Everyone's Problem

Washing dishes. Soapy water induces an introspective state, and can help wash off worry, dream into the suds, flow with ideas, and work through life's puzzles. But this time, I became angry. I have been reading Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?" and it made me angry. It made me angry to have this awareness of abuse, to know about where I was abused and silenced. It made me mad to learn that abuse is a choice and rests on a deeply ingrained overblown sense of entitlement on the part of the abuser.



I was angry for my daughters, and how in the world of men they are learning about abusers first hand, and blessedly quicker than I did. I was angry at how our culture inadvertently and sometimes deliberately supports abuse of women. I was angry at my own  confusion...about how the abusers I've had relationships with have had a "good" mask and somehow, in giving the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to believe that person was defined by their acts of good, and not their cruelty. But I came to the conclusion that cruelty and acts of relational destruction far outweigh a surprise gift, an attentive joke, a sincere conversation, or going out to eat. Those are just  ways for an abuser to avoid responsibility and to avoid having to acknowledge your humanity. I wondered why, when I'd received those gestures in the past, they made me so mad and in an "ah-ha" moment I realized it is because they were fake and their actions in no way made restitution or amends.
I was angry for my son, for most abusers are men, and an overwhelming percentage of them learn abuse from their fathers. I was angry at the prospect of a world that would allow him to abuse and have all these constructs and double standards in place to be able to blame the victim ("It's between both of them. She asked for it. She was too chatty/messy/gossipy/fat/worldly/etc. She exaggerates things. I can see why she would drive him crazy. They both contributed.Men are victims just as much as women {not statistically true, by the way}") I was reminded of the passage in Bancroft's book that told how this neutrality from onlookers is just as harmful to an abused woman as the abuse itself. Bancroft points out that people will oppose abuse in the abstract, but loyalty to family, even to family secrets and dysfunction, is strong. Denial is strong. And no one wants to believe a brother, son, friend, or trusted co-worker is an abuser. It is much easier to sweep it under the rug. I get it, I really do. It is very difficult to overcome these strong forces.
And that makes me mad too. I have had trouble understanding why people would come to the side of an abuser and help him, instead of saying to the woman, "I see what he is doing to you and the kids and I don't agree with it. " Why is bad behavior so consistently excused?

"Acknowledging his abusiveness and speaking forcefully and honestly about how he has hurt her is indispensable to her recovery. It is the abuser's perspective that she is being mean to him by speaking bluntly about what he has done." (Bancroft, p. 287)

I thought of how one of the most powerful guiding forces within an abuser is this complete drive to avoid responsibility for their actions at all costs. I thought of how, since the majority of abusers are men, and they grow up being taught to be that way in their family, and then culture often doesn't hold them to personal responsibility, what kind of messages are we giving these men about their worth? Are we telling men they don't  have the capacity to fix their mistakes? That we have to culturally coddle their fragile egos when they mess up? That we must allow the attitudes of the entitled to go completely unchecked?
It made me want to show my son he is worth WAY more than that.
I had a metaphor for the end of a marriage as a car, where my partner gets out and slashes the tires, then blames me for the car being unable to go, and so he gets out and finds another car, and bills me for the repairs of the old car that HE damaged. In Lundy Bancroft's book, he gives this metaphor of abuse:
You live in a house with a beautiful old tree in its backyard. Your neighbor complains that the tree hangs over into his back yard. You offer to prune the offensive branches but he starts insisting that you cut down the entire tree. You calmly tell him this is your property and your tree and you will cut down what hangs over into his yard, but not the whole tree. Your neighbor starts to ferment and seethe and convince himself that you are wrong. One day, when he knows you will be out of town, he triumphantly cuts down the tree...the big, old, beautiful tree that shaded your yard now lies in a heap of stumps and leaves and branches. When you return, it is obvious who cut down the tree  and you are mortified by this senseless act. Your neighbor denies it but eventually is pressed to admit it was he who cut down the tree.
In this case, it is clear that someone destroyed property and restitution must be made. The man will have to answer to his neighbors as well, for they won't trust him. The man must make restitution financially, apologize to her and their neighbors, and take steps to restore her yard. She will never get back that beautiful tree. And he will not be able to come into her yard again.
I got mad that in cases of abuse, where a man can wreak havoc on a woman emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally, he will only rarely willingly admit he has participated in relational destruction, and therefore, excuses himself from personal responsibility.

There is certainly a lot on my mind regarding this topic of abuse and abusers. I recommended "Why Does He Do That?"to a friend and she read it too. In the book, Bancroft mentions how when he wrote the book, he did a search and review of college courses. There was not one course on abuse. Perhaps types of abusers and abuse dynamics are taught in other parts of college courses, or as part of training for therapists. Judging by how difficult it is to find therapists who understand dynamics of abuse and Cluster B personalities, I would say this isn't necessarily so. I've been blamed by a therapist for someone else's abusive behavior. Luckily, I was able to process this with higher-level clinicians who confirmed this as victim blaming. In my local support group for women and men who  have endured severe emotional abuse, we speak of how difficult it is to find good therapists who can guide a woman's healing from the trauma of abuse. Not all therapists can recognize victim blaming. My friend was so impacted by this book she said every woman and man should read it, and I have to concur. One day, I think we will look back on our cultural support of the entitled and see it as barbaric.
As I mentioned, my own daughters are in the dating world. One of my daughters is learning through experience how to recognize abuse. Luckily, she is not in imminent danger and she has set good boundaries for bad behavior and she will talk to me. It is so important to listen to and validate the experiences of women.
I search my mind constantly for what to do about this problem in our culture. It seems so large and overwhelming. I know for me, I have done my homework (extensively) and can name the abuse and types of abuse  that I'm dealing with. But not everyone has that context and I still encounter a lot of victim blaming and neutrality. I also encounter, in much greater proportion, a lot of validation and support. I am sure people have gotten tired of hearing about my situation, yet have shown me the greatest love and grace.
I end with this quote from Gertrude Stein that I am currently loving and identify with:

It is funny that men who are supposed to be scientific cannot get themselves to realise the basic principle of physics, that action and reaction are equal and opposite, that when you persecute people you always rouse them to be strong and stronger.

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