28 July 2007

The Abusive Danse Macabre

Abuse is cyclic, and often has a choreographic quality - it is a danse macabre, quite literally, a savage pas de deux between the abuser and the target.

The abuser will push, demand, bully, attack, until the target gets fed up, burns out, has a 'moment of truth'.

If the target has sufficient energy and autonomy, at this point they may pull back, give up, and start taking care of themselves for a change, rather than focusing their time and energy on the abuser. The change may be abrupt and drastic, or it may be a quiet, exhausted withdrawal.

How will the abuser respond to this?

Some become hostile and punitive, even dangerous. These are the abusive borderlines, the stalkers, the sociopaths, the domestic violence perpetrators. The best advice for dealing with abusers of this type may be found in Gavin de Becker's writings - see link at right. Don't waste time trying to reason with them; don't waste time trying to get through to them; don't waste time on restraining orders, which only add to the rage the abuser is already focusing on you; disappear. Place yourself, your children, your animals, your treasures, out of the abuser's reach. Permanently. de Becker tells you how.

Others will lay low, sit quiet, bring flowers and candy. Sometimes they act as though nothing happened - certainly nothing bad - certainly nothing THEY could have done that was bad. Sometimes they apologize, insincerely, in a way that obliquely makes it All Your Fault that they did whatever it was in the first place. Sometimes they apologize with great apparent sincerity... but if you pay close attention, the words are formulaic. It is a ritual, and only a ritual, and the object is to bring the target back into the dance.

Sadly, this often works, and targets find themselves moving through the same destructive steps, over and over.

Once you've recognized the dance, it is better to decline the invitation.

You may feel love for abusive individuals. You may feel compassion and concern for them. You may know that they could be wonderful, incredibly productive and giving people, if only they weren't -- abusive. And you may be entirely right, but taking this attitude is only going to harm you, unless you stay out of the dance. Because, no matter how much you love them, no matter how great your compassion and justified your concern, no matter how wonderful and productive and giving they could be, the fact remains: they are -- abusive.

You can tell yourself they don't know what they're doing, if that helps you detach with love; but YOU know; don't deny or minimize it. Don't lose sight of what they do, what it means, and how it has affected you. You don't have to hate them, you don't have to mistreat them, you don't have to feel contempt for them. But you also don't have to let them keep you spinning in a never-ending pas de deux of pain.

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