But they never acted that way toward me!

How we enable abusers with our need to make sense of the world and how we can stop doing it.

Nikki T

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Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Whether its child abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or another type of abuse, if your response to hearing a story about a person who has used harm against another has been “I just can’t believe it. They have never acted that way toward me,” you’ve enabled an abuser and minimized a survivor’s experience. Was that your intent? Probably not. So why is this so often the number-one response when people find out friends or family are different people behind closed doors?

As humans, we have a deep need to make sense of the world. We aren’t good with ambiguity. This explains why people who we once thought were level-headed have turned a corner toward conspiracy theories about “plandemics” to try to make sense of the ever changing nature of the Novel Coronovirus. Conspiracy theories, no matter how out- there, give people a way to make sense of how the world turned upside-down overnight. This is no different when applied to perpetrators of abuse. When family members and those who share social circles with people who harm find out that they harm, the only way to make sense of this is to revert to their own experiences. They never hurt me, therefore they must have never hurt anyone, therefore this story must be untrue and I can go back to living my life uninterrupted. Yay!

As humans, we also like to be comfortable. It can be extremely uncomfortable to acknowledge a friend has been hurting another person. It can be extremely uncomfortable to hold people accountable for their behavior. It can be even more uncomfortable to have to change our behavior in order to hold another accountable for their behavior. (Not fair! Ugh!) For example, if you find out a family member is abusing their partner, what do you do? Do you stop spending time with them? Do you stop patronizing their small business? But then, this makes you uncomfortable. Now, you have to have awkward conversations about who is invited to the Labor Day picnic. And who is going to be the fourth person in your bowling league? Now you have to find another place in town to shop at, even though they always gave you the friends and family discount. It sure would have been a lot easier if you could…

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Nikki T

Midwest working-mom, runner, wife, friend, and sometimes yogi. Licensed counselor. I write about being a human in this wild world.