When we first experience abuse from partners—emotional, physical, or sexual—we often fail to recognize it as abuse.
This is how we come to accept the unacceptable.
First, we deny, employing the not me defense. These things can’t possibly be happening to me. I’m not the kind of person who would be with an abusive partner. And if I’m not someone to whom these things happen, then logically, they must not be happening, right? Or else, I have to admit something painful about myself.
Second, we excuse, taking the blame for our partner’s behavior, believing the lies our partner promotes. Because we, the functional ones, tend to take responsibility while our dysfunctional partners don’t, we buy the line that we’ve caused the abuse, that we deserve to be hurt, that it’s all our fault.
Third, we redefine, because we can’t believe our partner—the person we chose—could be an abuser. Since my partner isn’t capable of abuse, he must not be abusing me. His unkindness is really tough love, the disdain just her way of speaking to me, the violence merely the way he lets off steam and deals with stress. We find these redefinitions more comfortable than confronting the truth.
Fourth, we adapt. As abuse becomes the norm in our relationship, we evolve into the abused one. We shrink ourselves into tiny balls, withdraw inside our shells for protection, kill off the parts of ourselves that seem to enrage our abuser, and live a vastly diminished life—a life devoid of true companionship, tender love, compassion, and understanding. And we say to ourselves, this is my life now. This is who I am.
But we know deep down, this is not who I am, at all.
We must summon the strength not to deny the unacceptable.
The strength to accept an awful truth and what that truth reveals about our partner and us.
We must practice the patience not to excuse the unacceptable.
The patience to place the responsibility for abuse back on our abuser every single time.
We must acquire the wisdom to redefine the unacceptable.
The wisdom to see through not only our abusive partner’s redefinitions but also our own.
And we must find the grace not to adapt to the unacceptable.
The grace to stand stall instead of hunching over and balling up, the grace to hold our heads high even though we have been brought low, the grace to forgive ourselves for what we have allowed ourselves to endure, and the grace to walk away from it all.
Originally published on Tom Aplomb