For someone as sophisticated as myself, I can be quite slow on the uptake. I always wondered why, if a certain relative of mine really felt I were as evil as he said I was, he still extended social invitations to me. I always felt quite odd, like the poor cousin in a Victorian novel, as I had been informed I was only barely tolerated. I did not know why I was being contacted at all. But just now as I was opening Venetian blinds, it dawned on me. Abuse is intended, precisely, to destabilize its object, and to place that person in an abject position, to cast them down.
You have always done something wrong, and you do not know quite what it is or how you could avoid it, and must always be making up for it or being careful to head off any new onslaught.
What is so interesting about this last paragraph is, it is also what abusers say about being called on their abuse. “I do not know what I have done.” “You confuse me.” “You are putting me down.” “I do not know how to please you.” I often hear husbands say it about wives, when it is quite clear to the casual observer what they have been up to. A former friend used to say it about me, no matter how clearly I explained my complaint. There are also men who say it about women in general.
My former student’s Olympic-rated domestic violence counselor in Madrid said this is a typical pattern. It is not that you are also being abusive or are the actual abuser, it is that they want you to think so. The main problem with abusers, furthermore, is not what they do to you, but what they can get you to do to yourself. And that, of course, explains my infamous Reeducation.
It is worth remembering the general principle that abuse is designed to tie people to the abuser. The abuser’s objective is precisely not to alienate people. It also seems clear to me that that feeling of being in placed by someone else in an abject position in relation to them is indicative of an abusive relationship.
I have at various times successfully stood up to people who have done abusive things. Some people say they did not mean to be like that and will stop – and they do. Others say they want to be like that and will not stop. If they cannot be that way around me then they will find someone else – and they do. They know their game is up. A third type does not take no for an answer.
My Reeducators seemed to believed that abuse was an epiphenomenon of overindulgence in intoxicants. Indeed, some people get high so they can do what they are impelled to do – or in wars, what they are ordered to do. I have noticed, however, that the most skilled abusers need no chemical aids. They do it cold. It would be nice to be able to say that it was a psychological issue. I suspect it is an ideological one.