Abuse results from inner fear, anger, and pain. Being abusive towards others gives someone who feels powerless, helpless, and scared the feeling of power, which feels better to the abuser than being in pain and powerless.
Obviously, being spiteful and mean to others hurts others, and is not ultimately beneficial or fulfilling to the abuser either. It is like being a heroin addict. Blaming and criticizing others feels good temporarily to the abuser, but leaves him or her emptier, and needing to increase the dosage to feel anything.
Engaging the abuser
Many couples will have occasional fights and will say something mean to one another. But they don’t feel good about themselves and they usually apologize with sincerity. This is not abuse.
Someone who is abusive tries to hurt the other person and does not take responsibility for his or her hurtful words or actions. Unfortunately, you cannot convince someone who does not take personal responsibility of your innocence no matter how you defend yourself. The abusive person is living in a world where he or she is the victim and you are the perpetrator.
Engaging someone’s abuse by getting into email wars, defending every point and attacking back, does not serve anyone. In fact it feeds the abuser’s craving to manipulate your emotions. This puts you in a power struggle with someone whose goal is to win power struggles not to have a loving relationship. Arguing with a bully leads to a vicious cycle of increasingly hostile attacks and ineffective attempts to defend oneself.
Compassion for abusers
You can have compassion for the suffering of those who are abusive by understanding that their actions result from their pain. Often they were abused themselves. However, compassion does not mean that you stop protecting yourself or that you should cater to people who can cause you harm. It does not help the abuser and it definitely does not enhance your well-being to engage in arguments in a futile attempt to vindicate yourself in the abuser’s eyes.
Friendship and harmony
You may want friendship or at least harmony with your ex. But it takes two people to have a friendship. You cannot be friends with someone who wants to make you feel bad. The only way to have a harmonious relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive is to pander to the abuser. However, this will lead to your own inner turmoil and cause you to repress your inner strength, desires, and life force. Thus, true harmony is probably only achievable through distance.
Focus instead on the positive people in your life who care about your well-being and who would not be abusive toward you. You may want to foster new relationships with individuals who want the people in their lives to be happy and not to feel guilty or miserable.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD