When you are in a position of guiding someone, whether it is medical, spiritual, academic, financial, legal, or emotional guidance you are offering, your title is not a free pass that entitles you to do and say what you want to people without consequence. Those coming to you for whatever assistance you provide are not numbers, file folders, or bottomless bank accounts for you to syphon dry before turning them loose wrapped up in false claims that you benefitted them. We have an identity that carries with it our humanity, our individuality, our sense of self-worth, our personality and character, our morals and beliefs… and our feelings.
I find it repulsive that I need to tell some of you that I am a human being, that I have feelings, and what you say and how you treat me actually has an impact on me. I find it equally disturbing that some of you do and say these things then brush them off after the fact using some manufactured scapegoat with which you regularly purge and cleanse your conscience and justify what you said claiming impunity from your transgressions. I find it ludicrous that some of you feel that you actually have no accountability in relation to how your actions and lack of respect, tact, or decency affects me.
But I am going to let you in on a little secret that actually isn’t shrouded or hidden away in a place you cannot discern it. It’s an undeniable fact I display readily in the light for all to clearly see. Just because YOU refuse to acknowledge that you are accountable for how you affect others (unless it’s something positive you can add to your resume – quite convenient how that works), it doesn’t mean that I release you of that accountability or that I will fail to hold you accountable for what you have done. My reactions are directly connected to the severity of your maltreatment, and much to your dismay and shock, you will soon discover that my time of forced silence during the 1,551 days I was abused taught me something. I have worth and value and deserve to be treated and spoken to with respect, and I also have the right to stand up and voice when I am being mistreated. Not only do I have that right, I exercise it.
I do possess the ability to maintain self-control and discern when something is said to me as the result of someone having a bad day or when it would be more appropriate to address my grievances in private. I also have the ability to speak to them politely when I do so. This is called affording others dignity out of respect for them. Using my voice does not mean I bully, judge, and heap abusive speech on you just because you have done so to me. Because I was raised to not only believe but LIVE “two wrongs don’t make a right.” What it does mean, though, is that you will never get away with playing that game with me. You have no right, and I love myself enough to inform you of that.
Now, for those of you who have found it necessary to seek assistance in recovering from abuse, I have a story to share. Several weeks ago, I had something happen to me in a situation where I sought help from someone with one of the above titles. Imagine my shock to find that this person I should have been able to trust to at least be respectful and professional was absolutely not. It wasn’t “just a bad day,” so I have awarded no free passes for this behavior. I arrived feeling uncomfortable because of trust and security issues since the abuse I endured. I left having to fight off a panic attack and trying to figure out how one person could make me feel so betrayed. I will not go into details about where I was, who the person was, or why I was there. There’s that issue of respect again.
Despite their behavior, I am (for now) affording them the right to privacy. However, I know I am not the only one who has had to deal with this, so I will say this, because I never want any of you – especially those have just left or are trying to escape an abusive relationship – to ever feel that this is justified, that you have no right to speak up for yourself and demand respect, or that perhaps all those twisted lies your abuser told you time and time again about how it was your fault were true. When you’re in this urgent phase, you’re still extremely susceptible to victim blaming and criticism, and I never want you to forget you always – at all times, even when you are at your worst – are amazingly valuable and strong and deserving of love, respect, and compassion… and no one has a right to violate you and rob you of this. And if you speak up in defense of yourself, you are not being unreasonable, and you are not being overly sensitive. It’s not you, it’s them.
I arrived expecting someone to act at the very least professional. What actually ensued from the moment I walked in the door was a mockery of others in the profession who genuinely do what they do out of compassion and concerns for others, whether or not they have any experience with victims or survivors of domestic violence. If it was only one thing I raised my eyebrow at, I would have written it off as something unworthy of being mentioned. However, this person went forth for the ultimate coup de grace, and I started wondering just how many of us have had to endure this abuse from a professional. This is not the first time I have had to go through this. Here are some examples of things that have been said to me:
- They blame the abuse on drug and alcohol abuse. While there is strong evidence that drug and alcohol abuse contributes to more frequent and more violent acts of abuse, it does not actually cause the behavior itself. There are plenty of addicts who do not abuse, and plenty of abusers who do not use drugs or alcohol. Abuse is NOT caused by addiction. This is a scapegoat and inappropriately places blame for the behavior and enables the perpetrator of the violence to claim lack of culpability.
Why is this dangerous? Think back to all those times the abuser told you “I was drunk / high / taking prescribed medications. I couldn’t help it. You know I would never deliberately hurt you!” Think about all the times they used this as an excuse to minimize the severity of their treatment of you, often twisting the fault back to you by saying you know better than to test or push them when they are using or drunk. Think of all the times they have you they didn’t do anything wrong each time they verbally ripped you apart. Each time they physically and sexually assaulted you. It’s one thing to be subjected to gas lighting by an abuser, but the real danger in a professional saying this to you is that it reinforces the abuser’s behavior and the twisted logic the abuser used to manipulate you into staying. It eliminates their culpability. It makes you appear unreasonable, unsupportive of their struggle with addiction, difficult, and party to the guilt. You doubt yourself, you begin to think you’re over-reacting, and it can influence you to discontinue pursuit of charges, etc., and could also be a contributing factor to going back to the abuser.
- They blame the victimized party for decisions he made as an addict and the impact the addict had on the victim. This could include accusing the victim of getting prescriptions filled to give to the abuser or for failing to stop the abuser from abusing drugs. These accusations were made at me during a conversation about medications I had been on and others that I had never filled because his addiction left no money for anything else but his drugs. They questioned why I wouldn’t discard things with him in the house, why I waited for him to be gone, and why I didn’t know better having an addict in the house that I couldn’t keep prescriptions around. As if I had control over a man who had one hundred pounds on me. As if I had any chance of winning in a battle with him that involved the weapons he often used on me when he physically attacked me. As if I stood above him on a scaffold pulling him along like a marionette forcing him to act out. As if he was a puppet. As if he was the victim and I was the evil captor instead of the other way around. Instead of the truth.
Why is this dangerous? Anything that so dangerously twists and redirects culpability on the one who endured something (whatever it was) by force is a form of victim blaming. It reinforces the above fallacies the abuser fed into your head that you are at fault. If the person who abused you over-powered you and beat you into submission every time you tried to control or foil them in their quest for something, you had no choice. He / she made it clear they would do (that they were willing to do) what they had to in order to get what they wanted. Their methods of how they forced compliance or manipulated situations to play into their hand is irrelevant. What matters here is that their decisions and resulting actions are their choice and are consequently entirely their fault. This implies that you are to blame for their lifestyle choices and again frees the abuser of culpability. That somehow the abuser could have been saved from their actions had you not allowed them to do something. What an effective way to erode someone’s confidence and reverse any progress they have made in their healing process.
- They blame the abuse on an anger management issue. It is a deliberate behavior. It is a choice. It is planned out. Proof of this is how far they go to hide their treatment of us to the outside world, bending over backwards to maintain a good self-image while in the home unleashing the monster to us (and anyone in the home with us). They can never genuinely “lose control” as people like to say. In fact, they exercise copious amounts of it in a manner that allows them to continue to abuse without hindrance. Therefore, to abuse someone cannot and should not be written off as an anger management issue. If it truly was an issue of controlling anger, we would not be the only ones on the receiving end of it. They would over-react in anger to everyone, but the very fact that we (and children and pets in the home) are the only ones that see this proves there is no lack of control at work when they abuse. They know exactly what they are doing, and they know it is wrong. Why else would they go so far to hide their behavior and keep us quiet? Scapegoats are convenient ways to shun accountability and consequences while justifying or validating their right to continue their destructive behavior.
Why is this dangerous? Not only are you being told that isn’t the abuser’s fault, that they “couldn’t help it,” you are now being notified by inference that you have no right or special circumstance that justifies your trying to hold the abuser accountable for the damage they inflicted upon (and children and pets if they were in the home). You are being told in so many words that you are, again, unreasonable, over-sensitive, and, depending on the harshness of the language used, vengeful for standing up to protect yourself. What you need to remember is that if a stranger had done this to you, you would be encouraged to press charges for assault. No one would make an excuse for a stranger and say they had an anger management issue. They would display righteous indignation and then proceed to swiftly nail them to the wall. One should give pause to consider, then, why when multiple crimes committed against someone is overlooked and shied away from because they label it a “family matter.” It is NOT a private matter to endure alone. It is a crime, and you have a right to hold the abuser accountable. You have a right to be safe.
- They minimize the abuse and often accuse you of exaggerating or outright lying. Things commonly said in this instance would be, “Was it worth it just to say you had a boyfriend?” or “It couldn’t have been that bad if you stayed for so long.” or “No one does that to someone without being pushed.” or “What did YOU do?” or “Why would you allow that if you knew he was treating you badly?” or “I can’t believe he would do that to anyone! Are you sure you didn’t misunderstand?” I understand everything perfectly well. They are assuming the behavior was openly displayed from the outset, that we chose to ignore it, and that we, to a certain extent, deserve it for ignoring those warnings. But the trouble is, we aren’t asked, “Hey, I’m about to knock you out by ambushing you from behind. Is this behavior okay with you or not?” before they hit you. Who would say, “Yes, I love when you turn me black and blue! Wipe the floor with me. Put some holes in the wall with my head. Bust my legs apart with that metal Bar. Tear me apart and inside out and gut me. Take my freedom, take my confidence, take my will to live, take my life. That’s love!” No one. Not me. No survivor I’ve ever connected with.
Why is this dangerous? You may be seeing an alarming pattern emerging. If everything repeatedly removes the blame from the abuser, with whom, logically, must it lie with us, the ones who were tormented and mocked and shredded into tatters on the floor. That perhaps to some extent you deserved it for some imagined damage you inflicted upon the abuser. That you could have stopped it. That you had control. You bear no responsibility for anyone’s actions but your own, and you could not have minimized or controlled much less completely prevented the person from abusing you. They make excuses to justify their actions, but there is nothing anyone can do or say to deserve to be forced into the dark, lonely world of domestic violence. Even if you somehow managed to do everything the way you were instructed, the abuser will never be satisfied and will scrutinize until they can find fault. Professionals are responsible for helping us work through our burdens, and if they are instead making excuses for and belittling the abuse, we internalize it and can be at risk for assigning that blame to ourselves, whether we know it at the time or not.
When you are confronted with this behavior from professionals (or anyone for that matter) it is imperative that you have enough awareness about the truth of your abuse, the fact that you were not at fault, and that you trust in yourself enough to believe that you have the right to stand up for yourself. How we feel it is appropriate to react to victim blaming and abuse in a professional setting will not be the same for all of us. Some will not feel comfortable saying anything and never go back. Some may speak up at the time it happens. Others may file a complaint. You do not owe them anything simply because they have a title. They are accountable for the way they treat you and should expect if they fail to remain professional, compassionate, and non-judgmental in this capacity, they can expect there may be consequences. In my case, I decided that several things need to happen. I have not gone back, because I feel no need to subject myself to further stress and panic attacks, but I am looking for a new person. As to whether or not I will officially file a grievance remains to be seen, because there were also comments and assumptions made based on my religion, and am seeking clarification on what the implications of those comments. What I do know, however, is that this person was unmistakably in the wrong, unprofessional, and they threw every domestic violence myth at me that they could. And I refuse to reward their behavior by paying them to continue to be abused in this manner on a weekly basis. Just because they have their title, their diploma, their licenses, and the like does not mean they know how to handle my circumstances or that they know everything about trauma and abuse or the dynamics at work even after we have left.