by Robert Wilkinson
I knew when I posted the article Tactics and Strategies of Batterers and Other Abusive People it would open a beehive of insights via comments and emails. Today we examine some ways to know if we're contributing to the relational impasse through our own behavior.
This article was written to address questions that many have along the lines of "How do I know if I'm contributing to the abuse? Are my patterns of response any better than the person I believe is abusing me? When I'm responding to being abused, is my own behavior abusive?" Obviously we know if we're the victim of physical abuse, so this article deals more with knowing if our attitudes or actions are contributing to the problem of whatever abuse that is happening.
While I do believe that it takes two to tango (or fight, or disagree, or whatever!) let's first take a look at some questions we can ask ourselves to see if we have potentially or supposedly abusive attitudes or whether we're simply confronting these in another.
Many of these questions we can ask ourselves to get some clarity around cause and effect come straight from what was discussed in the cited article on the tactics and strategies of abusers. These questions provide us ways of contrasting whether we are truly being victimized, or just part of a reciprocal co-dependent dance.
First, the reasoning. It's simple and sound. I have found it's always good to apply one of the true acid tests to things like this: If it's sauce for the goose, is it also sauce for the gander?
Put another way, is what the other person saying true for all, or only some? Under what conditions? Who sets the conditions where something is true or false? Are they assuming what they are saying is "true" and what we're saying is "false?" Are they acknowledging any possible point of view contrary to their own?
We're all allowed our "authorities," but that's an issue of "consider the source." From what authority does this person say what they're saying? What are they assuming in their accusations or statements of supposed "fact?"
Then there are interpersonal issues. Why are they saying this to us? Why are they asserting what they are? Why is this being asserted rather than something else?
Why are they using that language? Is it clarifying or obfuscating? Does it go in circles or get to the point? Is that point hurtful? Is it true or useful?
Are they observing reasonable boundaries? Are either of us going where we shouldn't go? Are they getting personal in a hurtful way?
Is there anger present? What is each person presuming? Are they listening? Am I listening? How are we each responding to what we've heard, or believe we've heard?
Again, does the Golden Rule work here? In other words, if the conditions were reversed, how would they like it? If the tables were turned and you were forcing your personal opinion upon them in absolutist terms, how would they like it? Would they accept the same standard of behavior from another that they're dishing out?
I find that these questions help me get clear about every interaction I have with my world. Not that I'm "right" or they're "right," but just that I can get clear about who is playing what parts in the interaction. Of course, getting beyond the need to "be right" and avoid "being wrong" helps, since those are ego traps to begin with.
That said, we must always stand for what we believe is true, good, and beautiful, since who but us can determine what these are for us? That's where examining what each presumes can help us understand if boundaries are being violated. I have never ascribed to violating one's integrity for the sake of any external belief system, including my own.
While a complete examination of all of the issues connected to abusing/being abused is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few more questions to consider to help us know our part in an abusive interactive dynamic:
Who flings the first accusation? Why is that accusation important? Is there a sense of undermining either person's ability to make a free choice? Is there coercion? Do you feel intimidated?
Are you equals having a discussion, or is one dominating the argument through a monologue? Are they minimizing your concerns while inflating their own?
Are their demands possible to meet? Why are you responsible for meeting their demands? Are they reasonable? How much time and energy will it take? Why should you do what they want - what is your buy in to the interaction?
Are they offering you anything substantial that you can take from the interaction other than their opinion or need to be right? How balanced is the argument? Do you feel clearer or more confused during or after the discussion?
The last question is very important, since one tactic of an abusive person is to twist what you say or do to make themselves the victim of something you supposedly said or did. Also to make you believe that an increasingly spun out discussion is somehow sane and rational. An abuser will always try to make their victim feel crazy somehow so they can "clarify things" or "show you how it really is."
This is where we must become alert to what we are sensitive about, since an abuser will probe to find that sensitivity and exploit it to their advantage. On the other hand, we must also become aware of any tendency on our own part to ignore or minimize abusive speech, since many of us have been programmed when we were younger to do so.
This can take the form of a numbness in the presence of hurtful and unkind speech directed at us. Here having a "thick skin" does not help us realize when we're being hit with slimy words. Since the Soul thrives upon veneration and mutual respect and withers in the face of insults, put-downs, and disrespect, be alert to those deep inner feelings.
Also, if you want to see who's starting or perpetuating the problem, remember it's always healthy people who are willing to look at themselves and their behavior to figure out what they can do to make something better. Healthy people are usually willing to try to consider the concerns of another to find "win-win" situations.
I have found that healthy people are clear about their intentions and when at an impasse, often search for reasonable solutions that consider the greatest good for the whole. However, I have found dishonest or abusive people always put their concerns ahead of others (regardless of what they say to the contrary!)
Again, that's why a way to know who is contributing to or escalating a conflict is to ask who is being reasonable and willing to dialog in an open honest way? Are you dealing with someone willing to address your important concerns, whether they agree with them or not?
Are their concerns fixed, or do more arise each time there's a discussion so there's no resolution to any of them except to give them what they want? As noted in the earlier article, this is impossible, since you can never please a batterer to their satisfaction. That's because they thrive on the conflict.
Is one seeking to dominate or intimidate? Is there passive or active aggression? Is someone saying things that are provocative? Who is suggesting common ground? Are they putting you down for having your own point of view? If so, then there's probably some abuse going on.
Are they justifying their nasty behavior because you supposedly said or did something to "make them" do that? Do they ever "take the high road" and try to see things from your view, and change their response to one that is kind and loving? When you do that, are you hit with more accusations?
One common trick of an abuser is to accuse their victim of hurting them if the victim speaks their truth. Of course the truth hurts when a person is a liar! Abusers are always liars, since they'll twist a shred of truth to make another person wrong, and then use that "wrongness" to justify saying or doing nasty things.
If you're trying to speak your view reasonably and all you get back are accusations, deflections, self-justifications, and wheel-spinning, then you're probably in an abusive situation. You definitely cannot solve anything or "make anything right" since there will be no pleasing someone who can't be pleased.
When dealing with abusive people and situations, these are up-close-and-personal opportunities to see there is nothing to lose but the chains of illusory perceptions that only leave us feeling badly. The challenge is to make an internal break to free ourselves from deceptive and draining agendas where we are frustrated by a lack of any worthwhile payoff. This is a clear signal to set our own course and break free of patterns that can only hurt us.
Ultimately, we are Eternals possessed of loving goodwill and divine intelligence who cannot be chained by anything except our own view. As I recently told a friend caught in an abusive situation,
Preserve your heart, reference your Soul, turn away from being seduced by outer things, and find your center of peace. Move into truth, goodness, and beauty, and away from the sources of suffering.
We only dance with abusive people until we realize there are many other loving dances to do with people who won't abuse us and choose to change our life patterns. This is our fundamental freedom as Loving, Wise, Intelligent Eternals having our human experiences.
We all have the power to throw off the chains of mental and emotional slavery. All we have to do is whatever we must to live a greater Way, Truth, and Life/Light. This is the ultimate kindness, since it breaks the cycles of abuse.
© Copyright 2010 Robert Wilkinson