Abuse And Responsibility
This is at the bottom of the spousal abuse thread. It's a shame that it got buried. It's worth pulling out, as I think it points to a rather difficult catch-22. How do you empower people without giving them agency and responsibility? And how do you tell them any agency and responsibility, without blame?
I once heard Bill Cosby try this while talking to some kids in jail, most of them who had been abandoned by their father's. He told them that someone had hurt them, and that that wasn't their fault, but that, ultimately, they'd be the ones who'd have to fix it. It's an unfair deal. But there's really no other way. Anyway, here's someone who'd know better than me:
I've been in support groups with a wide variety of women who've been through domestic abuse, and if there's one thing I can tell you about all of them, it's that they are in no danger of not taking responsibility for their abuse. The struggle, actually, is to begin to hold your abuser responsible for what they did and to stop being so paralyzed by shame that you can't heal. The fact is, women who are abused are getting the message every day that's it their fault--from their abusers. It's hard sometimes to walk the line between denying women's agency and avoiding blame. I understand why people have a hard time finding a balance between the two. But if what you really care about is the well-being of abused women and not some kind of abstract notion of personal responsibility that it's tempting to apply to them, it's not that difficult: don't apply blame, or anything that is likely to sound to an abused woman like blame. Because shame, guilt, and blame are the basis of abuse. My shame hurt so much more than the blows I suffered. And every time I felt more shame, it pushed me further into my self-destructive relationship and made me feel that I had less agency.
I don't know if I'm actually getting this across very well, but I felt compelled to say something about this. There's been a lot of "I don't really know much about this, but here's my two cents" kind of talk on this thread. I would ask that people please try to refrain from making spurious assumptions about domestic abuse. Please, if you're really interested, read some good books about it, or if you know a woman who's been through it who is willing to talk, ask her what her experience was like. Or, heck, ask me. Mostly I would just ask that you open your mind to the possibility that maybe you don't already understand everything about this topic. Because being in an abusive relationship feels really different from imagining you are in one.