If you’ve been abused, and you’ve also learned a lot and done awesome things, some people might try to tell you that the abuse made you stronger. That your awesomeness came from the abuse in some way.
But it’s not the abusers who made you awesome.
You did that.
You’re responsible for all the things you’ve learned and done. Not people who hurt you. They don’t get credit for any of what you’ve done.
And you don’t have to be grateful for any of it.
Well. It’s not the abuse that made you awesome. But one of the things that makes life hard is that sometimes the people who do us the worst harm are also people who were incredibly beneficial in other ways.
One of the reasons I don’t much talk about my parents and what my childhood was like is because I find most people want to either convince me out of my wounds or erase the good fortune I did have. It’s like most folks can’t tolerate the reality that people are complicated.
I find my father toxic enough — and myself damaged enough by extensive prior exposure — that I concluded over a decade ago that my health requires I have no further contact with him. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I have never regretted it. The further I get from him, the more well I am. I make no excuses for him; there is no love lost on my part. I see him clearly, and it’s not a pretty picture. ( I could say similar about my mother.)
And at the same time, I can also be perfectly aware that he was the one who taught me many things that benefited me, and introduced me to pleasures and wonders that sustained me and inspired me, and he did it for no more reason than generosity of spirit — he loved to share what he loved. I do not love him for this; I can’t; that is not an adequate basis for a parent-child relationship. But I can appreciate it. And it is also part of my life story, it is also part of who I am. It is also true. It makes up for nothing. And it is also true.
Not “but”, but “and”. Not good but bad, not bad but good. Bad and good. At the same time. Without either canceling out the other.
So some of my awesome is to the credit of my abusers. Get this: one of the things I come by from my father is what is now in vogue to call “mindfulness” and “gratitude”. One of the things I remember keenly of my father in my childhood is his repeatedly drawing my attention to fine things I hadn’t noticed, and would have missed and been sad for missing. “Check out that sunset!” “There’s a deer behind those trees.” “It’s it cool how the light falls.” “Isn’t this delicious?” As someone constitutionally prone to curl up in my own thoughts, oblivious of the world, I would, left to my devices, miss all this. I learned a very powerful lesson from my father’s way of engaging with the things worth appreciating in the world, and his way of sharing them with me. I learned that the world is full of beauty and delight, just waiting for you to check in with the world; I learned to savor and to appreciate and to be present — things that would never have come naturally to me — not just occasionally, but as a way of life. And I learned that one of the kindnesses we can do one another is to share our appreciation and our joy.
This from the same crooked narcissistic fuckhead who contacted the teacher of a class I was failing in HS, requested extra-credit make-up homework for me, then didn’t give it to me so as to sabotage my academic standing even further, and to justify challenging the custody arrangement with my mother (since, clearly, she was an inadequate parent if I was failing classes). For one random example. He is (was?) one of the most conniving, manipulative, has-to-have-his-own-way, other-people-aren’t-really-real-to-him people I’ve ever met. And he’s never taken ownership of it, and as far as I know, he’s never really stopped. (But then, I stopped sticking around to be mistreated, so honestly I have no idea.)
People are complex, yo.
I think sometimes of fairytales and myths about princes or princesses locked up in towers by their cruel fathers, who escape wearing the jewels they were given, with which they fund their lives after. I have my own inward jewels I was given, with which I escaped, which have been the wealth that sustained me.
I shouldn’t need to repudiate that I benefited by my parents to have the grave harm they did me respected as the wrong it was and is. I feel like society demands it’s one or the other. That if there is the least worthwhile thing in my childhood, then “It Wasn’t That Bad!” Or that if it really was that bad, then anything I can point to as exemplary in my parents’ parenting is my just being in denial of how totally worthless my parents were.
I think the important thing is that our abusers don’t get to decide how we interpret what we experienced. It’s our experiences, we make the decisions for ourselves how we will understand them. When abusers start up again telling us how we should interpret things, when they tell us whether or not something was good or bad for us, helped us or harmed us, when they try to take credit, they’re just recapitulating the abuse, which, after all, was usually declared “for your own good” or “not worth crying over” in the first place. Whether we benefited by them or not, whether we give them credit or not, whether we think anything they did makes up for the wrongs they did, that’s each our own call, not theirs. We each get to make those decisions for ourselves. It’s their job to sit down, shut up, and await our opinions should we deign to share them.
(And if they’re not ready and willing to accept our interpretations, as so rarely they are, then they’re still abusing, they’re still acting as if they’re the only party in this two-party relationship who gets to have opinions about how it’s going and how it’s went; my experience teaches me it’s best to walk away from such people, YMMV.)
Other folks — people of good will, people who have earned our trust, people who have demonstrated their wisdom — they get to make suggestions and offer observations. But they don’t have the final say either. They don’t get to read us our books and interpret our stories to us. In the end, we each decide for ourselves how to regard what happened to us; we are our own authors and we find our own morals.
Yes. This. I wish I had known this sooner.
People are complicated, and abusive relationships often also have positive aspects. And it’s important for people to be able to acknowledge that - partly because when people can’t, it’s really hard for people to tell that they’re being abused if their abuser ever does anything good.
I’ve actually written about this before.