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  • Karen Tate

Recognizing Abuse

Do we normalize abuse or set healthy boundaries?

I've been thinking a lot about abuse. Of course, most of us know about the domination, exploitation and need for control meted out by patriarchy, but I wonder if we have actually normalized many abuses? Abuse in the home, in the workplace, in our culture. Perhaps we accepted it unconsciously because so many of us are conditioned by religions who tell us to make noble sacrifices and tolerate suffering silently? I wonder if we're calling it out when we see it - often and loudly - or if we've become conditioned to quietly accept the abuse with little push back?


My intent is not to offend anyone with this. I want to find common ground and defeat the polarization we find around us, but our President is the poster child for abusive behavior. Do we recognize his lies and fear-mongering and so many of the ideas he gives credence and license to as abuse? Not only is he eroding our democratic institutions but he poisons the political, social and cultural arena with negativity, fear and hate, rather than uplifting us and encouraging us to evolve and be the best version of ourselves. I equate him to poison in a well from which we must all drink.


Of course corporations abuse society by their unfair advantage in the political arena - corporations are people - and the danger of Citizens United allowing unfettered money to drown the political process. So many don't pay taxes yet benefit from the societal infrastructure enabling them to survive and thrive. Their money has corrupted officials who should be looking out for the planet and the public good rather than the benefit of corporations. This is a whole essay in itself and I'll refrain from going on about abuse of corporations, from greedy landlords creating distressed rental markets, to the oil and gas industry, to Big Pharma, to the military industrial complex, just to name a few. Suffice it to say, it would not surprise me to learn cures for diseases are buried because "managing" the disease makes more money. There's so much more money in waging war than making peace. We might learn there are new sources of energy we are not tapping into. You get the gist. Greed is also abuse.


Getting back to real people, what about toxic and abusive women and men in our world? In our families, in the workplace, in our groups. I'm thinking of passive-aggressive cowards who manipulate or the sociopaths or the narcissists who have us walking on egg shells or breaking us down, little by little, every day. Sometimes the abuse is so subtle we don't even recognize it. We simply lose our self-confidence or wonder why we're always anxious or feel sick around certain people. It's like death by a thousand cuts. This is all abuse and I ask why do we put up with it?


In my deeper exploration of abuse and the infliction of emotional distress, I started understanding domestic violence in a very visceral way. Sometimes you are in a relationship with a person, maybe it's a boss, co-worker, or family member, and there is this roller-coaster ride that goes on for years. It seems fine for a time and you think you can manage the abuse and the daily chipping away at your soul and personal self-worth, then you feel the next blow and you think to yourself you can't do this anymore, but apologies are made. This is a classic abuse pattern. Think of the alcoholic, or the drug user who does the same thing. There the problem is a bit easier to see. It's harder when you're the target, not the observer. There's an attempt to have a reset and things are okay for a few days, weeks or even months, when you can breathe a little easier - until the next blow, literal or not, on your body or psyche.


Leaving is complicated and more fear-inducing than the abuse you've come to be able to tolerate or manage. Maybe it's too embarrassing to admit to others or yourself. Maybe you don't leave because you fear for your life. Maybe it's economic. Maybe it's because you have other people who depend on you and what you provide to them. Maybe you've invested so much time in this relationship or job you argue with yourself about the pros and cons of staying or leaving. Starting over feels daunting or finding something comparable monetarily seems doubtful. So you suck it up and suck it up and suck it up, day in and day out, year after year, until it's making you physically sick. Until your self- worth is eroded. Until you wonder if you have the strength to put one foot in front of the other.


Fortunately I've been married to a wonderful fella for more than 35 years so I'm not speaking about domestic violence first-hand, but I'd imagine when we're in a marriage of domestic violence, it's probably more clear there is abuse happening, between spouses, especially if there are bruises. I think we might not always recognize actions as abuse when it's happening within the immediate or extended family, in a social/religious group or in the workplace. We ignore lines are being crossed and we make excuses for the actions of others which might actually be intentional infliction of emotional distress or physical abuse of ourselves or others; Oh, she's just a spoiled bitch, or he's just a bad boss or "so and so" had a difficult childhood and that's the reason he does those things. Maybe it's she has a domineering father and if she wants her inheritance she'll tow the line - that's why she's so unhappy and spreads around the misery. Maybe it's an employer who exploits the uneducated or marginalized or good-natured employee. There are a million reasons and we tolerate the bad behavior toward us - why? Why aren't we schooled in setting healthier boundaries? Why aren't we doing periodic check-ins about the quality of our life and relationships? Maybe we aren't sure what constitutes crossing a line. Describing what crossing a line looks like could turn into a book, but surely, if someone is trying to force you into doing something you don't want to do, or asking you to break the law, or they're taking advantage of you, those are examples of crossing a line. If someone is hurting you physically or emotionally, or putting you in an unsafe environment, that's crossing a line. If someone is telling lies about you, taking loans and not paying you back, that's crossing a line. Ask a trusted friend whose boundaries you trust if a scenario you find yourself in might be one where you're being abused.


I guess we each have to be honest with ourselves and find the reason we tolerate the abuse, but we must come to understand what is being meted out toward us might actually be abuse and the intentional or unintentional infliction of emotional distress. No family member or friend, no boss, co-worker or religious leader, has the right to abuse or inflict emotional distress upon us. There comes a time when we must say enough is enough. Maybe it's because they've broken us and we've cracked, hit bottom and there is only up and out. Maybe the Universe takes the wheel and drives circumstances so that you no longer have a choice but to "get out of Dodge." Maybe something triggers a clearer vision and we find an escape hatch. Maybe a friend helps us through the steps necessary to maneuver an exit or a severing of ties with the abuser. There are as many different scenarios as there are people and circumstances. The point is we have to begin to consciously recognize this treatment as physical, financial or emotional ABUSE and call it out and not tolerate it anymore. We have to throw off any conditioning that has kept us tethered to this abusive relationship. We must set healthy boundaries. We must realize that abuse isn't always sexual and non-sexual abuse is just as valid and damaging. And we must sometimes reach out to others for help. This may not be something you can do alone, but it IS something you can do, with help if necessary. With Goddess, certainly.

Escaping these patterns is not easy. It can be down-right frightening, but we're talking about the quality of the rest of your life. Then once we get away, in time, we might find this monster who inflicted so much distress in our life was really powerless without our active participation in that dance we were both doing together. We might come to understand ourselves better as we process why we stuck around. We might find that light at the end of the tunnel was shining the way toward a healthy new beginning. That light wasn't the train coming at us, but the train to take us out of our dark tunnel - but we won't find peace until we're out from under the monster. Trust me. I know. And in hindsight, the challenging circumstances I faced, were the first steps on a road toward a true gift of a happy life for myself and Roy.


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