Life would be so simple if a person were either all good or all bad. However, most people, even abusive people, have some good qualities or they would not have drawn others into their orbit to begin with.
Abuse in a relationship usually arises over time and stems from the abuser’s insecurity and fear. So it can be easy for a compassionate person to feel empathy even for a partner, even if they have been abusive.
How far should compassion go?
Compassion means trying to understand another person’s frame of mind. However, it does not mean putting up with and living with someone who is abusive. We can be compassionate without compromising our own boundaries and self-respect.
Compassion never means accepting or living with abuse. You can have compassion for someone’s flaws without accepting a relationship overwhelmed by abuse, contempt, or fear. You can have compassion for someone’s weaknesses without giving up what is yours morally and legally.
Abusive vs. healthy relationships
In abusive relationships, people live in a defensive, fearful state of mind. Rather than being open and candid, they have to tip-toe around and avoid speaking their mind to avoid conflict, hostility, and abuse. Living in a constant state of vigilance and dread leads to a deep sense of insecurity.
In healthy relationships partners try to overcome that insecurity in order to promote what is best for the other person because it is in both partners’ best interest to be supportive and encouraging. They attempt to override their fear with love and compassion for the other person.
Relationships are meant to be mutually supportive and life-enhancing. When two people live together, each should want the other to thrive and be happy.
Listen to your inner voice
The most important voice you need to listen to and address is your inner voice—or intuition—that protects you. Despite negative feelings about leaving the situation, such as guilt, fear, or feeling like a failure, you must remind yourself that leaving an abusive person is an act of self-protection and self-respect. No one in their right mind who knows the circumstances of the abuse you confront and cares about you would blame you for leaving. So do not stay in a relationship for appearances’ sake.
You are entitled to independence, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the limitations imposed on you by an abusive partner. You don’t need to vilify your partner. You can continue to appreciate the positive experiences you enjoyed together. Yet you must honor yourself by setting boundaries and insisting that your former partner does so as well.
Treat your former partner with respect. But remember it takes both of you to continue to be respectful after the relationship ends. If your ex does not keep their end of the bargain, then it is time to let go of any hope that you can maintain a friendship, and you might have to avoid him or her altogether.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen