As a teen it seemed like every show on TV had an abuse theme, either the main theme or secondary. I think the 80s were some kind of waking up period for the world. Here's this awful thing and you need to know about it. Like that.
And on TV, abuse was easy to recognize. You could always pick out the villain. He was charming in public and a monster behind closed doors. If he was nice to his victim, it was just to manipulate her into what he wanted. It was all so black and white.
But in real life it's not always like that.
Sometimes someone's behavior hurts you so much. You know they love you and weren't trying to hurt you, but they did. And when you know they didn't mean to hurt you it's easy to overlook it. It's easy to say it doesn't matter. It's easy to forgive and move on.
Sometimes you see their suffering and excuse their behavior because of it. If she weren't struggling so, she never would have said those things. She never would have called me that. She never would have made me feel so worthless.
And after a while it becomes the norm. It's just who they are so you accept it. You know you can't change them so you just take it.
But guess what? That's not healthy. Just taking it isn't okay. It will destroy you.
I'm big on identifying motivation. I try to look for why people do what they do. And I generally assume they didn't mean to. Maybe it's because when I am mean I don't usually mean to be. We tend to ascribe our motivations to others; it's human nature.
So if someone hurts you. A lot. Over and over. But they didn't mean to. Is it still abuse?
Yes, it is. Even if they're sorry. Even if they're not. You can try to reason it away. You can excuse it all you want. But it's still abuse.
Because sometimes abuse isn't about intent -- it's about results. It's about one person putting their own emotional needs above yours in an unhealthy way. It's about crossing boundaries. It's about using another person for your own benefit.
And it's about how it makes you feel. When you've spent years in abusive relationships, sometimes you don't see it. You sit and take it and later you crumble. The crumbling is a sign.
Sometimes you see the crumbling as a sign that you aren't strong enough. That you aren't kind enough. That you aren't forgiving enough. That's not what it's signaling.
You are crumbling because you are wounded. Because what was done to you wasn't right. And whether anyone else noticed it or not, it was still wrong.
And you can learn from it. You can learn to protect yourself. You can set boundaries. You can refuse to see people. You can leave. You can make excuses. You can even lie to protect yourself.
When you are young, you are sometimes helpless and trapped. When you are an adult, you aren't. Unless you are actually chained up, you can get out. It may not be the ending you were looking for. It may not be easy. In fact, it will probably be the toughest thing you ever do. But sometimes you have to leave.
But if you stay, it's your job to protect yourself. You can spend all the time in the world blaming the other person. Saying it's their fault. And you would be mostly right. But you won't heal. You won't heal until you see that little glimmer of power that you still have. You won't heal until you take back control of your life and your own emotional health. You won't heal until you refuse to be a punching bag. Ever again!
It takes time. It takes practice. And you might have to learn over and over again with multiple people. But each time you set a boundary and stick to it, demand that it be respected, you will be stronger. More whole. More healthy. Better able to face the next day.
And you are worth protecting. Say it over and over to yourself if you have to. If that's too hard right now, just remember that it's your job. You are the only person on this planet whose job it is to keep you safe your whole life. Sometimes it's easier to think of it this way.
Abuse isn't always easy to see. But if the same person keeps hurting you over and over, protect yourself. Whether they mean it or not doesn't matter.
It's not okay to hurt people.