The Blame Game

I think it will come as no surprise to anyone that stuff happens. People make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong.

What I can’t abide is what often happens next. Like flies to a rotting corpse, it seems like people swarm around, in search of someone to blame. I didn’t do it. You did it.

I don’t know if that instinct springs from a desperate need to save your own behind, or if humans are more into Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) than we’d care to admit. I hope it isn’t the latter. I’d hate to think we as a species get off on seeing others thrown under the bus. But I have to admit that I’ve witnessed such behavior more than once.

I implore all authority figures the world over to stop asking whose fault things are, and instead, focus on how something happened, and how that thing can be prevented from happening in the future. Then the situation will improve.

If you focus on blame, people will naturally put more emphasis on covering things up. Serious problems will be swept under the rug. It’s only natural that the average person wants to be self-protective. In that atmosphere, things worsen.

Encourage new ideas. Allow people to think outside the box. Make the atmosphere safe to do this, and people become problem solvers.

Unless you are infallible, it’s really absurd to criticize those of us who commit human errors. Learn from these things and move on, rather than create an atmosphere of hostility and tension.

The only time blame is appropriate is when destruction is intentional.

blame

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

Sorry

I once knew a woman who apologized all the time. If she called you on the phone, she’d start with, “Sorry to bother you.” If she walked through the door ahead of you, she’d apologize for that. If we had outdoor plans and it began to rain, she’d apologize for the weather, as if it were her fault.

Everyone around her found this habit to be supremely annoying. Conversations with her would take ten times as long because you had to spend a great deal of time and energy reassuring her, or asking what she was sorry about, or trying to convince her that there was no need to apologize.

After a while it becomes tiresome to try to artificially prop up a grown woman’s rock-bottom self-esteem. Maybe she thought that by making herself seem pathetic she would be more appealing. Maybe she really did feed off of the constant pep talks. I have no idea.

But one day I got into her tiny little car, and as she began to drive, she said, “Sorry. I just had a sandwich with garlic, so I’ll try not to breathe on you.”

Seriously? Did she just apologize for breathing? For BREATHING???

I have to admit that I kind of lost it. It was one of those “come to Jesus” moments when you tell someone the complete, honest, unvarnished truth. I told her what she does. I told her how people feel about it, and how it impacts everyone around her. I told her that she had nothing to be sorry about, and that the only time she ever needs to beg forgiveness is when she causes harm.

Her response? “I can’t change!”

Suddenly I felt exhausted. Life is too short. I tried. But I stopped trying after that. And we drifted apart.

Sorry

Outing Your Abuser

What I’m about to say is probably going to make a lot of people angry or upset, but as a sexual abuse survivor myself, I think I’ve earned the right to form strong opinions on this subject. Believe me, having this particular opinion makes even me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, here it is.

I have known many people in my life who have been abused in one way or another. The first thing I try to tell these people is that the abuse was not their fault. I point that out because no one bothered to tell me that. I had to figure it out on my own, and it was a good decade before I reached that point. A decade of thinking I had done something wrong, something to deserve such horrible treatment. That’s way too long. Even one day is way too long to have that kind of thought in your head. No one deserves that.

If you have been, or are being abused, you don’t deserve it. You didn’t ask for it, you don’t want it, and you shouldn’t have to experience it. But here’s where it gets controversial. Here’s my upsetting opinion. Even though you never wanted this role, even though it was thrust upon you completely against your will, you now, unfortunately, have a huge responsibility. You have to speak up. You have to out your abuser.

The reason I say this is that I know several people who experienced abuse and kept relatively quiet about it. It’s painful. It’s humiliating. It’s awkward. Speaking up can break apart families or even cause jail time. Speaking up means being publicly outed yourself, for something you didn’t do. You will be judged harshly by many.

But here’s the thing. Abusers aren’t going to stop abusing just because you’ve “aged out” of their emotional prison. They’ll most likely move on to someone else. And whether you like it or not, your silence enables them to do just that.

From an adult perspective, putting several puzzle pieces together, I am fairly certain that my stepfather must have abused his own daughter before he abused me. If she had spoken up, my life would be much different. I wouldn’t bear the scars that I bear.

Fortunately, that man has long since slithered off to hell where he can no longer hurt anyone, but when he was alive, I spoke up. I spoke loud and I spoke clear. Because one day I saw my two year old niece toddling over to his outstretched arms, and I wanted to make sure he would never, ever touch her. Ever. Unfortunately the adults in my life never stepped up once I spoke out, so he never got all the justice he deserved, but he also never got the anonymity on which he thrived.

So if you have survived that sort of evil, whether it was sexual, physical or emotional, I’m profoundly and truly sorry. But you have to speak up. For all the victims that are in line behind you. You are a survivor. Now it’s time to also be a savior.

speak up

How to Become a Battered Woman

My whole life I’ve looked at battered women with sadness and pity, but I have to admit that I always viewed them with a certain level of disdain. I’d never let that happen to me. Never. How do you get in that position? How do you let someone disrespect you like that, harm you like that, and yet not walk away? I could never put up with that from anyone.

But I learned a very hard lesson recently, one that makes me look at battered women in a whole new light. What I’ve never realized is that it’s a quiet, creeping progression. It’s not like a woman gets beaten on the first date and decides that she’s going to live with that person happily ever after. No. You start off as one person, and somehow, slowly over time, you change. Then one day you look up and you say to yourself, “How did I get here?”

You see, it starts off so well at first. You are swept off your feet. You are charmed. You think you’ve found “the one”. You feel loved and protected and cherished and more attractive than you’ve ever felt in your whole life. Your heart is overflowing with happiness, and you dare to dream that you may actually have a bright future to look forward to after all. It’s like winning the lottery when you’ve never even had the confidence to buy a ticket.

That honeymoon stage can go on for a long time. Long enough to really get you hooked. And then one day he breaks through the first boundary. He loses his temper. But not like a typical couple’s quarrel. It’s epic. And all the more so because you never expected that he was capable of such behavior. What happened to the guy you fell in love with? You are kind of in shock. You don’t really know what to think. And the next day he acts as if nothing has happened.

You almost wonder if you imagined it. You make excuses. He was tired. You really were wrong. Everyone has a bad day now and then. Maybe you’re making too much of it. But there have been warning signs. He has spoken of other friends or relatives with anger, and he seems to hold on to that anger without ever moving on. But up until now, it was never directed at you.

Things settle down for a few days, maybe a week, and you really start to think it was just an anomaly. Then it happens again. Only this time, he says something that really, really hurts you. He picks something you’re vulnerable about and he sticks an emotional fork into it and twists. Boundary number two.

This time you’re pretty sure that you did nothing to deserve this. You didn’t realize he felt this way about you. You start to wonder about him, and how he can be so cruel. He saw you cry. He knows he hurt you. You wait for an apology, but it never comes.

The next few days he’s really, really nice to you. He gives you compliments. He makes you feel like you are the most wonderful person in the world. In the back of your mind you try to reconcile this with the cruel things he said earlier, but you can’t.

You tell yourself that he’s being really, really nice because he feels horrible about his behavior, and this is his way of apologizing. Not everyone is good at coming right out and saying things. Men, particularly, are not known for communicating feelings. So maybe this is how he does it. And as he showers you with compliments, you think this is good enough.

But over time, he shows his temper more quickly and more often. You find yourself thinking ahead so that you can avoid things that are likely to set him off. He hates the way you drive, so you let him drive. He wants the towels folded a certain way in the linen closet, and really, is that such a big deal? So you fold them his way.

As you start to accumulate more rules, your ability to function effectively becomes more and more compromised. For instance, he hates to be reminded of things as he’s heading out the door, so even though you know he’s going to forget something, you are hesitant to remind him. But then, he also hates forgetting things, so you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Another item on your decision tree is, “Has he started drinking yet?” If yes, abort inquiry.

Don’t misunderstand. You are no shrinking violet. You are not passive during his rages. When he shouts, you learn to shout back. Maybe you even kick him out of the house. But eventually you take him back, because the good times are so good. And he misses you. And maybe you feel sorry for him. You definitely feel sorry for yourself.

It doesn’t help that he can paint such pretty pictures of what your life will be like together. If this one hurdle can be jumped over, everything is going to be so great. The implication being that now he’s under a lot of pressure, but once things get better, he will get better too.

But his behavior is changing. He’s starting to learn from you. He begins to know what things really cause you pain. Do you hate to be considered stupid? Then brace yourself, because he will certainly make you feel stupid when he’s angry. Do you love your dogs more than life itself? Then he will hate your dogs and everything about your dogs and he will imply that you’re stupid for even having dogs.

Then one day he rages about your housekeeping skills, and your first thought is, “Great, now here’s a whole new set of rules, and I’m never going to be able to keep track of them all.” You look forward to a lifetime of desperately trying to keep everything neat as a pin to avoid conflict, and the concept exhausts you.

And the worst part is you watch him behave decently to total strangers, so you know he’s capable of decency. He just chooses to not behave that way with you. Why? What did you do to deserve this? He’ll be happy to tell you. This is all your fault. Nothing you do is right. You aren’t trying hard enough. You are hypersensitive. You’re crazy. You’re the one. And you start to wonder if that may be true.

Unfortunately, by now you can’t talk to anyone about it. You’re too embarrassed and ashamed. You don’t want to scare off your friends, and your family won’t understand why you don’t simply walk away. So you’re completely and utterly alone without any positive validation.

Then one day, finally, he loses it in front of a witness. Boundary number three. Maybe he shouts at you in the driveway in front of the neighbor. And you see the look of shock in that neighbor’s eyes. You remember that look. You used to get that look at first. And suddenly you realize that you are no longer shocked. You’re used to it. You have come to expect it. It has become the norm. When did that happen?

In between all the bad times, though, there are still very good times. And those become all the more precious and poignant because you don’t know when the next bad time will come along. You cling to those good times. You never want to let them go.

Therein lies the problem. In order to hold on to those good times, you have to hold onto the man, and unfortunately the bad times are also part of the man. You feel a thick blanket of depression descend upon you, because you begin to twist yourself into knots trying to figure out a way to accentuate the positive and avoid the negative. You convince yourself that if you can only come up with the right combination of…whatever it is, maybe you’ll get to keep the good guy and the bad guy will go away. But you can’t find that combination, and you therefore feel yourself sinking down into a depressing status quo.

And then one day he crosses boundary number four. A chair gets thrown. Oh, not at you. You’re probably not even in the room. And thank God your dogs aren’t there, either. But you hear the crash, you feel the fury, and you are terrified. Terrified in your own home. Because what happens when he crosses boundary number five?

It is easy to imagine what boundary number five would be like. I will never know if that boundary would have been crossed, because I chose to end things. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t have been crossed because he had no history of ever doing so, but the fact that I couldn’t be sure is what gave me the strength to walk away.

And even though intellectually I know I did the right thing, the insane thing is that I still feel as if I’m going off heroin cold turkey. I miss the good stuff. It was better than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m in mourning for those pretty pictures of a future that I’ll never have, I’m terrified about how I’ll make it on my own, I practically have a panic attack when thinking of facing the holidays all alone, and I’m lonely to the point of physical pain. I feel lacerated, and I wonder if I’ll ever heal.

I have been to the rim of the abyss and I’ve looked down into it. I didn’t like what I saw. Because of that, I will never ever look at a battered woman with disdain again. Even though I’ve never been beaten myself (thank God), now I understand. I get it.

eggshells

[Image credit: narcissisticabuse.com]