You can go out of your way to do what you think is best for others. You can take on everyone’s problems until you’re a weak and deteriorated martyr. You can have the world’s biggest heart and the noblest of intentions.
But those attributes will fail you miserably in your every hope, relationship, and endeavor, if you can’t learn to manage your stress and take care of yourself (learn to say “no” to yourself for Pete’s sake), if you can’t respect other people’s boundaries while promoting and celebrating their autonomy, and if you can’t let go of the deeply-seeded need for your own will to be everybody else’s bottom line.
There are a lot of people out there, who are so enamored with how much they’ve tried to do for others, that they cannot possibly imagine the abuse, trauma, and turmoil they’ve left in their wake.
If someone says that you’ve hurt them, you don’t rightly get to say it isn’t true, even if you didn’t mean to cause any hurt.
Just like if you accidentally stepped on and killed an ant without noticing, you’d be incorrect if you claimed that it never happened.
We have all hurt others without intending to, or even realizing it. Sometimes we’ll never even know what happened, or be able to learn properly from our mistakes because communication shuts down and those we’ve wounded vanish into the woodwork, leaving us to speculate and hypothesize.
It should be seen as a privilege when someone communicates to us how our actions have hurt them. It’s a chance to learn. Grow. Heal.
But some people don’t know how to learn. Or grow. Or heal. They are stuck in a cycle that predates their birth and will outlive their death if they don’t step up to the plate.
Most cycles of abuse are inter-generational.
I believe every human being does their best within the present limitations of their socialization, beliefs, and health.
Sometimes, their best is awe-inspiring.
Sometimes, it’s a train wreck.
Some people cannot stop hurting others, unless they outgrow their socialization. Change their beliefs. Get healthier in their mind, body, and soul.
Those people are usually chained in some way to their neglected, caged, invalidated inner child. Tragically, many of them were abused as children and their growth may have been stunted as they were never encouraged to develop their true identities.
Without an identity, people just repeat the patterns they’ve observed. The cycle can go on forever, until someone decides to end it.
Those who don’t choose to end it, despite their best intentions, are frankly just as abusive and dangerous as someone who inflicts bodily damage with fists and weapons.
Physical abuse is easier to prove, so there are laws to punish the abuser. Even though bodies heal much more quickly than emotional trauma.
There need to be consequences for long-term emotional abusers.
Not punishment, but rather consequences designed to help them transcend the cycle. Therapeutic consequences. Treatment.
In many cases, these cycles of abuse lead to adult children disowning their parents (if their parents didn’t already disown them). Some broken families just learn to live like that, but I don’t think it’s how we’re meant to play out our days.
But when given the choice between sustaining closeness with a toxic person at the expense of peace, balance, sanity, and more…
Or cutting ties…
A lot of people choose to cut ties. And the rest fester in misery. Not much of a way to win there.
In clear, provable cases of chronic emotional abuse, I propose that the courts mandate a specialized therapeutic regimen.
But not every case will be clear. Or provable. And there is room to abuse the system for selfish reasons and petty revenge. Which is exactly why there’s not already a legal process in place to handle these situations.
But we need to collectively decide to heal ourselves and each other, and to recover from the trauma we’ve all endured on some level. We can co-create a future in which problems like these do not plague our populace anymore.
Part of how we do that is through education and discourse. Authentic expression and real listening.
Imagine standardized elementary school courses about identifying, communicating, and enforcing one’s personal boundaries, while simultaneously learning and respecting the boundaries of others.
That would have been such a game-changer for me.
I barely knew what a boundary was until my late twenties. That’s a big-time failing of our systems of home and education.
But we can make this better for our children.
And we damn well shall.