Trigger warning: You may not want to read if you have been the victim of a traumatic event by an abusive person. If you were victimized, please be cautious about reengaging with the person who hurt you. Do not face them, if ever, until you have had extensive help. You are not obligated by any means to deal with the person who abused you. Rather, develop your boundaries and keep yourself safe.
It may sound contradictory, perhaps repulsive. To prey up someone, you exploit another person’s weaknesses to advance selfish gains. It may be surprising to learn that these are people, too, with their own set of wounds and maladaptive coping mechanisms. Where do those people go for help when they have damaged every relationship they have ever held?
Part of my job involves helping those who have harmed others. When it comes to breaking the cycle, we must intervene at all points of abuse. Both preventative strategies and treatment for post-abuse trauma are essential to healing the wounds. Otherwise, we may actively engage in the cycle . All of us contribute to this unconsciously if we don’t pay attention to how we treat offenders who victimize others. Shame and abandonment worsen the problem and only strengthen their violating behavior.
Usually through addictions or a misunderstanding of reality, these individuals have a distorted sense of self in relation to society. The way they grew up, their environment taught them that this world is dangerous, and they must protect themselves by any means. Kill or be killed, they fight their way to the top by any way necessary. It is about survival. And, they remain in defense mode their entire lives. That is, until someone brings them to reality.
I certainly understand your position. It’s a normal reaction to recoil at the heinous misdeeds of another. However, it is much easier to judge and shame then it is to understand and teach.
How would you act toward this person if it was one one of your family members or best friends?
Would you deal with them in the same way, or make that extra effort to problem solve?
This question also relies on several variables like whether you were the victim, this person lacks initiative to change, or if they hurt someone also close to you.
Once a person’s abusive behaviors are discovered, civilization shuns their existence. The individuals that repeatedly crossed boundaries, humiliated, shamed, lied, abandoned, neglected, and gaslit are ostracized. And rightly so. For all those unthinkable things they put us through, never hearing our concerns until we pushed them out entirely. I know, I’ve been there.
These are also the same people who have once experienced abuse themself or have been taught by their environment to think and act in this manner. They may have been allowed to continue this conduct without detection, or maybe it was ignored and passed off as a quirk. Perhaps it was directly taught or modeled through a parental figure. Unsurprisingly, the public has all sorts of illogical and harmful norms. Let’s take a look at the Man Rules, for example.
Be a man. Man up. Don’t be a sissy. Boys don’t cry. Why are you such a pussy? You’re too soft. Boys will be boys. You hit like a girl. Don’t be gay. Boys don’t play with dolls. You can’t wear pink. You’re weak if you show pain or fear. Don’t be a loser. Why can’t you be more like (person B)? Men can and should have sex with as many women as possible. Anger is the only feeling you can show. Be stoic. Save people. Your worth is in what you can produce/provide. The list goes on.
Fortunately, this world is turning it’s attention to the damaging effects that toxic masculinity has had on people. It damages both the toxic man and whoever he enters into relationships with. This set of distorted thinking patterns will forever drive his life into a lonely existence until someone intervenes. When you repress your feelings or exhibit them in unhealthy ways, you become offensive. You push people out of your life through overt abuse, lack of connection, or consistent boundary violations.
The question becomes: what do we do with those who have hurt others?
We cast them aside and hope they disappear. They may enter the judicial systems or get fired. Friends, family, and acquaintances leave them. They get new ones. Rinse and repeat.
There is a problem in that there is no solution when we exile offenders. Society still has a castaway who exhibits the same torturous patterns that will run cyclical until a major event stops it (Ie. Death, crisis, rock bottom, relational loss). This person also has needs. They have to eat, to work, to pay rent just like we do. They don’t just go away as your brain simply wants them to.
You can become the perpetrator if you begin to take away their right to live and begin the dehumanizing process. They become monsters with no human characteristics or values. Anything good about them gets dismissed. Black and white thinking discredits any qualities they may contain.
Yes, like the Karpman Triangle depicts, you swing right into that role of perpetrator/persecutor when you begin to devalue and disparage the offender. Perhaps you seek revenge? Or maybe, you belittle and humiliate the person to others. These are all perpetrator behaviors.
So, what do we do?
These are people, at the end of the day. Unhealthy coping mechanisms and wounds drive them further into the cycle when the impact of the negative reactions of people further their shame and pain. They reach incredible low depths and may consider suicide the only option. Shaming them only strengthens the cycle, pushing them further out of reach for help, and into their sickness.
There are several factors that factor into a person’s rehabilitation potential. Have they become aware of the harm their behaviors have on others? Are they motivated to change? How extensive is the damage? What is the nature of their offenses? Every story has different circumstances.
As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT-c), I get many similar cases. And I have witnessed tremendous life change for those with the worst histories, given the right approach. Their work involves identifying and accepting that there is a problem, restoring accountability, engaging in trauma therapy, learning about offensive behaviors and why they do it, and restoring their quality of life through the practice of healthy coping mechanisms. This doesn’t mean they get off scott-free and live like a vacationer. They do extremely tough work and face the abusive behaviors they enacted. They take responsibility and talk openly about it to others.
Living in consultation is a must, as people who rely on their own thinking that have had histories of making poor choices experience the same inability the rest of their lives. With that collaborative process of like-minded peers, they can identify cognitive distortions and bring those thought errors into reality.
Being accountable and making amendments is a tremendously difficult process. Most people won’t do it. The majority will continue to evade the repercussions because of the community’s strong reaction. And, understandably so. Not everyone has this ability to see past the harm someone causes and to try to find and correct the issues underneath. For me, it has been a personal growth experience as much as it contributes to job satisfaction, to help others through this process. From a personal history of abuse, who switched to an offender while actively drinking, I now get to help prevent future occurrences in those who do engage in this work.
When we intervene directly on the people that cause the harm, we stop the cycle at the top, before they create more victims. With that lens of humanness, we can see the pain behind the behavior. Making a safe environment to do this is key, as shame will only people further behind walls. That solves nothing. Empathy and compassion heal, unless that person is a psychopath or sociopath. Then, boundaries and walls protect you.
I believe in second chances. We all create messes. Every one of us has skeletons in the closet, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. Not seeing our mistakes varies in pathology- and can be so severe that it becomes a diagnosable mental health disorder. So, live and learn, and stay free from the shame of having imperfections. You’re human, just like the rest.