Last night in class, a veteran came and spoke to us. Boy, was it eye-opening to hear of his experience, of how his training and programming were so completely different than life in society, and how hard it was to overcome the lingering effects of combat trauma. For instance, he showed pictures of curbside trash on junk day. He told a story of how he swerved to avoid a minor pothole and narrowly missed a collision. He spoke of empty boxes and things that seem innocuous to us. Those things, he said, were hiding places for bombs, explosions waiting to happen. You would never pick up a piece of trash in Afghanistan. He explained that often he would leave a bomb-threatened town like that and be back in the States within 24 hours. What I gathered from his talk was an appreciation for how hard it must be for veterans to integrate back into a culture that has no clue about what they have been through. Not just that, but we are an illiterate bunch when it comes to trauma in general.
It's why I write about the issues surrounding relationships with narcissists and habits of abuse. Bystanders are a powerful force, and are naive about the kind of change they can enact.
One issue I read about that arises as a result of trauma is moral injury. Moral injury is the act of doing something against your morals. In war, these difficult decisions happen all the time...do you kill the cute kid who is carrying explosives to the next village? The choice is clear but to cause a child to lose their life is also horrid and repulsive to me. Thinking about facing those kinds of moral dilemmas makes me ball up inside and cringe, so I can only imagine what happens to the soul and psyche of someone who so violently sacrifices themselves for the good of the many over and over and over again.
A narcissistic or overly entitled person never self-betrays. They do not face moral dilemmas where they would have to make amends or reconcile their behavior within themselves. They have given themselves a free pass to ignore any consequence of their actions. The only moral dilemmas they deal with are your moral dilemmas of calling them out on their lies, projection, gaslighting, manipulation, and contempt. They perpetually stand with their hands over their ears crying, "la la la, don't wanna see, don't wanna hear".
Somehow, you become immoral for telling the truth.
This morning, I heard of a woman who was asked by an acquaintance regarding her custody battle, "why don't you just share custody with him?"
There is no short answer for this, for women who have to face sharing custody with a man who controlled and/or abused them. People don't get it. People in general do not understand that you cannot operate as if an abuser will do things from a similar moral perspective as most of the people in your world. An abuser's moral sense is impaired to the degree that they cannot receive information about how their actions affect another human being. They might be on good behavior when it suits them, say they are moral, and be able to fool a lot of people, but they absolutely cannot be trusted to have the same moral compass, if they even have any.
Not understanding this allows people to say stupid things to a woman who has divorced a narcissist.
"Just let it go." (Let what go? My house? My car? My pride? My personhood? My rights as a parent? Any hope of financial stability? My ability to care for my kids? Because he won't be happy until I am crushed and his attorney won't be happy until my kids have no food to eat at my house. )
"You two need to just get in a room and talk it out." (You mean you want me to go into a room and be the acquiescent wife I once was, and not really talk it out because negotiating with him has the same effect as negotiating with a terrorist, as in nothing I say matters. Why don't YOU talk to him and make him to stop bullying me?)
"It can't be that bad. I just saw him at church and he is so nice." (Have you ever heard of Jekyll and Hyde? Ever watched the movie "Gaslight"?)
"You are both to blame. It takes two to tango." (In some normal situations, this viewpoint from systems therapy holds water. But in an abuse situation, it is superstition. It's like saying washing your car causes a storm. It's like saying you just ate and that is why you got a dinner invitation. It's like saying that the people who live downstream from the mining site that illegally pollutes the water supply are to blame because they live where they live, and they know the mine is there and that the company is not trustworthy. Seriously, people? Another term for it is victim blaming and it is horrid. Horrid. It allows others to become co-abusers under the guise of politically correct neutrality. Those same people will then turn around and blame you, because they aren't really neutral. They knowingly support an abuser.)
A woman who has been in an abusive marriage faces her own moral injury. She may have completely lost (betrayed) herself and her children to keep relative peace and may have done extreme things to deal with an impossible situation.
Wars abroad, wars at home, all call for understanding and compassion. Trauma manifests in ways as simple as not being able to think clearly or find your words, to actually re-experiencing traumatic events in dreams and in triggering situations. Women who live with abusers and move and work in the world have to re-integrate into life every day. They leave a virtual mind-fuck at home, and they are most likely a little out of it, or quirky, or absent-minded, or depressed when they hit the real world, where a tone of voice or a romantic card can be a trigger.. Triggers abound and it is difficult to know what to do to help. But blaming her will never help.
My hope is we become more trauma-literate as a culture, which really just involves being kind and empathetic, and listening deeply to those who say they are hurting, and believing someone who says they have been abused.
I'm not sure I effectively connected all my streams of thought this morning, but there it is.
Educate yourself about domestic violence/divorcing a narcissist: