What is abuse?

At one time I used to think abuse was a foreign concept that only existed in the lives of my fellow human beings who had limited education and a compromised standard of living. I thought they experienced abuse because they did not know any better.

Little did I know!

Abuse does not discriminate by socio-economic status and appears to be widespread and present not only in the lives of many individuals and families, including the affluent, but even in the business practices of many reputable, organizations.

Abuse includes any type of behavior that targets another human being, with the goal of making them doubt their perceptions and abilities in order to gain power and control over them.

Here are some effective ways within our control to build resilience against abuse:

  1. Learn to recognize abuse when we see it.

One of the biggest problems with abusive behavior is the myriad of ways it camouflages itself, which makes it difficult to recognize.

Beyond overt name-calling, anytime any of us has not cultivated our own personal power and choses to define another in a negative way, we are crossing the line from an effective to a dysfunctional pattern of behavior and communication. Some examples include:

  • When we give someone the “silent treatment” because we are upset with them, thereby defining them as nonexistent.
  • When we withhold fondness and admiration from someone we care about, because we experience discomfort with an aspect of our relationship with them.
  • When we use mishaps of others from the past to coerce them to act a certain way in the present,
  • When we minimize the perspective of another human being or counter their expressed feelings or needs,
  • When we dismiss agreements we made and act as if we do not remember them,
  • When we deny reality in response someone’s efforts to re-connect with us and we deny being aware of any disconnection in the first place: “I don’t know what you are talking about”,
  • When we make a joke about someone that highlights a part of them that is not one of their strengths.

These are all examples of maladaptive behaviors that “abusers” use to gain power over others.

  1. Understand the core issues that lead one to behave abusively.

Although when we are being abused we tend to take it personally, being subjected to abuse is not at all our responsibility. Someone who uses any of the above ways of interacting with another,  has an injured sense of self worth, hence, attempts to make you feel less than who you really are, as a way to feel good about themselves!  We need to understand that as scary as the behavior of an abuser may be and as misunderstood and unimportant as we may feel (as well as afraid of what may happen if we press the issue), an abuser’s behavior comes from a sense of powerlessness. As crazy as it may seem when someone is putting you down If we can cultivate empathy for the obvious ineffectiveness of the abuser to express their feelings and needs in healthy ways, we can actually begin to make a difference in eliminating this destructive pattern of behavior. By not taking it personally and understanding how challenged “the abuser” is psychologically, allows us to stay empowered to use assertive, effective communication, strict boundaries for accountability, and zero tolerance for abusive transactions. Trust me, the “abuser” deep down is miserable for how ineffective their dysfunctional patterns are in their life’s outcomes, they don’t really want this kind of trouble just don’t know how to change it!

  1. Take an active stance against abuse by refusing to respond to it.

We often think that by getting upset and responding with anger toward someone who puts us down, we set them straight. Actually, playing “tit for tat” games with an abuser feeds their injured sense of self.

If and when we do something that offends another and our behavior requires adjustment, we deserve as much good will and respect as we do when we are acting beautifully. When our responses comes from a deep sense of self worth, we do not tolerate unhealthy treatments because we made a mistake. Equally, when we feel worthy and deserving of love and belonging, we don’t engage in somersaults to make someone treat us with respect. We treat ourselves with respect by not getting upset and by setting clear boundaries.

So, the next time anybody “stone-walls” you, you can clearly express that you acknowledge their challenges in expressing their feelings and needs at this time. You can inform them that when they are ready to tell you what they need, you will be happy to hear their perspective. Then simply go about your day and remove yourself from being treated as invisible.

After all, everything is simply a temporary perspective, and your perception of self is the only valid reality.

  1. Reinforce and role-model healthy communication.

We are all beautifully human, and we don’t have the power to read somebody else’s mind, nor can we feel, sense, and experience life’s events through someone else’s lens. We will ruffle another’s feathers at times and they will ruffle ours.

After all, the dictionary definition of relate is to make a connection between differences. The only way we can make a connection between our differences with another human being in a healthy way is by choosing to express our feelings and needs in a loving way—void of criticism, hidden agendas, and contempt.

For example, “When you are late to our meetings without giving me a heads up, I feel frustrated and angry. I need you to please give me a heads up as soon as you know that you will be late so that I may adjust my schedule.”

This is the only way one may consider making adjustments to accommodate our request and trust me, none of us will in response to abuse!

  1. The most important action we can take against abuse is to strengthen our own sense of power.

When we process our own wounds and past hurts, we are not afraid to assertively express our feelings and needs. We can move past anyone who comes across our path who refuses to acknowledge our point of view or to be accountable for their actions.

It is important to focus on feelings of empathy and compassion for someone who is in much pain and using maladaptive behaviors to feel better about themselves. Yet we have to be brutally honest with ourselves, as well, when we allow our pain to get the best of us and we find ourselves guilt-tripping another for our negative emotions.

Healthy development and emotional intelligence allow us to accept and respect others points of view, show goodwill, and be accountable when we occasionally slip. We may at times need to express negative emotions like anger or frustration with another, but we can do so constructively, without defining another in a negative way.

The insidious nature of abuse can seriously interfere with one’s emotional and physical health and corrode the essence of the human soul of an individual, a community, and the world we live in.

The time is now to reverse the trajectory of our physical, emotional, and social health—one breath and one relationship at a time.

And it all starts with you!

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