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Saying "No" to Abuse

By Phyllis Stein
February 24, 2011

Allowing others to shame and blame us while taking no responsibility for their own feelings and actions can be programmed into us from childhood. Realizing that we do not ever have to allow anymore this provides incredible safety for our inner child.

In a recent session with a client who had suffered significant childhood abuse, we were dealing with an incident where her husband, also an Inner Bonder, had become completely overwhelmed and had angrily told her to "Shut Up."  Her little girl was very frightened by the incident and her wounded self was trying to protect her by telling her that everyone who gets angry is an abuser and that she needed to keep her guard up at all times.  Not surprisingly, that was frightening her little girl even more.  It started a conversation about what defines an abuser.  

                Here is what the definition was for me.  An abuser is someone who refuses to take responsibility for his or her feelings and blames someone else (the target for them).  The abuser feels completely justified in punishing his or her target for what he or she believes the target has "done" to "cause" his or her pain or shame.  All of us have had the experience, I suspect, of being triggered into moments of feeling like this and at least wanting to act this way.  The thing that distinguishes an abuser is that he or she never moves to any true acknowledgment of his or her own role or into caring about the effects of his or her actions on the target, although in some situations the abuse is followed by remorse, either as a manipulation or because another part of the abuser's personality has shown up.  Often though, the feelings of the target about what happened remain permanently irrelevant, because the abuser remains convinced that whatever he or she did was completely justified.  Happily, my client's husband did not fit this mold.

                For some of us, childhood abuse is obvious.  We were beaten or tortured or rejected or molested.   But what I have become increasingly aware of is the more subtle abuse that occurs in so many families, including mine.  Although I was spanked on occasion, most of what I experienced was blame and yelling and humiliation.  When I look back on it, there was not one occasion when either of my parents said "I am sorry I yelled at you.  I lost it.  I was upset about something else."  In fact, the general attitude was "Stop crying or I will give you something the cry about."  The energy of blame was continuous.  My highest priority was to try to avoid getting blamed.  Not fun.  The important thing though that I have realized recently is that I still believed that other people had the right to blame me, especially if they thought I had done something wrong and that my only options were to convince them that I had not intentionally done anything to hurt them (Good luck with that one!) or, more recently, just listen with compassion.

                What I have realized is that I do not have to give anyone the right to dump blame on me.   I really do not have to listen to it, period.   Even listening to them with compassion was actually not taking good care of my own little girl.  This was a revelation which, not surprisingly, made my little girl very happy.   I was in a relationship in which there was often closeness.  My friend was very caring about me and my feelings, except when he got triggered which was probably every couple of months.   When that happened, we had days and weeks of dark energy and horrible e-mails trying to get me to see what a terrible person I am and why that is causing his pain, a continuation of our old pattern when we were married.  I was no longer reactive or defensive, but I would "allow" him to blame me, to throw that energy at me.  At no point did he ever take any responsibility for his own feelings or show any remorse for his actions.   I realize now that because I was so used to being blamed, I was willing, for a long time, to simply accept being abused this way  as a condition of our friendship and just be in compassion for him and hope that would help.  Margaret talks about how we stay in relationships to learn and then one day we have learned what we need to learn and then it can be over.  It never occurred to me that what I finally needed to learn is to simply not allow myself to be abused under any circumstances, but this last time that it happened.  I finally got it.  My little girl and I are wildly grateful for this powerful lesson.  The conversation between us is over, because being abused is never worth the tradeoff.  I have finally learned to "Just Say "No."


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