3 lessons I learned from my abuser

I’m not one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason. For the most part, I think that idea is complete horseshit.

Redemption from past pain is something different: it doesn’t require that a terrible event take place in order to teach you something. It doesn’t require you to be grateful for a period of suffering or loss. While I’m not sure that redemption does come from every traumatic event, I do believe there was something I dare call “good” that came out of my past abusive relationship.

These are just a few lessons I learned that have helped improve my current relationships, and help me to recognize toxic behavior patterns in others:

1) The difference between “apologies” and “not-pologies”

This should speak for itself, but if you’ve ever listened to the tearful confession of a celebrity or a politician caught doing things he shouldn’t, you may notice a pattern of victim-blaming and taking the focus off of the people who are being issued the apology.

“I’m sorry that you got offended.”

Note the lack of repentance for what Trump did to cause the offense: rather, it’s that people reacted in ways that made sense to “pussy-grabbing” that is the problem, not his actions themselves. 

“I understood that if I continued down this road, I would ruin my life.”

There’s not a word about how Josh Duggar’s actions affected the lives of the girls he molested. He turned the focus of the apology completely on himself, which easily places it in the not-pology category.

These are not the words of mature adults who are genuinely repentant of the harm they inflicted. Which brings us to…

2) The importance of self-awareness

If someone says you hurt them, you don’t get to say that they didn’t. The fact that you didn’t mean to is beside the point. Yes, this is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but a person with a healthy sense of self-awareness will ask themselves, Is there any way my words or actions could have hurt this person? Even if you’re still unsure, it’s important to listen anyway.

There was a Bible study I used to be active in, in which I disagreed with someone on almost every topic. The fact that we disagreed wasn’t the issue, but the way he handled it. I didn’t appreciate having my thoughts dismissed without being given the chance to fully explain myself. In turn, if I challenged his views in any way, the response was pure gas-lighting: “Well, a real believer would see it this way.”

I left the Bible study. I wish I had said something sooner, but I was too frustrated. When I did eventually confront this person about how he made me feel, his response was venomous and beside the point: “I never once attacked your character!” No, I never said he did; but if his actions were enough to make me quit the group, then the least he could have done was hear me out and take inventory of the personality traits he has that made me feel unwelcome and disrespected.

This “taking inventory” is something I know I have to do when I’m around people who don’t quite “get” sarcasm. I make dry jokes and have to over-use smiley emojis in my texts to show that 99% of the time, I’m kidding. I know I do these things; I know some people find it hurtful. I recognize that about myself, and know I need to be held accountable for what I say and how I say it.

3) A comprehensive definition of bodily autonomy

It wasn’t just that the man I dated before my husband refused to take “no” for an answer, as far as sexual activities were concerned. He would also slap my ass the few times we ventured out in public, despite my asking him not to.

But since ass-grabbing is still a sexual example of non-consent, here’s one that isn’t, and happens far more often: it is not okay to joke about “being a hugger” as you step in to hug someone without asking if they like being touched. I noticed this occurs most often in churches when the pastor says, “Let’s pass the peace!” The average person will extend their hand to shake, but I’ve had grown men attempt to hug me, and then look deeply offended when I put my hands up and say, “Actually, I’m not okay with that.” But the problem was never me: it was assuming my desires in the first place, and not asking for consent.

I wish I never had to learn these lessons the way I did, but nonetheless, I’m glad I learned them somehow. It’s never fun to admit when you might have done something wrong, but the uncomfortable act of apologizing is better than the alternative: the possibility of losing a relationship.

See also: I Dated Donald Trump

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I’m not sure if cats can be taught about consent, but Zoey doesn’t look too thrilled with being loved on by Catniss.

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