Yesterday I received this question from a friend.
“I have noticed in myself that, after being emotionally and psychologically abused for years, in the last six months since I have really fully awakened to it and now have labels and words to match the behavior seen in my abuser…*I* easily lean towards putting him in a non-human category. Almost out of my self preservation, I have gone too far in making him a monster. I’ve read a lot on coming to recognize his bad behavior but it would be awesome to have encouragement on how to view someone who has abused us, without undoing the progress we’ve made, but in terms of healing and not harboring hatred.”
This is such a good question. In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Leslie Vernick explores the concept of building our emotional CORE — an acronym representing four qualities of emotional strength and resiliency: Committed to truth and reality, Open to growth, instruction and feedback, Responsible for myself AND Respectful of others without dishonoring myself, and Empathic and compassionate toward others, without enabling others to continue to abuse and disrespect me.
So here is the conundrum my friend expressed above: In order to survive and thrive, people in abusive or destructive relationships have to be able to see and name the truth of their partners’ destructive behavior without coming to view the abusive partner as somehow sub-human. I think this concept is key: When you get in the way of someone’s destructive habits and tendencies, you are doing something that is good for him, not just for yourself. You are acting on his behalf, as well as on your own.
When you name destructive, demeaning, dismissive speech for what it is and decline to participate in those games, you are caring for yourself and also for the person who is hurting you. That’s love.
When you notice that your partner is cutting you off from your support network and you find ways to reach out anyway, you are caring for yourself, but you are also circumventing his bad behavior. That’s love.
When you refuse to drive in the same car with him, because he’s using his erratic driving to threaten or punish you — you’re keeping both of you safe from his poor choices. That’s love.
When you move out, cut off contact, and require that he begin serious work on himself before you will interact with him again, you are taking responsibility for yourself, and you are requiring something better out of him. That’s love.
In Loving Abusers, Part Two, I’ll talk about some practical, concrete steps you can take to love someone who is stuck in abusive patterns of behavior. Meanwhile, I would love to hear from you. Have you found effective ways to care for yourself while loving him?
Read more about Leslie Vernick’s concept of CORE strength, here.