Friday, October 2, 2015

Forgiving abusers: the "You're better than that" family culture that expects victims of familial abuse to make up with their abuser

name of cartoon: "Take on a Little More Abuse"
image is © Lise Winne
2015
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

I have asked myself this question many times when it comes to all issues of abuse whether it is school bullying, sibling bullying, family scapegoating and everything inbetween.

One of the big reasons for not making up with bullies and abusers is that all perpetrators generally escalate abuse and violence (even when there are laws against violence!)

There are signs that it is getting dangerous. Like: the perpetrator has been verbally and emotionally abusing you for awhile (see my post on What are Types of Abuse). The warning signs of physical abuse are: blocking a door so that you have to walk around them, pushing and shoving, leaning into your personal space to lecture you, leading you, pushing or pulling you, giving you ultimatums or orders while touching you, stealing from you, destroying personal property, dominating the decisions about personal property, pulling an implement out of your hand, snatching a telephone away from you, raging at you with clenched fists, false imprisonment (being kept from leaving or being made to go somewhere against your will), et al, that is the very beginning of the physical abuse stage. It escalates very fast from there.

If a perpetrator also drinks or uses drugs: watch out!

Abusers don't respect boundaries. They don't respect you. Making up with abusers can equate to ending up badly injured or dead.

Then there are the family advisers:
* "Well, if you just said things a little more softly, he might not blow up at you."
* "If you just gave him what he wanted, then he wouldn't have pushed you."
* "He was the one who was right. You were the one who was wrong. I'll tell you how you can get a better outcome ..."
* "He can lose his temper like anyone can; it's mainly how you deal with it."
* "I'm sorry you are so hurt by your brother. Maybe you should go to a therapist to feel better." (good advice, by the way, except therapists will advise you to end relationships with abusers -- and then your family may call your therapist a cult leader! -- it happens!)
* "I brought the two of you up to play nice. Now, I know you know how to do that. You apologize to him first, then maybe he will apologize to you."
* "No. Something has to be wrong with you because we brought him up to be a nice young boy who is always considerate and sweet to others. So, my dear, that means you must do the hard work of mending this fence." -- with the insinuation that you must mend the fence, that not having contact with your abuser is not an option
* "He wouldn't act this way unless you had done something. We have no problem with him. If you go to therapy and learn how to deal with other people, by -- what is it called? -- conflict resolution? -- then this relationship wouldn't be so hard for you. I'm sorry you're in such pain over it, sweetie, but you really, really need to get this in perspective!"
* "I know he hurt you, but can't you just be the reasonable sweet person we have always known you to be and put aside all of the fighting and pain and drama?"
* "I just don't understand why you can't just forgive and forget. Maybe if you go to church, you'll learn that forgiveness brings great reward and peace of mind."
* "You know, yoga and meditation really helped me to be calm and talk without so much emotion! If you feel hurt, just practice a little meditation and you'll feel better. That should help your relationship too."
* "If you send her a birthday card, and a nice long note, I'm sure that will help your relationship get on a better track. You need to make the first overture. Once you do that, then I'm sure that will grease the skids for better treatment from her."
* "It's unfortunate that he called you 'a waste of a human being', a 'nothing', a 'piece of crap', a 'goon', and took all of those belongings from you, but you know, you did call him an addict. You started it with that. If you were less confrontational, and you didn't bait him by saying that his addiction was causing him to rage and steal, you might be treated better. You need to start bettering yourself instead of focusing on him, and accusing him of being an addict. It has to start with you first!"
* "You've always been a difficult child. You've always been the emotional one. I'm sure your sister never meant to hurt you. It's just that you are sooooo sensitive!"
* "I don't think I could ever forgive you if you broke off that relationship. I know that forgiveness is a good quality to have, and I'm asking that of you now, but if you can't forgive your stepfather for what he did to you, that puts our relationship in jeopardy, and I have to go with him first over you. A wife's place is with her husband first whether anyone likes it or not. I know he has a temper, but I know you're the better person, and you really, really can rise above this. Do you hear me? You really can forgive and forget."
* "I can't believe for a second that he was the one who caused this. Men are usually the good ones and women are the bad, conniving and ruthless people. He has spent his life trying to be a good man, bring up good children and his wife obviously loves him. I know what I know, and he would never hurt a flea. So, because I know who he is, I know that you are at fault, so you will have to be the one to apologize. I can't do it for you. It will have to come from you. So, if you want to be part of this family at all, your place is to apologize and to make exceptions for him. I'm just not going to hear any more of this nonsense about a good man like him being abusive."
* "We have a right to make preferences about who we spend time with. You rejected him because you were so hurt, so now you are on the outside of family events and family fun. If you want to rejoin the family, simply forgive and forget and we'll do the same when it comes to you. You really are capable of the Christian values we brought you up on!"

It is difficult for families to understand that all of this is dangerous talk, and not at all palatable to a victim. The victim is already being abused, and now he's being pressured into accepting it and apologizing to the abuser, putting him in even more risk and danger!  

So how do you handle a family member who just can't believe that their sweet little baby-muffy-boo turned adult is now a domestic terrorist? They really can't see what the fuss is about. It is just a one-time bruise (surely!); it is just a couple of enraged words (surely he's polite most of the time!); it is just a temper tantrum (surely he doesn't act like that all of time -- look at how he acts around us! Model child! or husband! In fact, you should act more like he acts!). The excuses run the gamut.

I have met too many ostracized family members in my lifetime. What I have discovered is that people who have been bullied and ostracized from their families or peers are, by and large, the better members of their families and of society. Many of them are the best of humanity, the caring altruistic part of our race, some of whom act like compassionate nurses when you go to a hospital scared out of your wits.

But, also, people look to victims to carry burdens they shouldn't be responsible for shouldering at all.

There are a range of common responses to domestic abuse, all of which minimize abuse by people who are trying to help with a resolution, but who don't understand that a resolution is often dangerous. These include the following (from the Faces of Narcissism blog by Joanna Moore):

I’m sure we’ve all heard them. “Get over it,” “but she’s your mother!,” “forgive and forget,” “that was in the past,” “so-and-so had it worse”….” People who haven’t been abused can never really understand how serious it is, or how we are feeling. Because of that, their reactions are often non-helpful, or are even hurtful to us ... people who haven’t dealt with narcissists cannot understand what it is like to be a survivor of a narcissist ...

She also lists types of people who cannot hear about abuse. These include:

1. The Denier–The person who denies that abuse is abuse ... You can show them dozens of scientific studies showing that emotional abuse has long-lasting effects, but they will continue to deny the reality. They think the abuse victim is over-reacting and just needs to toughen up ...
2. The Rationalizer–The person who agrees that abuse is abuse, but doesn’t think it’s a big deal ... They feel entitled to attack people and they say that the victim deserved it. They use terms like “he had it coming,” or “she baited him.”
3. The Cheerleader–The person who is upset about the discussion and thinks it should end. They want to get back to happy subjects, and they demand that the talk about domestic violence be stopped because it isn’t fun ...
4. The Deserters–All the people who say nothing. In my opinion, these people do a great deal of harm by staying quiet. Many of them probably are against abuse, but don’t want to be targeted by the abusers or the people who think abuse should stay hidden ...

Here is one of the graphics she made for her blog, which I think is powerful:

  

In this Psychology Today article by Jeanne Safer, there is a trend in families where the family members believe the victim of sibling abuse should take "the higher road" and forgive their violent siblings. But this can have dire consequences for victims, as the article suggests. Here is a snippet from that article:

Under the pressure of promoting family harmony, parents who need to deny one child's viciousness and their own negligence often try to force the victimized child to be "mature" and "rise above it." These more intact, "good" siblings continue to make the same demands of themselves. Their willingness to accept bad treatment, to feel they deserve it, or to define it out of existence then extends beyond their families and damages their later lives ...

The article also goes into detail about the pressure parents put on victims of sibling abuse in order to make themselves look and feel better and to create the harmony that they want, rather than what is best for the victim and the abuser.

A daughter feels her parents are sometimes bullying her into making up with her abusive brother:

Sandy hasn't attended a family function with her brother since she received that letter. "I've taken a strong position that he's out of my life, even though my parents still try to bully me into capitulating. I know it's difficult for them to have two separate sets of holidays, but I forbid them to talk to me about it because their Pollyanna attitude enrages me."

Even in school bullying, victims are still, by and large, obligated to carry around the responsibilities of bullying (of course, this depends on the state, county and school system you are in; some school districts are better prepared, have more consequences for bullying, and are more educated about abuse than others). Victims are the ones who have to go to therapy and be talked out of suicide; they are the ones who have to be educated in how to avoid, side-step and ameliorate bullies; they are the ones who somehow have to get from class to class without getting bullied again, getting out of the way of the bullies' arrogant swagger and fast-fisted work. The bullies are much less accountable than the victims for what happens. I find this totally backward, unacceptable and even criminal since these are public institutions with mandatory requirements for all U.S. citizens.

It is not much different in the family. Invariably a family member who can't stand the discord in the family will say, "Can't you just get along? Can't you just appreciate that you are different people? Can't you just make up for our sake?" And who is pressured the most for making up? The victims!

The victims are looked at as martyrs who have already taken on so much abuse, so "Why not just take on a little more so that we can live in peace? Show you care about the family, show you're the better person!"

Except ... being a victim has dire consequences. It will make victims sick and stressed out and eventually unable to function (PTSD). Sometimes suicide is the end result. It is a selfish, unreasonable request (or challenge) to give a child or even an adult child. There is no holiness or sainthood that comes from being a willing victim and martyr of a family, a family who will only love you if you take on their escalating abuses and scapegoating and shoulder all of the peace-making and diplomacy efforts ... Any sainthood you might have received from your family is quickly challenged again the next time you can't take the torture. It is better to work the streets of Calcutta like Mother Theresa than to keep trying to prove to a bullying family that you are a good person who deserves better treatment.

In fact, many victims are too good for their families.

I've met many, many victims of family abuse, and they are, by and large, in the helping professions and the altruistic members of society (more about who abusers target here). They have often gone overboard for their families (baby sitting, hosting, caretaking, taking on the brunt of family diplomacy, spending decades keeping quiet about abuse to keep the family together, willing to work out family problems in therapy), but their families are often heavily resistant to working on anything: they keep looking to the victims over and over and over again to solve all of the problems in the family. They often seem totally incapable of healthy responses such as acknowledging their child's victimization, and will only consider a forgive and forget approach. While this doesn't necessarily mean victims are ostracized, the family is often put out at having to celebrate important holidays and events in separate locales.

The situation resembles a child who has to go between two divorced parents.

If you are from a narcissistic family or an alcoholic family with narcissistic traits and you were or are the family scapegoat (blamed for nearly every relationship issue and anything else that might expose the family dysfunctions and violence), then you won't be asked and lectured at to take on abuse and be the better person, you will be expected to take on abuse (or else!). The authorities of the family will use every arm-twisting and blackmail they can think of to shut you up and shut you out unless you show that you are willing to be their victim of family violence and abuse. You will be insulted, you may be referred to as an animal species so that they can look at you as sub-human (pig, snake, serpent, rat, vulture, worm, tarantula, shark, rabid dog, etc), they will focus all of their energy on telling you how ungrateful you are for not putting up with members' violence and abuses, they will focus on how you are flawed and ungracious because you are unable to adopt a forgive and forget attitude like a normal person, they will show no mercy in their agenda to hurt you. They do not care about what you went through, or how much danger you were in: if you don't do as they say and make up with family abusers, they will retaliate. In addition, they may very well flaunt how they love the abusive, violent member so much more than they love you!

In this case, you cannot expect them to understand. They aren't normal people who want you to make a decision, hoping that the decision you'll pick is to make life easier for them; they are people who will stop at nothing to add to the torture. They want to see you abused and to use you for family rage. What is more, they want to abandon you and hurt you if you do not live up to their expectations about this. They won't care about what happens to you whether you give in or don't give in: remember you are sub-human to them, and in their minds, there is no abuse and no violent act that is going too far, that their victim doesn't deserve (in their eyes).

By scapegoating, it condones and supports the perpetrator. He can do what ever he wants to do to the family scapegoat (and probably to other members as well). This makes escalation of violence a given, and a completely pardonable offense in the eyes of the family.

What about the law? These families are not above hiring the best lawyers and stonewalling investigations.

There is no choice but to walk away from the family if you are the scapegoat. They may very well use any weapon to get the decision about your own safety and well being out of your hands, and into theirs.

I watched a Law and Order episode one evening which I think was this episode. From what I remember, a brother murders his sister because she won't go along with what he wants, and the mother tries to cover up the crime her son committed because he is the only child she has left. This episode didn't seem so far-fetched to me given what I have seen.

In fact, there was a similar case in Delmar, NY, a suburb outside of Albany, the Porco case, where Christopher Porco was convicted of murdering his father and attempting to murder his mother (with an axe). His mother barely survived the attack, becoming severely disfigured, and she confessed to investigators that her son tried to kill her, but then backtracked and defended her son in court.

In any case, stop looking to victims to solve the family problems! Women went on the march to be seen as citizens who deserved the vote, deserved equal pay, who deserved to take control of what happened to their bodies, who deserved to think for themselves, who deserved to be looked at as real and equal, not just subservient extensions of their husbands. Victims of abuse need the same respect.

Resources and links:

Sibling Abuse and Sibling Bullying (my own post)

Parents Who Pit Siblings Against Each Other: A Folly That Fosters Abuse (my own post)

Favoritism: Fostering Abuse for Everyone in the Family, and Why a Narcissistic Parent Favors and Loves the Golden Child Most, and What it Does to the Whole Family (my own post)

Rejecting the forgiveness culture

Why you don't always have to forgive

Wikipedia article about what causes family estrangement

Wikipedia article about disownment

Why minimizing Narcissistic Abuse is always wrong from the Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Flying Monkeys -- Oh, My blog
Ending a relationship with an abusive parent, child or sibling

Child abuse and the role of parental denial

Parents who scapegoat one child

For all sibling murders, 78 percent are carried out by an adult sibling towards another adult sibling. Only 9 percent are carried out by a juvenile sibling towards another juvenile sibling. According to the research book, Family Violence in the United States, Defining, Understanding and Combating Abuse by Denise A. Hines, Kathleen Malley-Morrison and Leila B. Dutton: "In juvenile relationships, older siblings are generally the perpetrators of homicide against their younger siblings ... whereas the opposite is true in adult relationships: younger siblings kill their older siblings ... Furthermore there is generally less than a 5-year differential between the perpetrators and victims of siblicide ... Siblicide is also more common among males than among females. The most common type of siblicide is brothers killing brothers, followed by brothers killing sisters, sisters killing brothers, and finally sisters killing sisters ..."

As this Wikipedia article states: "Sibling abuse is significantly more likely to occur in dysfunctional, neglectful and/or abusive homes, and often reflects a lack of appropriate boundaries and discipline on the part of the parents." -- the whole article is worth reading.

What happened to one woman who was scapegoated and ostracized by her whole family

One woman tells how she was disowned by her family

Child sex abuse statistics -- 30 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by a family member

This article states that most parents and step parents who sexually abuse their offspring have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The article also talks about why children think that they caused it (narcissists typically blame victims), and how families react. The author, a psychologist, believes that shattering the silence in the family is the only way for the victim to get help.

Step-fathers who kill and/or abuse their non-biological children is called The Cinderella Effect. According to Wikipedia: "Studies have found that not biologically related parents are up to a hundred times more likely to kill a child than biological parents.[4]"

A nurse loses her life to domestic violence (her husband says she made him angry -- so he had to kill her? ... but this is how it happens ... a son writes about his mother)




I found this on Facebook (I don't know the source):

3 comments:

  1. sibling abuse survivorAugust 28, 2017 at 11:26 AM

    OMG! My family! They tout the Christian theory of turning the other cheek so that you end up dead, in the hospital, in the psych ward, or slitting your own wrists because you can't take it any more. And yet would they even take one single insult from my charming and criminally minded brother? Not one! Hyprocites!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup! The root of all abuse is hypocrisy.
      In abusive families, it is "follow the money", "follow the projection" and "follow the word salad excuses"
      ... My post on projection: http://angry-alcoholics.blogspot.com/2016/06/do-abusers-project-their-thoughts-and.html ...
      and my post on word salad arguments: http://angry-alcoholics.blogspot.com/2017/06/abusers-narcissists-alcoholics.html
      Thank you for your comment!

      Delete
  2. My life in every way. My parents refuse to hear it so I'm home alone all of the time. No family, no one who cares, just expecting me to accept the violence.

    ReplyDelete

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