Abuse begins when one person holds to the double standard that power and control is an entitlement that belongs only to them. The abuser finds ways to hold onto that power and control, whether through crazy-making arguments, gaslighting, blame-shifting, shaming, financial control, and/or use of intimidation and/or physical or sexual violence. The opposite of such aggression is when someone shares power by offering dignity to others through acceptance, a learner’s posture, and the work of ownership and compromise.
Abuse indicates that harm has been done. However, there has been confusion between experiencing hard things and being abused. There are challenges in life that ultimately add value to our character or our health. Some hurts, on the other hand, are harmful and demoralizing. As a counselor, I have too often heard abuse rationalized with statements like: “no one is perfect;” “relationships are challenging;” “it’s not who they really are;” “they don’t know any better;” “expectations are dangerous,” and so on. That harm - and defense of that harm - strikes us in the heart of our worth and dignity. Worst of all, this harm often leads us to lose our ability to trust our judgement. When this happens, we can become less capable of protecting and providing for ourselves. We might be stuck in rage, fear and numbness. Abuse can be physical, but more often than not it’s what we are led to believe about ourselves that creates the most destruction.
Recovery from abuse is anchored in the belief that you are worthy of the effort to heal because you are hard-wired for self-referential choice and control. You are built to be cherished, honored, and to live a life where that is reflected in your personal, social, spiritual, and professional choices. What can begin as an ambivalent endeavor for some clients eventually takes on an organic life of its own where the healing is durable and lasting.