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 Your ALT-Text here   Abuser and Victim...Alike?

by Dr. Irene Matiatos

A Mini Quiz:

What do the abuser and the victim have in common? 

They both are responsible.

What is most out of balance in their relationship?

Power - the abuser has it all.

What are they both trying to control?

Each other

What do they both lack?

Personal Power - that is, control over the Self.

 

 

The idea for this page was spawned by a highly relevant phrase a reader used in a recent email: "Without a victim, there is no abuse." 

"I'm a 51 year old female, married to the same man for 29 years and just discovered Pat Evans' books on Verbal Abuse. I also read the book Boundaries and many of Melanie Beattie's books on Co-Dependency.  Subsequently I am learning to set boundaries for the first time in my life, recovering although slowly and gradually from codependency AND recognizing verbal abuse and just realizing how many controlling and abusive people I have allowed to trample on my self esteem and inner peace. Not only my husband but also some friends, my sister, and my 3 daughters have been abusive. I have been the codependent people pleaser, and hoop-jumper. The more I attempted to gain the intimacy and approval I longed for, the worse the abuse and control would become. FINALLY its like a "DUH" to me...I see that it takes two to tango.
Without a victim there is no abuse".

This lady "got it." She understands that in her need to get stuff from other, she allowed herself to be mistreated. Nobody made her do it. Her power is in her recognition and acceptance of that fact as well as in her freedom to purposefully act otherwise. She recognizes the damage she allowed to be inflicted on her self esteem and inner peace. She understands that she is the gatekeeper and caretaker to these essential parts of herself. It is up to her to clarify her limits and permit no trespass.

While taking responsibility for your own life may sound terribly lonely to the uninitiated, it is the most wonderful and natural place to live!

Personal Responsibility

The abuser and the victim do not take responsibility for themselves.  

The victim gives away the store to get love and approval. The abuser expects the loved one to give them the store. Or else...

This bargain does not work because the exchange of care taking duties are no substitutes for self-esteem, self-regard, and self-love. Esteem et al can only be granted by the Self. They must be earned, and cheating doesn't work.

Self-esteem, Self-control & Personal Power

Without self-control and self-discipline there can be no self-esteem. How can you feel good about yourself if you don't feel good about the way you behave? Self esteem is the result of personal power: control and discipline over the self. An individual must trust themselves enough to know that they can deal with any situation. Trust in the self is attained as one learns to exercise the cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills to needed to facilitate smart, goal-seeking behavior. 

The abuser and the victim do not seek to control the self, the only one they have any true power over. They each look to control each other, other people, situations, outcomes. The victim obtains some sense of esteem by working hard at pleasing the abuser (and anyone else), in the hopes of getting approval. The abuser attains some sense of esteem by convincing others of his or her worth. What hard work for so little return!

Thoughts Distort Reality

Automatic and irrational thoughts underlie the distortion of reality. In the email example above, the writer finally recognized that jumping over hoops for loved ones would not make her them love her more. She had to accept that all the hoop-jumping in the world would not work, and in fact worked against her. Yet, the thought "doing for doing equals love" governed her existence for years. 

Her thought was automatic in that it operated in the background.  Yet, until she noticed it, she was not aware it operated at all! She was on autopilot because the thought governed her behavior! The thought was irrational in that it is not true that hoop-jumping brings love. Pleasing usually brings approval, which is not love, and is most likely to result in being taken for granted.  Ouchhh!

In order to see reality more clearly, this lady had to dump the fantasy - or the  automatic thought. Until she accepted what is ("DUH"), she got nowhere.

The effects of automatic and irrational thoughts are profound and far-reaching and are the basis of cognitive-behavioral psychology. 

A few more common irrational thoughts:

The victim expects to receive undying love once their broken partner is "healed" through their perfect love. 

 

The abuser believes that somewhere out there is a perfect person who is all-caring and who will never, ever disappoint.  The abuser insists on being perfectly cared for, no matter what!

Some results of irrational thoughts:

Anger!

Substituting approval for self esteem results in an unending and unsatisfying cycle of doing for, doing for, doing for. There is tremendous anger underneath the giving,  but the distorted reality keeps the anger from identifying its true target -  and doing (or not) something about it!

Poor self-esteem!

Self-esteem and self-respect are compromised  because deep down, it is difficult to feel OK about oneself when the self has given away its power to exercise choices.

Depression:

Others or fate or the self is blamed for one's woes. How can an individual feel good about themselves when they have put on a blindfold, tied their hands behind their back and rely on intuiting the needs & expectations of loved ones to guide and protect them!

Anger!

The abuser, who makes their partner responsible for their comfort, well-being, happiness, etc., gives away their power. Expecting another disappointment in a harsh world, they get it ("Seek and Ye Shall Find") and then lash out. 

Poor self-esteem!

Self-esteem and respect are severely compromised. Deep down, this individual feels like a cad. No amount of denial can justify treating others poorly. This translates into a lack of inner peace and consequent inability to sit still and be with themselves. "Winning", "getting over" and other types of power substitute for self-esteem. As these individuals begin to own their behavior, they are horrified. 

Depression:

Sensing their inherent brokenness, the "pity pot" is a place angry people know well. Why me, why me....

The Obsession to Feel OK 

The victim person lives inside an uncomfortable and never-ending cycle of denial and self-deceit where esteem supplies are substituted for approval. 

They are obsessed with being loved and compulsively engage in behaviors that will win approval or affection. They need an outsider to "make" them feel OK, and sell themselves short in the process of acquiring it.

The anger that inevitably builds towards the person they do so much for is usually hidden and expressed elsewhere in situations where they feel more power.

The angry person lives inside an uncomfortable and  never-ending, compulsive cycle of denial and self-deceit where esteem supplies are substituted for being cared for or by the thrill of "winning" and convincing others of their power.

The obsession to feel OK is momentarily met by moments of perfect caring or shows of power.

Like saccharine, the taste is bittersweet, but there are no calories with which to sustain life. Read email from a man trying to take responsibility, but not really succeeding yet here.

 Setting Limits

Victims of controlling, abusive partners have an especially difficult time since in an effort to appear particularly loyal, they often have given away their resources. 

While the odds may be stacked against the victim, the simple reality is that there are 2 choices. Do something or not.  

Abusive people are stuck in fear, though this is not obvious. They don't trust themselves and are terrified of their lack of control. They don't know what they may do! They are looking for their partner to impose boundaries on them - so they may feel safer. Partners who impose few limits are regarded with increasing contempt.

Getting Stuck in Anger & Blaming

Anger is an easy place to get stuck. It feels better than depression. Anger is a necessary emotion which provides lots of information. What matters is what is done with the anger and the message its trying to give you. 

The abuser is stuck in anger and blaming because they have not owned up to their responsibility for their own stuff. It is much easier to fault another for what went wrong than to own a problem and fix it. 

The victim is typically unable to access his or her anger, though it is there, often masquerading as depression. But the anger still leaks out, hence the saying "...angry where you shouldn't be and not angry where you should be." Read email from a lady who is hurting herself by blatantly not taking responsibility here.

The former victim who gets stuck in anger is  mis-behaving as poorly as the abusive person. Getting stuck in anger is what happens when the former victim begins to use some of the techniques of the abuser. This is not empowerment. This is blaming.  

On Blaming The Victim

Some may interpret that this viewpoint somehow blames the victim. Not so. Neither the victim nor the abuser are off the hook. Each has to work out their own stuff, which has absolutely nothing to do with the  other person's stuff. There is no other way out. Nobody can do it for you. Read email from a former victim who is stuck in anger.

Getting stuck in fear, terror, mistrust, outrage, etc.

The fix: Don't get stuck in self-blame, rage, anger, woes, etc. Take responsibility, take control of your life and fix what you don't like.

You can't trust anybody that much! While, control over the victim's fate is exactly what the controller appears to want, they really don't. They want limits placed on them. They will not like the limits, but will respect you for imposing them. Nobody is that trustworthy!  How can you possibly trust anyone to anticipate you well enough to know what you need? They simply can't do it, no matter how much they may love you or want to. It is your job to care for yourself, like it or not. 

 

Personal Responsibility

To achieve personal responsibility, an individual must be able to recognize and accept what is, exercise enough control over the self to do nothing while weighing the alternatives and choosing the best available option. Then calmly, and skillfully acting. Emotional, out-of-control behavior is likely to diminish self-respect despite the momentary ego-boost.

Without personal responsibility and its requisite control-over-the-self, there can be no self-respect.  

If...

If an angry person treats their partner poorly, how can he or she possibly feel OK about themselves? Considering the hoops most angry people jump through to conceal their true agenda from the world and, often enough, from themselves, how badly they feel about themselves is obvious.

If a victim person permits themselves to be treated poorly, how can he or she possibly feel OK about themselves -  when there is not enough self-respect to end the abuse? If this victim accepted reality and therefore understood that the noxious behaviors they permit are not OK, they would be furious. 

A Recovery Map

Give up denial, accept reality. Yes, reality may be unfair, painful, etc., but it is. No matter how much you may hate it or want to wish it away, you cannot. (Reality can also be really cool!)

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Distorted reality is a byproduct of irrational thoughts that create panic, depression, helplessness, etc. While believing a fantasy is created to protect the self from bad feelings, it ends up creating them. 

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Self-deceit is an excellent way to give your personal power away and to lose control over your life. Why would you want to do that?

Avoid the common traps of getting stuck in If-Only Land, It's-Not-Fair Land, My-Way Land, I'm-An-Awful-Person Land or any other type of compulsive over-emotionality. No matter how "unfair," "terrifying," etc. reality seems, it is. There is no other (sane) option. 

bullet

When you do get stuck in a trap, and you will, just notice that you are there. Then get yourself out. Now.

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Obsessing over unfairness, unlovability, awfulness, etc. is counterproductive and offers nothing but pain.

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Obsessing is not about noticing your feelings, sitting with them, or letting them go.

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 Obsessing is a symptom and just another way of not facing what is.

Chill out and begin to problem solve. This is the time to sit with yourself and notice your feelings and what information they are trying to convey. Be objective and honest with yourself. Take your time and weigh your available options.

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Sit with what is uncomfortable or sad. Notice it. What is it telling you?

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Let it go. Get on with the rest of life.

Act. This is the level of skill, such as assertion, as opposed to acting out of any type. Mastery at this level promotes trust in the self, self-respect and personal power.

bulletWhen in doubt, do nothing.
bulletMonday morning quarterback your failed experiments, learn from them and repeat steps. Simply move on and incorporate new knowledge.
bulletPick up a good "how to" book on assertion. Learn what you don't know.

Moral of the Story:

There is no "good guy" and no "bad guy." We're all a little broken. So, don't worry about what your partner is doing or not doing, just look at what you're doing.  Attaining personal responsibility is each person's business. Nobody is off the hook.

Suggested Reading

Boundary Power : How I Treat You, How I Let You Treat Me, How I Treat Myself

  Back Up Next

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