I have noticed that they are willing to tell stories about the people they hurt. Falsehoods are much easier than facing the truth. The truth would require them to face the harm they did. Hurt people hurt people and sometimes grow into a furious adder hissing and biting anyone who comes near. But pain is no excuse for a consistent pattern of calculated, craven, cruel abuse which is exquisitely designed to lessen and silence people.
After all I experienced, this dishonesty is easy to spot. Weapon words jump off the page, their sharp edges blunted by one’s ability to name them for what they are. In this clarity is freedom and power; I can dodge the assaults and avoid the worst pain. So, I want to share with you some of the forms of emotional abuse which have become so common. Like any pathological behavior, in small doses and forms these may merely be abrasive, or simply annoying, but they can also be abusive, even in small doses.1
But when these are the daily, repeatedly behaviors of a person or group who seeks their own self worth at the cost of others. Who actively chose to act in disrespectful, abusive ways:
- Demanding respect because they are powerful, not because they are worthy
- Refusing to accept responsibility for their behavior
- Ignoring or actively denying power differentials
- Weaponizing race, class, gender, ability, and age
- Sharing regularly about personal things but never asking about others’ lives
- Nuclear-weaponizing race or gender using post-racial liberal ideas
- Failing to acknowledge assistants/underlings2 who put in marathon levels of work
- Telling others they are trustworthy in the same breath as easily disprovable lies
- Withholding tools and then punishing people for failing to achieve already unreasonable goals
- Indiscriminately expressing emotions while demanding calm
- Repeatedly interrupting and never listening
- Never volunteering or following up on implementation
- Complaining that nothing has been accomplished
- Giving nothing but uninformed opinions
- Expecting thanks for anything they want to give, regardless of actual utility or value
- Demanding extensive gratitude from people who put in tremendous effort to make good out of those gifts, ever though what they give was not what they needed
- Taking for granted any extensive efforts of other people
- Thinking they can leverage your position into personal acclaim or a job
- Stating they are not motivated by personal acclaim or benefit
- Controlling other people in order to manage their own anxieties
- Attacking other people for ignorance of their field while refusing to acknowledge others’ areas of expertise
- Expecting everyone in the room to know their intentions in whatever way they like to talk, listen, or communicate
- Expecting those same people in the same room to tailor communication to make them comfortable
- Valorizing, devaluing, and discarding*
You are not the problem. You do not have to take this behavior, and with help, you can find alternative responses when people abuse you. It will not be easy, not at first. But over time, you can walk away, stop taking the bait, and chose not to feel the way they want you to feel – small, stupid, and helpless.
But if you are still trapped, let me say it again.
You are strong.
You do not deserve this.
You did nothing wrong to elicit this abuse.
Soon – my thoughts about alternative responses, resistance, and maintaining your sense of self in the face of an abusive snake.
1 Many of the books and articles I found on these topics begin (in the titles even) with pathology or diagnosis of the abuser as a narcissist or psychopath. I chose an alternative strategy by intentionally avoiding putting labels on people. Many of these behaviors are narcissistic and psychopathic (structured, organized, lacking empathy and egocentric). However, I find that lumping all the abusers into this category runs the risk of unintentionally implying to a victim that their experience must match a certain level of intensity or terribleness in order to matter. This is not true. In fact, even mild iterations of these behaviors can be damaging, and your experience counts.
2 In this context “assistants/underlings” stands in as code for for anyone whose position is defined as less prestigious or less important in an organizational or cultural way. E.G. a VP who dismisses the associates, a general dismissing soldiers…