Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Entelechy Of Love & Self-Respect

Consider this an open letter to anyone who finds himself or herself in an abusive relationship.  I'm not referring solely to physical abuse but more so to emotional and mental abuse, particularly when it comes to family and people of influence.  Over the past few years, I have had a distressingly high number of conversations with friends and family members in which they have revealed a certain level of stress caused by a person (or persons, in a few cases) that holds a position of import in their lives.  It seems, sadly, more often than not to be a family member but there are a still a number of friends who are referenced as well.  What is universal among these situations is the fact that this person continues to mistreat the friend or family member in question, seemingly without regard either for them or for the relationship that is shared between them.  I have offered not simply an ear to listen to the lamentations of the abused but what I view as solid advice as to how to deal with the situations.  Few, if any, have heeded said counsel and so I feel compelled to write this correspondence in the hope that it will serve as a clearer voice for the things that I have tried to say.

Everyone is familiar with the cautionary maxims of, "People will treat you how you let them treat you" and "You teach people how to treat you" and yet, sadly, few seem to understand not simply the validity in these words but their importance as well.  While you cannot control how other people treat you or what they think of you, you certainly can influence them.  In cases of friendship, the situation is fairly straightforward: you and the person in question are engaged in a relationship of voluntary mutual respect.  Essentially, you choose to respect each other and, as such, to perpetuate said relationship.  Sometimes, though, one friend winds up taking advantage of the other, whether because it is the aggressor's nature to do so or because the victim allows himself or herself to be treated as such.  What I find disheartening is how many people allow themselves (repeat: allow themselves) to remain in such relationships.  They will complain about how they are mistreated and either do nothing about it or continue to allow it to happen despite their protestations.  So for those of you who are the victim in such a friendship, here are some words of wisdom:

YOU are allowing this to happen.

If you want it to stop, you need to do something about it.  In an age where communication has become dehumanized and people are further removed from direct, physical contact, it seems that a reticence to engage in confrontation has fostered itself in the hearts and minds of these social souls.  They are "afraid" of speaking up.  Here's some more advice:


YOU are allowing this to happen.  You cannot control what this other person is doing to you or how he or she is treating you, you can control only your reaction.  If you don't like being abused, then stand up for yourself!  You're worth more than that so start acting like you are.  If a so-called close friend mistreats you once, you can consider it an aberration and let it go if you so choose...but when it's persistent and without regard for your feelings or well-being?  That's a serial situation that warrants not simply your attention but your actionBe active in your relationship.  Make a stand and say, "NO!  I will not allow you to continue to treat me this way."  Remember:

You've got nothing to lose.

It's a simple but oft-overlooked fact.  People allow themselves either to be brainwashed or to be put into a situation in which they empower their friend with some sort of emotional authority over them.  The relationship that should be built upon a foundation of love and respect is suddenly constructed with fear and ill-will.  What are you so afraid of losing?  A so-called friend who doesn't think enough of you to treat you with even a semblance of respect?

Big loss.

How about the big one that you hear so often in abusive romantic relationships:

But I can't live without her/him!

YOU CAN AND YOU WILL!  This one is arguably the primary reason that keeps people in such relationships and it stems mostly from the fear of somehow not being able to be whole without that person.  First, how disrespectful is that to everyone else who does love you, care about you, and treat you right?  What does it say about how you view them that you're more concerned about this one insignificant solipsist leaving you or not being in your life as opposed to the multitudes who want to see you happy?

In the past two or three years, I've gone through the aforementioned situation several times: guys that I considered blood-brothers--friends who I truly could not envision my life without, have disappeared.  Getting through one of those situations in particular was one of the hardest things that I've ever gone through... the time.  See, now, with the lovely gift of hindsight and temporal distance from both the situation and, more importantly, the emotions involved, I wonder how I was ever so distraught in the first place.  It's obvious now that both of those so-called friends were anything but and that it was ridiculous for me to think first that they would always be there and second that I could ever live without them.  So here is another bit of advice that is proffered without an ounce of cynicism or bile:

Some of your best friends--the ones who you think will always be there for you, will leave you one day.

For every friend who does leave, another will come to fill the void.

The friends who I am fortunate enough to surround myself with right now are the best I've ever had.  Some have been there for nearly two decades, others for only two years.  Will they all be there in another two decades or two years?  Probably not...but the important thing is: it doesn't matter.  It has taken me years of obsessing over my lack of control when it comes to relationships--heartache and disappointment beyond belief, to realize that it really doesn't matterStop worrying about losing the people you have in your life and start focusing on enjoying them for the time that they are there! 

And as for those who choose to abuse you?

Fuck em.  Give them the ultimatum they deserve: shape up or ship out.  If they can't see that they're hurting you or if they cannot find a way not to treat you that way, then they don't deserve to be in your life.  Plain and simple.

But it's not friendships that have spurred me to write this letter.  It's family dynamics, particularly filial relationships.  Before I explore this topic further though, I must preface it with an admission: I have two loving parents who have shown me nothing but respect throughout my life.  Both my mother and father had shitty relationships with their parents (to greater and lesser degrees with their mothers and fathers, respectively) and vowed not to treat their progeny the way that they were treated.  As such, I will admit readily that it's easier for me to say certain things or to take certain viewpoints because I have not personally dealt with the situations firsthand.  With that said, I would like to point out that I do not need to throw myself into a vat of acid to know that it will hurt.  Think about that before you fall back on the, "Yeah but you haven't gone through this" excuse.

Now, the biggest number of situations deals with friends and their relationships with either their mother or father (or both, in a few rare cases).  Invariably, one parent continues to treat them like shit and they continue to take it.  In many cases it has become a rinse, wash, repeat cycle of sorts: the parent in question does what they've always done, the friend in question vents their frustration, advice is given, it is claimed to be taken...and then nothing happens until the cycle begins anew.  The one constant here is the slew of excuses that spews forth as to why a stand cannot be made, most likely masking the emotions that remain ineffable out of the fear of whatever consequences they seem to think will follow.

Let me throw this out there: If you're an adult, you have the right and indeed the duty to stand up for yourself when someone puts you down or treats you like shit.  YOU have to stand up for yourself because, especially with filial situations, no one else can.

So why do so many people fall back on this reason for perpetuating the abuse?

"I can't--she's my mom/he's my dad."

Fear and submission.  In at least one case that I can think of, the subjugation that my friend has endured began when she was a kid and has persisted to this day.  She is a tremendous success in my eyes in nearly every possible way: academically, professionally, socially.  She's got it all and yet her father will still find ways to put her down--flaws in the nearly flawless things that she does in her life.  He is an emotional leech, feeding himself through his own negativity by sapping her of her optimism and happiness.  So why does this keep happening?  In part, because of the aforementioned fear but also because of a desire to seek the approval of someone who will never give it.

A general reiteration for the rest of the class:


It's a difficult truth to face and the tragic part of it is the happiness and relief that comes with its admission.  Don't believe me?  Ask my wife.  She endured horrific emotional abuse at the hands of damn near her entire family.  When I met her, I couldn't understand how people could mistreat someone so beautiful, caring, generous, funny, and loving...and yet they did.  It took her eight years of support and encouragement from me (not to mention the nearly nineteen years of hell she endured prior to that) to feel finally that she was strong enough to make a stand (the irony is that she always had that strength inside of her--I certainly saw it from day one--but she needed to come to the realization that it was there on her own).  Once she recognized that strength, she made that stand--she did what so few people think they are capable of doing: she excised the growth that was her abusers.  It wasn't easy for her but she'll be the first one to tell you that she can't imagine her life any other way.  Not only that, since making that decision and taking the actions that she did, she has never been happier in her life (again of her own admission).  People have seen this and yet still they cling to their relationships out of the fear of those goddamn perceived consequences.

Your parents are deserving of your respect because, without them, you wouldn't be here.  With that being said, you too are deserving of a certain level of respect because THEY CHOSE TO BRING YOU INTO THE WORLD!  Even if it wasn't necessarily their intention, it was still their actions that brought you here.  That warrants you better treatment that you think you deserve.  I understand that traditional and cultural values say that you should honor your mother and your father and you should...unless they're abusive to you.  At that point, they stop being your parent and become an emotional assailant.  If it was your mother/father who you caught abusing your child/stealing money from you/destroying your property, would it change how you would react?  I would hope why should it change the level of self-respect that you keep for yourself?

It shouldn't.

It doesn't matter that your mom has "always been this way" or that your dad "doesn't realize he hurting [me]"; it's inexcusable and you have to decide to stand up for yourself.  Enough with the "but it's my mom/dad" bullshit!  At nearly thirty years old (or older in some cases), you should be at a point in your life where you're living both for yourself and through yourself.  If you're not still living with mom and dad, eating their food, having them do your laundry for you, then you should be confident enough to stand up for yourself and say:


I get that your parents are authority figures and that they are deserving of a level of reverence greater than most people in your life but that doesn't or shouldn't change the fact that you are deserving of being treated with love and respect too.  If you don't like when your mother/father makes a comment about how you look, speak up for yourself.  If they disapprove of your path in life or tell you that you're going to fail, tell them to go fuck themselves because at that point they've stopped being a parent.  YOU are the one who is giving them control over you.  They're not an authority figure in your life any more.  If you feel deep within your heart of hearts that the love that should be there for them isn't or that the love that they should have for you isn't, then take a moment to reflect on that. 

You can never change who your blood-relatives are but that doesn't make them FAMILY.

Think about that one too.  Does it resonate with you at all?  I'm sure it does with my wife.  She just spent the day celebrating Christmas with her family.  Not her family--her family--the people who love her for who she is and who treat her the way she deserves to be treated.  Biologically speaking, they happen to be the people who are related to me, but so what?  That shouldn't change anything and, now that she has rid herself of the emotional vampires that comprise her biological relations, she is able to accept truly and fully the love that has been offered to her.  She has chosen her family and has been enfolded into their lives as naturally as if she had been born into them.

So why can't you?

Stop making excuses.  Stop saying "I can't" and start saying "I will."  Stop allowing yourself to be berated, put down, mocked, forced to put up with directives from your mother and father like "because he's your brother."  Start focusing on the people who truly do love and respect you, friends and family alike.  Stop making time for those who don't and start spending it with those who accept you in your entirety--who see through to the essence of you and love you for that instead of deriding you for faults and imperfections that aren't there or that don't or shouldn't define who you are.  Your mother/father probably resents you for things that have nothing to do with you.  She/he is jealous of your beauty/your popularity/your academic and professional success/your financial stability/the fact that you can live your life and look at the world in a way that they cannot. 






If you're afraid, lean on those who will support you, whether they are friends or family (though, truthfully, the ones who you turn to will likely be one and the same).  If you're afraid of what your life will be like without your mother/father/brother/sister/cousin/aunt/uncle/coworker/friend/lover in your life, think about how bad you feel when you're abused and imagine what a relief it will be never to endure that again (it will be even better, I assure you).  Stand up for yourself and demand the respect that you deserve because you deserve it

This life is so short that every moment should be cherished and enjoyed to its fullest--why would you waste even a second on a relationship from which you're not getting every ounce that you can?  If you're giving someone everything that you've got and you're getting anything less in return, please, bless someone else with your time and attention.

So for everyone I'm thinking of in writing this letter:

For the actions that you have taken: I'm proud of you.

For the moments you've considered acting but allowed your fear to overwhelm you: I believe in you.

And for the time that you finally do stand up and make your voice heard: I'll be there for you.

Above everything, know that there is at least one person who loves you and appreciates you for who you are.

Remember: you always do for others, now go do you.