Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

Emotional Abuse (Overcoming Victim Identity)

Don't be a victim of victim-identity.

In terms of your health, happiness, and deepest values, one of the worst things that can happen is to live with a resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive partner. The worst thing you can develop, in terms of your health, happiness, and deepest values, is an identity as a victim.

Victim identity destroys personal power and undermines the sense of self. It makes you falsely identify with "damage" done to you or with bad things that have happened to you. The cry I hear over and over again from those who live with resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive partners is, "I don't like the person I've become."

Once emotional abuse occurs in a relationship, it becomes necessary not only to stop the abuse but to overcome victim identity through a strong identification with your inherent strengths, talents, skills, power, and appreciation of the self as a unique, ever-growing, competent, and compassionate person. This is accomplished through an emphasis on healing, growth, and empowerment, not by reviewing checklists of behaviors that qualify you as a victim or by reading lengthy descriptions of the resentful, angry, or abusive behavior and attitudes of your partner.

Detailed descriptions of your possible symptoms or of your partner's angry, abusive behavior are not only unnecessary for your recovery, they can cause harm by encouraging victim identity. If you live with an abusive person, you know better than any self-help author or advocate that your relationship has put thorns in your heart. You don't need a description of the thorns to know how much they hurt. You need to learn how to take them out and heal the wounds in ways that prevent scarring.

Perhaps the most insidious thorn in the heart that comes from living with a resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive partner is the feeling that you cannot be well until your partner changes. This understandable but tragic assumption is the first thorn you must remove from your heart. You deserve to heal and grow, whether or not your partner does.

Although a sense of fairness and justice tells you that your abusive partner ought to be the one to make changes, your pain tells you that you need to become the fully alive person you are meant to be. (Pain is not a punishment; it motivates behavior that heals, improves, and protects.) This means that you have to remove the focus from your partner and put it squarely on you. Renewed compassion for yourself will lead directly to a deeper compassion for your resentful, angry, or abusive partner. With that compassion you will demand meaningful, lasting change, for you will appreciate the enormous harm he does to himself when he hurts you. One of two things is likely to result from your reclamation of self and your compassionate demands on your abusive partner. You may be able to stop walking on eggshells and step into a deeper relationship with a more compassionate, loving partner. But if he chooses not to do the hard work of breaking abusive habits, for his sake, for the sake of your children, and for your own sake, you will no longer tolerate his resentful, angry, or abusive behavior. From your core value, you will stop walking on eggshells, one way or the other.

As you experience the enormous depth of your core value, the last thing you will want to do is identify with being a victim, or a survivor, for that matter. You want to outgrow walking on eggshells, not simply survive it, and you do that only by realizing your fullest value as a person.

 

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

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