What do people owe their childhood abusers?

I thought I’d share this interesting article about adults with abusive parents or childhood caregivers. Slate magazine: The Debt.

The article addresses the issue of deciding whether to forgive, not forgive, keep around, or cut off toxic abusers who don’t apologize or change, or who cause post-traumatic stress symptoms with their presence. Cutting off parents can be hard, because deep down we still want their approval, and it is common to grow emotionally enmeshed with abusive parents. People who do make the decision to cut off family members often face a lot of pressure from the people around them to let the person back into their life and try to make up, particularly laying on guilt trips if the abuser is ailing or near death.

The pressure is especially hard when the person’s mother is the one who gets cut off. People often seem to have the idea stuck in their head that mothers are always kind, innocent, and blameless, and that being somebody’s mother means you cannot abuse or do anything wrong–overlooking the fact that psychopaths, narcissists, and other women with abusive temperaments can get pregnant too. My partner, who made the decision to cut off his physically and psychologically abusive mother after realizing how little she’d changed, has been dealing with the “But she’s your mom!” pressure and guilt trips for years. And it is frustrating.

The decision to cut off family is not an easy one to make. What a person in this situation feels is right for them, whether it be cutting contact or continuing a relationship on their terms, is their own business. However, if someone has mistreated you and won’t genuinely apologize and change their hurtful behavior, I think that this person has not earned your respect and you don’t owe them anything–and that associating with them again may cause more pain especially if the abuse continues. Respect must be earned, even if you are somebody’s mother, even if you are sick in the hospital.

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Victim-blaming and the Law of Attraction

I was going to lump this into another post about victim-blaming, but I think this opinion rant deserves its own post. I’m about respecting other people’s belief systems when possible. But I can’t help but feel triggered and angered by The Secret, a.k.a. The Law of Attraction. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a New Age belief that we attract everything that happens to us, good or bad, depending on the kinds of thoughts we think and the energy they generate. For example, if a person wants a new job, if they think lots of positive thoughts about getting that job then the universe will draw it to them, “manifesting” the job.

I think the reverse side of the Secret coin is very offensive and dangerous to abuse survivors and others, for that matter… the belief that your thoughts not only attract the good things that happen to you, but the bad things, and that the state of our lives is the reality we created ourselves. Some strong believers in this system include abuse in the things we attract. I think this is a pretty offensive form of victim-blaming that promotes not only invalidating comments from others blaming us for what happened, but terrible guilt and shame for the person who’s been abused or who has fallen on hard times, thinking they must have thought too negatively, worried too much, or done something wrong to “attract” this to themselves. Not only does this victim-blaming make me angry, but it simply doesn’t make sense. Who sits around thinking, “I want to be raped!” Or “I want to be in a terrible bus accident!” or “I want an unexpected natural disaster to happen!” If it’s true that we attracted everything that’s ever happened to us, what about people who were abused early in life, for one example? Did they want it? Did they themselves “create the reality” of abusive caregivers? Of course not, and it’s incredibly offensive to blame the child. There are numerous other examples of abuse and natural disasters and financial problems that the person did not think about or wish upon themselves before it happened. And countless others of us who are in life circumstances that are less than ideal. For instance, I really wish I had a job right now. I was trying to stay positive about a particular job opportunity and a rejection letter from that job just landed in my email inbox. If the Law of Attraction really worked, think how many more of us would be rich by now.

Victim-blaming aside, I think the Law of Attraction also creates a breeding ground for anxiety and shame. If you’re trying to think positive in order to manifest what you want, and any “negative” thoughts creep into your head, as they inevitably will from time to time, it may possibly lead to a cycle of obsessing, fear, and beating yourself up. And I imagine it must be hard for a person struggling with depression to keep all their thoughts positive for fear of generating negative energy and manifesting bad things.

The Law of Attraction is scientifically unproven. But, so are a lot of other things. There is nothing wrong with positive thinking, certainly. Often it spurs positive, proactive behavior to help us reach our goals. But if you sit passively and do nothing, you’re much less likely to reach your goals. Some self-help techniques that promote positive thinking and positive action without the victim-blaming can be found here, as well as some more commentary on what makes the Law of Attraction belief system harmful.