and sexual abuse (here’s a study from the American Psychological Association about that).
Please know that you don’t need to remain in a relationship that’s abusive. It may feel impossible to get out, but there are resources out there to help you. I’ve provided a few at the end of this post.
Most of all, you are not alone. I know that’s a cliché thing to say, but it’s absolutely true. There are, unfortunately, many of us out there who have experienced the kind of abuse depicted in “Maid.” It’s not some kind of anomaly.
Again, emotional abuse is a real thing. It counts as abuse. And while it doesn’t leave physical marks, it leaves devastating emotional scars.
If you are in an abusive relationship and need to escape to shelter, please visit Domestic Shelters to find a safe haven, and for counseling and help
Safe Horizon has a free domestic violence hotline at 1-800-621–HOPE (4673)
If you or your family needs access to food, or is facing homelessness, dial 211 for assistance.
If you are having a mental health crisis, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), or call the NAMI Help Line at 1-800-950-6264.
If you are currently having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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