I’ve been participating in an online debate about something that is illegal, but is also very popular. (In order to avoid debate here, I’m going to skip the details.) Many people see nothing wrong with it, but many other people recognize that there are consequences when the law is broken. As I read the various responses to this conversation–including rationalizations of why it was okay to break the law, I realized they were extremely similar to responses in debates about abuse and domestic violence. It seems like internet arguments always end in the same patterns, with the same basic ideas. It got me to thinking about typical reactions to domestic violence that I have seen so many times, and how those reactions are usually frustrating because it seems only a small minority of people actually speak out against abuse.
Just like narcissists all seem to do the same types of things over and over, and their victims have all the same types of feelings, people who aren’t part of the abusive situation seem to have similar comments. 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. Much like the people in this conversation about the illegal behavior couldn’t really grasp the effect it had on people on the other side, people who haven’t dealt with narcissists cannot understand what it is like to be a survivor of a narcissist.
So here we go with the common responders and their responses to serious discussion about abuse:
1. The Denier–The person who denies that abuse is abuse. These people throw out the cliche “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” and insist that only violent physical abuse is really abuse. They minimize the violence and insist that a little name-calling never hurt anyone. 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. In fact, they blame the victim for being upset and for letting his or herself feel bad. Just a couple days ago, I saw a man tell a woman that “no one but you can determine how you feel. You chose to be hurt by those words.” Ouch.
2. The Rationalizer–The person who agrees that abuse is abuse, but doesn’t think it’s a big deal. (These are the scary ones!) 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.” They can think of all kinds of exceptions or reasons to rationalize domestic violence and they have double standards depending on who is abusing and who is being abused. Today, I saw someone say, “people have been doing this for years.”
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. These types of people just want to change the topic. They want to sweep all problems under the rug in the interest of being “positive.” Today, I saw someone ask the moderator to delete the conversation because she didn’t want to read it. She said it was too negative and she had better things to do.
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. They don’t want to risk themselves, or get into an argument about right and wrong. Sometimes, these people will send private messages of support, but they won’t support you publicly. Speaking out takes guts because usually the person speaking out is going to be mocked and ridiculed by some of the other responders.
5. The Lone Wolf–This is the person who stands his or her ground. They challenge the deniers, and show proof of why abuse is dangerous with far-reaching effects. They refute the rationalizers and refuse to accept the victim-blaming. They remind the cheerleaders that serious topics do need to be heard. They stand strong, and often alone, knowing that they stand for what is right while the deserters don’t back them up.
Who do you want to be?