Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Context is More Damaging than Content

My post It's not abuse, it's just my interpretation? was discussed by corboy on the Rick Ross cults and destructive groups forum. Thank you corboy for your articulate expansion of my idea .

Corboy wrote:

The person who wrote this blog has reached the heart of the matter. The horror/shock quotient is not always the content of the message, but is often influenced by WHO DELIVERS THAT MESSAGE.

The term 'verbal abuse' may not be enough to provide a full description of what accounts for the impact. I would invite us to ponder the term 'relationship-specific abuse.' For, verbal content is not enough to account for the stunning power of certain utterances or even gestures.

Its when the words or gestures or battery take place in the context of a relationship based on mutual trust, and thus shatter that trust, that it becomes abusive and trust-shattering.

For we select spouses and friends based on trust that they will never do such things to us in the first place! ('To have and to hold, to honor and to cherish...')


If the local insane drunkard on the corner calls me a filthy name, I can write it off. The person is, clearly nuts. I have not given this person the level of radical trust that I would give a lover or ultra close friend.

But if your spouse, your lover or your close friend were, suddenly, within the existing frame of that trust-bonded relationship call you that same bad name that the nut on the corner gave you--you'd be blown away.

The book I was discussing, "The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse " says that the reason your partner's remarks cut so deep is that they "cut straight into the painful self-doubts and non-acceptance of yourself you have had since early childhood" That may be for some people, some of the time, but as corboy and I have noted, it ain't necessarily so.

I hope that targets of relational abuse will not automatically accept the pronouncement that their pain is solely, or primarily, due to their old insecurities . If old pain is part of it, it certainly makes sense to work towards healing those wounds and loving yourself despite your imperfections. One very helpful mantra I got from the book was "Just because I'm not perfect, doesn't mean I deserve to be abused."

We all have imperfections, and an abuser will use your humanness as an excuse for his abuse. If there is any truth in the deprecating remarks, and your partner knows, or should know, of your sensitivity, that makes his behavior all the more deplorable. Someone who loves you does not jab you in your sensitive areas.

I realized the relational context was what made the abuse most painful, so I stopped thinking of him as 'my husband'. It wasn't that hard to do because he does very little which is consistent with that role.

I used to think of him both in terms of who he is - Bob and his relationship to me, - husband., i.e. my husband, Bob. Now, I simply think of him as "Bob". Well, not only 'Bob' actually. I think of him as Bob the emotionally handicapped guy who lives in the other side of the house.

It's easier that way. I don't expect or want anything from him that way. He's just a guy with profound limitations. I don't need to label or dehumanize him by thinking of him as "the abuser". To the best of my ability I try to cultivate an attitude of indifference.

When I can pull it off, I feel better. When I remember he is my husband, and I long for that caring connection, it hurts. But that's okay too. Sometimes it's good to just hurt for a while.



CZBZ said...

Another great message, jennie! I particularly appreciated this insight:

"Someone who loves you does not jab you in your sensitive areas."

We don't, do we? In fact, we RESPECT people's sensitive areas because we don't want to hurt them!

We sure don't see their emotional bruises as an OPPORTUNITY.


jennie said...

No, we don't see our partner's emotional bruises as an opportunity. And we wouldn't feel like we had *won* if we said something that hurt our partner.

Anonymous said...

If someone is a husband and then does or says certain things, he is no longer a husband, even if in a legal sense, you're still married.

But its hard to wrap the mind around this when you're in a state of utter shock when the frame of trust has been shattered by an act or utterance of abuse that should be out of bounds in such a relationship.

Rather than admit that the other partie's abuse ended the relatioship, we are apt to deny or rationalize the abuse.

Anonymous said...

The topic of verbal abuse is a very confusing subject to me because in my experience there were so many layers to why it happened and why I didn't do anything about it.

Fist of all my husband had so many demons living inside of him, he battled with sobriety for years and in the end developed a pill addiction.

If you put either of those substances in him, well, he simply became another man. A duel personality so to speak.
Either way, I knew what he was capable of when I married him, I guess like many people I believed that our love could help him to be a better man.
It did actually, but when he lost his sobriety he also lost the nice part of himself. There was so much anger and rage on both of our parts.
It was like we were both dealing with a loss of a loving, trusting relationship and we both were less than great partners.

Verbal abuse creates more verbal abuse at least in my experience. I got very good at it myself, an eye for an eye. Bantering with an attorney was no easy thing. He was good at it, trained at it. As a lawyer he was trained to wield his words like a sword.
In the end I find myself shying away from intimate relationships until I can relearn how to behave in a civilized manner.

It's easy to fly off the handle verbally, not easy to put a lid on your anger once you have crossed the line.

jennie said...

I would imagine the addition of substance addiction would make the situation even more volitile.

Here is an excerpt from a post about 'reactive abuse' which might be of interest to you:

"It’s not at all unusual for a person in an abusive relationship to REACT abusively. This does not mean YOU are the abuser, that you are crazy, have PMS etc. etc. — though the abusive partner will try to convince you that YOU are THE problem and will often succeed in guilting you into believing it."


There are mutually abusive relationships, but since you said you needed to "relearn" how to behave in a civil manner, it might be that your abusive behavior was in reaction to his. That is not excuse for it of course, but the fact that you aren't looking for one suggests that you are not abusive.

Too bad your husband viewed your home as if it were a courtroom. Viewing a relationship as a competitive, rather than a cooperative venture, seems to be the fundamental problem in all abusive relationships.

I wish you well in healing and understanding those many layers.

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