Abusive relationships take on many forms – there is obvious hitting, pushing, kicking, wrestling, spitting, throwing things. But any behavior that is perceived as a threat is abusive. So is behavior that is harsh and mean. Name-calling, yelling out of control and put-downs are examples. The perpetrator in an abusive relationship clearly has no right to behave this way. This is true whether it’s physical abuse, verbal or emotional. But does the victim play any sort of role in the interaction patterns? And if so, how can this be if he/she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way?
First of all, the victim is NEVER to blame for another person’s abusive behavior. We all have the ability and responsibility to control ourselves. If you disagree, examine the lives of Nazi prison camp survivors. Some of them survived ONLY by refusing to let the brutality defeat them. This included controlling their reaction to it. Or people with road rage who refuse to let traffic control their behavior any longer.
So the victim does not cause abusive behavior, but typically does play an important role when it is being played out. Let me explain. If someone calls you a name and you are caught off guard, you might do nothing out of shock. After thinking about it, you really don’t know what to do about it. Then they call you a name again. This time you might retaliate verbally, triggering the other person to get loud. So your failure to stick up for yourself actually contributed to things getting even worse. After while, your thinking and behavior is no longer healthy and “normal”, and by continuing to engage in interactions that don’t resolve the problem, you have become part of the dysfunctional cycle of interactions.
This happens to ALL of us to some degree or another. Parents and kids, employees and bosses, difficult neighbors, even strangers on the highway. One of my personal goals for 2012 is to respond - deliberately – to all people and situations, and never just react. For me, I am turning to my relationship with God for the ability to do it. A Christian approach to counseling will help you tap into this source of strength and encouragement. If this is not what you relate to, there are some other techniques available that help a lot of people. This can become really difficult in confusing in relationships that have a long history of negativity. Sometimes we do everything we can imagine to change the interactions and our responses, but it goes nowhere and we find ourselves doing the very thing we don’t want to do.
If you’re in a relationship like this and haven’t been able to effect the change you want, it’s often helpful to bring this to a therapist trained in relationship interaction dynamics. Being too close to the problem can occur to any of us.
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