In regards to being or having been in an abusive relationship, what does Personal Responsibility mean? Does it mean you are to blame for your partner’s abusive behavior? Heavens NO! You are not to blame for another person’s behavior. As much as (s)he tried to convince you that you were to blame, and as much as (s)he tried to convince you that you had any control over his/her behavior – you don’t – you didn’t – and you never could have – and you never will. So what does it mean, then?
Well, going forward in your life in new relationships and in existing ones, you DO have control over your OWN behavior and your own responses to abuse and potential abusers. You DO have control over finding out how and why you ended up being with a person like this in your present or past. Because only when you figure that out and begin to do something about it, will you gain the clarity to avoid ending up with a person like that again.
Personal responsibility means evaluating how and why you ended up with an abuser. What caused him/her to choose YOU as a target? What red flags did you miss in the romantic beginnings and why? What is it about you that makes you an easy mark for abusive people? Why did you put up with the abuse once it became a recurring pattern? Why couldn’t you recognize it as abuse when it was happening to you? What fears or circumstances caused you to stay involved even though this relationship made you feel increasingly hurt and upset so much of the time, while the happiness and rewards were continually diminishing?
As you think about these things be kind to yourself! Let’s face it, if you’ve been with an abuser, you’ve been taking responsibility for things you are NOT responsible for and things you have NO control over for a long time! You don’t need any more pain and CERTAINLY no more blame!
But you do need to figure out why (s)he picked you to abuse, how and why you missed early warning signs, and why you didn’t quite recognize what was happening and why you stayed in – and then what you can do to get out and assure that it NEVER happens again.
These are the things that – if you want to get out and/or avoid ever ending up with another abuser, you must address. This is your area of personal responsibility. (This in NO WAY makes YOU responsible or to blame for your abuser’s behavior or abuse though – because you’re NOT!)
In evaluating these things for myself, I came up with three things:
- Being able to RECOGNIZE the abuse – to name it, identify it, point it out in specific terms when it happened. MANY people – particularly the abused – do not recognize abuse until or unless it’s physical. But abuse can take a LOT of other forms: verbal, psychological/emotional, sexual, financial, religious/spiritual. Recognizing abuse can be a puzzling exercise. Particularly when it is covert and often only experienced and seen by the abused person and no one else in ‘public’. Remember that abusers typically have TWO personalities: one for their victim/partner in private, and another one for everyone else – friends, family, co-workers. A typical complaint of an abused person is that his/her partner treats EVERYONE else better. And, it’s true. As much as an abuser will try to make their abused partner doubt his/her perceptions about the mistreatment they’re receiving – the abused partner’s perceptions are usually accurate. But abuse – even if not physical and even if low-key and covert, and hidden behind a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde facade, CAN be defined, named, and called out. And it SHOULD be.
- FEAR, and codependence. Financial and/or emotional dependence, Relationship addiction/love addiction. Fear of being alone. For many people, this could also include even spiritual dependence. Also, there can be dependencies involving other family, children, pets. There can also be philosophical/religious reasons, and family or church pressures. One would think that most religious philosophies might have difficulty arguing that a parent’s primary moral responsibility is to take care of themselves and their children – including protecting them from abuse and abusive surroundings.
- Lack of healthy BOUNDARIES. Not knowing how and/or being too fearful of defining and enforcing, in clear terms, what type of treatment you will or will not tolerate from someone else. Fear of confrontation or disagreement – fear of conflict.
If you take time to look at such areas (and others you might discover) within yourself and in your life, THOSE are the things about yourself and your life you need to work on changing in order to begin to get out and to avoid ever being with an abuser again.
Remember that the ability to make positive changes in your life is a gift! Because ABUSERS DON’T CHANGE. They can’t, or won’t. They just find new targets for their abuse. But YOU can change and learn to avoid them! And believe it or not, YOU are therefore in the best position to improve your life as compared with an abuser. Better to be YOU than them! You can evolve beyond it. They cannot!
Maybe you need financial independence, so you could work on that. Maybe you need to study more the different types and definitions of abuse so you can recognize it when it’s happening next time. Maybe think about the red flags that you missed when you first met your current/last abusive partner. Maybe you need to get some therapy to help work on your personal boundaries and fears about setting them – about sticking up for yourself and not allowing others to disrespect you – even if it means confrontation and conflict, and ending a budding or well-established relationship over it. (YOU are worth that!) Maybe you need to find out if you’re too caring and soft-hearted with people who don’t deserve it, and therefore too easily manipulated and drawn in by a potential abuser – who might play on your sympathies, tender emotions, shame and guilt. Maybe you need to distance yourself from certain meddling family or church members in order to get out of the abusive situation without pressure so you can finally regain your clarity and see your way out of the “fog” of abuse and manipulation.
Take a good look at yourself and your life – and AGAIN – do NOT blame yourself! Always remember to be VERY kind to you. Because you are no doubt a wonderful person who has been very unkindly treated already, who has ALREADY been blamed for things which are not your fault, and who has taken far too much responsibility for things that are NOT yours to own. Blaming yourself will keep you stuck in the past. Taking responsibility for yourself will propel you toward a stronger, happier, healthier future.
If you know you are or have been in an abusive situation, then it’s time to get clarity about what you have experienced and why. It’s time to figure out what things in your life you DO own and are responsible for. Only then can you begin to do something about those things you can identify that brought you and kept you in this place so that you can get out – so that this doesn’t happen to you again.
Even if it means letting someone or something else go!
Here on EscapeAbuse.com there are tons of resources to help you find the answers and support you need, to help you figure out where your own personal responsibility and self-work needs to begin in order to get “out” of an abusive relationship and/or to help you avoid getting into another one – and to finally – FINALLY – get clarity and to see your way out of the fog of abuse!
Good Luck, and Good (self) Love!