Seeing abusors as abusors needs to stop.
Now hear me out, I’m NOT saying we need to stop naming abuse. We need to name abuse when it happens, call it wrong, call it out when it happens, not give it an excuse or allow avoidance of the consequences. Abuse needs consequences that help someone see the severity of the pain they have caused.
But what I am also saying is that we need to stop with the labelling and the black and white notion that someone is good or evil.
I’m going to start this with an example – I have plenty of these I’ve now experienced and heard second hand.
Friend who is experiencing abuse at the hands of a partner, you meet the friend when they are trying to leave, you hear their abuse stories, you’re disgusted by what has been done to your new friend. You build up in your head an image of the disgusting man who did these things to your friend. Then one day they are back together again and you meet him when you visit her. He’s normal looking, you have some good chats, he offers you tea, he seems really nice. You walk away still wanting to hate all of him but struggling a little more.
Your friend tells stories of how lovely he’s been, you here some ups and downs in her life but mostly of them being good together. She calls you again one day and he’s done it again, gone too far and hurt her. You hate him again. You tell her to tell him you know. You know he’s scared of you, because you know. You try to encourage her to leave and only talk about him through the abusor mindset – he’s all evil.
She goes back again, he’s still there, he comes and visits at your house. You all have a lovely time together. At some point in there, you realise you can’t do it. You can’t just call him the ‘abusor’ he has a name, a life, a face. He does a lot of good, he cares, but he also does awful things that are not ok.
You begin to realise that you can name his BEHAVIOUR as unacceptable, as evil, as something that won’t be tolerated, as something that comes with response and consequences BUT that you don’t have to label him as evil.
You hear more of what he’s been through and realise that he’s learnt some pretty maladaptive coping mechanisms that often are abusive. You never stop repeating the message that your friend doesn’t deserve be treated that way (because no one does) and that if she is she needs to leave, because it isn’t safe. But you also begin to encourage him to seek change, to recognise his behaviour and face it, to find healthier ways that aren’t abusive to express himself.
Or another story.
The abusive parents of kids I work with, where I’ve read their file and just want to hate them with all that I have for the abuse they perpetrated on their kid. But then that kid tells me stories, shares happy memories and wants connection with their parents, despite what happened. And suddenly I can’t hate them completely, because I want what’s best for my client and that kid wants relationship with them, so then I want for that kid to have parents that have gotten better that have worked on their shit so they won’t do it again.
Also we need to remember that abuse is not always intentional, it can also be unintentional. Abuse pertains to power and control and this can be done unintentionally. So a perfectly lovely human being doing their best with the situation they’ve been given, or by doing nothing at all, can abuse someone else. Neglect is a prime example.
When I label someone as abusor, I name them as evil / bad.
By labelling people as abusors we reduce them to that. We give them no hope of rehabilitation, no room for growth, for change. It is such a powerful label with such strong negative stigma. And it is a huge problem in people going to get help, to admitting to their problems and naming the abuse. People don’t want to admit to being evil or bad or to being abusor’s – but they may admit to doing bad things, having done abuse or doing evil.
If I was perpetrating emotional abuse, constantly humiliating someone and that was impacting them – when I hear that I’m perpetrating abuse against them how am I supposed to react when that lands me with the label of abusor?
So how am I suggesting we go forward? Well I believe we need to begin separately naming behaviour from the person. There are a few easy step to this.
- Talking about what has happened (the behaviour).
- What the consequences of the behaviour has/will been (for both the person who did the behaviour but also for those around or that the behaviour was toward)
- Asking why it has happened (seek to understand why the behaviour happened so we can ensure that when those circumstances align again we can work on changing the reaction / behaviour)
- Naming it as an unacceptable behaviour that needs to change (never allow it to be called ok, you can understand why someone did something, but that doesn’t make it ok) (if we aren’t talking abuse but rather unhelpful behaviour naming it as unhelpful and why).
An example, Paul is not an emotional abusor controlling Becky’s every move. No Paul’s attempts to track Becky anywhere she goes and have control over what she does is abuse and not ok and has consequence. Paul’s behaviour is unacceptable, not Paul himself. This puts the responsibility back on Paul to change his unacceptable behaviour if he wants to interact with Becky. It also allows for Becky to be a person with free will, not a passive victim.
With the kids I work with, if I only ever looked at their behaviours as to who they were I’d be constantly telling people I work with the worst little shits & wouldn’t still be in the job. But no, I need to look behind the behaviour as to why they are being little shits, why I was physically assaulted, why I was verbally sexually harassed and why the wall is being destroyed. Sadly, most of the time these behaviours are because that is how these kids know how to interact. They learnt to cope with anger by lashing out, not talking.
So I can name their behaviour, tell them their behaviour is unacceptable, charge them for assault and I can tell them how it hurts me. But I can also go to them afterwards once they aren’t heightened and ask what was happening for them. Ask them why that behaviour came out, ask where the response came from and ask them to maybe think about a better behaviour they could respond with next time they are feeling that way.
If we have call everyone who perpetrates anything that resembles the definition of abuse ‘abusor’s’ what hope do we have of ever getting better as a society?! We’d be a society of mostly ‘abusor’s’ who hate on ourselves and think ourselves as shit and therefore why would we want to be better.
If instead we see ourselves as people made up of complex experiences that lead often to poor behaviour that can sometimes hurt others – and have that hurt we’ve caused explained and listened too – because we’ve felt listened too and not judged enough to put our backs up and therefore can actually listen – then maybe we can work on not doing it again and begin healing, as people, as family, as community as a society.
There is no good vs evil personhood. There are only behaviours that can be seen as good or evil. There are no abusors only people who perpetrate abuse. There are only behaviours that can be changed so lets begin working on changing them – for the better – for everyone’s sake!