Abusive rage comes in many shapes and forms. It presents itself when least expected; and, it hides in the shadows, behind its masks of charm and generosity. Abusive rage knows no bounds and it has no soul; it corrodes and decays everything it touches, leaving the empty shells of its victims in its vicious tracks. Abusive rage is tolerated and explained away; rationalized and intellectualized, lying hidden under the guise of empathy. We convince ourselves that the abuse isn’t so bad. We believe that they mean well, that they really need us, or just need to be loved. We tell ourselves that they simply need someone who cares, or that they didn’t mean to cause us pain. Through repetition, our lies become our truths, as we gradually lose our sense of reality and our sense of ourselves.
To become involved in a physically and/or verbally abusive relationship is to lose oneself and one’s identity, in essence, becoming fused with the object of one’s affection. The liar, the manipular, and the con-man is all too quick and eager to accept the tether; to grant his admirer the opportunity to win him over and to, subsequently, care for his every need. While enveloped, the admirer is blinded, as the truths of others fall on deaf ears. We scream and we shout, we try to cajole and to reason, and then, we give up, accepting our limits as friends, therapists, and sons. We let go and, we allow life to take its course, without our interference; the pain of utter hopelessness takes over.
The path of destruction is a long and winding road, as it dates back to childhood, sustained in adulthood. The distorted conception of love, which fuels these toxic relationships, can be traced back to the distorted love experienced when it was needed most. Each father who told his daughter that he loved her after beating her, every mother who labeled her insults as tough love, and every relative who rationalized molestation as affection is responsible; it was they who perverted it, and it was each one of their lessons which stuck. For one to be in an abusive relationship, one has to also accept distorted love and to believe that alternatives don’t exist. Pain masquerades as love, while anything else is unimaginable.
Throughout my work, I’ve met a significant amount of people who were, and some who continue to be, involved in these types of relationships; but, the experiences which haunt me the most are my own. One can never know what abuse is really like until they’ve actually experienced it, as a victim or an observer. As a child, I was the latter. My stepfather’s emotional abuse, the isolation, the fear: they all remain with me, oftentimes locked deep within my soul, seeming to always find their way out. They find their way out when I meet a patient who recounts the hardships of their abusive relationship, and they find their way out when a girl I’m infatuated with tells me that letting go isn’t an option. Hurt people may hurt people; but, they also hurt themselves. Self-inflicted pain doesn’t only occur physically; it presents itself emotionally, too. It occurs because love and what it means to be loved is distorted and perverted. It occurs because way too often we convince our children that love and pain are equivalent and exist as one. It occurs because the rest of us sit in silence and let it.
To all of the fathers, mothers, and relatives who continuously teach children that abuse is an expression of their love, please, I beg you to stop. The scars and the sorrow may heal; but, their distortions will remain, leaving them vulnerable to more of the same pain that you’ve mercilessly inflicted. If dignity and responsibility matter to you, you’ll teach them what love really is, acknowledging your inability to express it in its actual form.