Love or Abuse

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“You can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time”

-Bob Marley

How can you be sure that you are being emotionally abused? The answer is that you can’t. It’s a subjective experience based on how you interpret the outward behavior and language of another person. And this interpretation is always subject to some doubt. An abuser uses this existential reality to his benefit. He rationalizes abusive words and actions under the guise of caring, or wanting to be helpful, or only pointing out the obvious. You want to believe him. His words seem sincere and you might secretly believe some of what is said about you in the first place.

When you think about it abuse and counseling share many outward traits. In both cases a person’s worldview is usually brought under the microscope and questioned. Difficult conversations occur where character traits and ways of being are discussed and challenged. Both involve a power relationship on at least some level since the act of going to counseling is to admit needing help. Yet the motivations of a counselor and an abuser are completely different. A good counselor wants a patient to feel more sure in life, more able to confront problems, less dependent on others, more spontaneous, more able to connect authentically with others, and to have increasing levels of awareness. The ability to live a fuller, happier, healthier life is the desired outcome. An abuser wants a person to feel less sure, less able to confront problems, more dependent, less spontaneous, and have decreasing levels of awareness in order to be more easily controlled. Abuse is the antithesis of counseling.

Let’s imagine two people walking into a shopping mall around the same time. They walk at about the same pace with no discernible expressions of emotion, and enter through the front doors. Their outward behavior is identical even though they have very different internal motivations for entering the mall. The first is going to buy a present for his girlfriend’s birthday and is excited. The second has to meet coworkers he is not fond of at the food court and is dreading the encounter. In this case, two completely different inner states and internal motivations prompted external behaviors that look identical. Sometimes we can tell by a person’s outward demeanor what his or her internal motivations are. But sometimes we can’t.

So how do you know that you are in an abusive relationship? You have to trust your gut. Imagine a vacuum where all of your natural character traits, abilities, and intelligence have never been touched by the outside world. This is the baseline you. Believe it or not, relationships exist in the real world where a sense of confidence is instilled that gives a person the courage and tenacity to reach beyond given traits and abilities. These relationships are defined by love and they are not theoretical. Abuse seeks to limit you. It is selfish and its purpose is to bring you down, not raise you up. It instills fear and uncertainty and tempts you to achieve below your given traits and abilities. You feel less valuable, less special, less deserving of respect and admiration. Abuse is the opposite of love.

So how do you know if you are in an abusive relationship or a loving relationship? Do not trust the words that are said because words can just as easily conceal the truth as reveal it. Professions of love are no proof of love. Believe what your gut tells you. Believe how the relationship makes you feel inside. Do you feel capable of more or capable of less in the relationship? Are your emotions spontaneous enjoyment or are you fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing? Does this person believe in your potential or criticize your shortcomings?

As we continue to reiterate, abuse is about instilling self-doubt in order to maintain control. Everyone says hurtful comments sometimes. We all lose our tempers. We have all said and done things we wish we could take back. But taken as a whole, how do you define your relationship? Loving is not something that you do, it is something that you are. Loving actions are sure to follow a person who is loving. Abusive actions are sure to follow a person who is abusive. Is your relationship loving or abusive?