Am I, in writing a post about abuse based on a book I am reading, acting in a plagiarising, copycat manner? I think not. Were I someone who is, in so-writing, breaking new ground – that is to say, a topic I have never touched before – there might be some truth in the ‘Copycat!’ cry from childhood.
I am aware that some writers do mimic others, in a Copycat kind of way; I am also aware that the unscrupulous can leap upon the bandwagon of fashionable distress in order to make a fortune.
In my view, however, anyone who wants to mimic the suffering of an abused other for vicarious thrills and attention needs his or her head examined.
I am reading a book, recommended by a friend, called ‘When Love Goes Wrong‘ (by Ann Jones and Susan Schechter). It is harrowing, distressing – and a huge eye-opener.
Yesterday, before the book arrived, I looked in here to see how many of my four hundred posts deal with abuse or bullying. Even without typing in categories more specific than that, it came up as thirty-seven posts, around a tenth of my total output so far. On the blog I had before this one (which I deleted, through fear, in the autumn of 2015), that percentage was far higher.
And yet, when I started blogging, nearly five years ago, I had no intention of writing about such things. I was, back then, fresh out of teaching and deep into both denial and self-blame/exculpatory explanations.
But my main motivation for avoiding this topic was unearthed by a comment made by a new reader today: I did not want to face, let alone challenge, the status quo (however emotionally impoverished and painful) because the alternative seemed to be an abyss of loneliness, abandonment, homelessness and deprivation.
And this leads me to something that, I suspect, many people do not fully understand. Abusers are rarely human demons – and they do not spend all day, every day, tormenting others. The problem is that they swing from one extreme to another, so that you never know where you are – or what is going to set them off. One of the extremes – which has, amongst other names, the phrase Love Bombing attached to it – is charm, love, apparent desire to mend all fences and reassurance so convincing that it is terribly easy to assume that the other extreme is either an aberration or something you have provoked.
This book stopped me in my tracks for many reasons, not the least of which was dry-throated, tear-brimming gut-recognition. But also a true understanding that abused people respond with delight and relief to the calm phases and devote considerable amounts of energy to producing what they hope is the right environment for such times to flower and never disappear.
Even when it becomes clear, to THEM, that they are deluding themselves, it is nightmarishly difficult and confronting to face the truth: That the abuser seeks control, is able to control him or herself and chooses to behave the way he or she does.
Other people can make things worse when they say, ‘Look at what a difficult childhood he/she had…’ or, ‘He/she is not aware, and therefore cannot change, his/her behaviour…’
Both of these statements are fallacious. A great many people come from difficult, even abusive, backgrounds. They do not all go on to abuse others. The lack of self-awareness one is even more stark in its lack of truth. If friends and family do not see the true picture, this is evidence that the abuser CAN behave appropriately, does have control over his/her rage and is highly selective in terms of who gets to see the dark side.
The phrase ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was not created for nothing, you know. Abusers choose anger – and, in some cases, fists and boots and weapons – as a means of control. It is not about the fact that – to give one example – their parents died young. If it were, all other siblings within that particular family would exhibit identical behaviour. It is not about your provocation. Otherwise, everyone in the world who wound them up would receive that physical or emotional backlash.
My own view is that abusers know EXACTLY what they are doing. They are, basically, doing that THEY want, indulging their appetite for power and control – and fanning the flames of deep sadism and hatred of men (if they are women) or misogynism (if men).
If their behaviour creates an environment in which they are getting their own way – and it usually does – what possible incentive is there for them to stop? If they gave up the abuse, they would also have to give up all that lovely power and control – and they don’t want that, now do they?
Now you could argue that they come from a background which has produced a vast sense of powerlessness and are stuck in learned behaviours from their early years. I went along with this kind of empathetic thinking for years. But, really, even if this is true of some abusers, so what? Many of us emerge from childhood feeling powerless – but do not go on to abuse other human beings. We empower ourselves in other ways. Many of us seek help in order to undo the less helpful behaviours we learned as children.
Abusers almost never seek help – and, if they do, are not above using the psycho-therapeutic tools they have learned to give their abuse of others legal status.
I think society is so set up to excuse poor behaviour on the basis of childhood trauma, that the victims become demonised all too often and the vital point – that abusers make choices – is all too often forgotten.
I am roughly half way through the above book. It is brilliant and disturbing and so true to life. I thoroughly recommend it. I also highly recommend that people stop blaming the abused for their abusers’ control-lust and its subsequent behaviours – and look at the reality: That we all make choices about behaviour – and, sadly, that includes abusive behaviour.
It is a sad indictment of our society that my thirty-seven (now thirty-eight) abuse-related posts are amongst my most popular (for a certain definition of that word) and widely-read. It is tragic that so many people feel the need to write, and read, such posts, or books, because humanity has not yet found an effective way of dealing with bullies and abusers – and the cycle goes on in its dreadful, destructive way.
It is monstrous that we are STILL blaming the victim, and making excuses for the abuser, right across society: In schools, in relationships, in families, out in the world.
Nobody deserves abuse.