Can Abusers Ever Be Reformed?

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This is a question I struggle with myself on a regular basis. Can abusers really ever change or is it just theater to try to pull you back in so they can mistreat you again? Should you ever let a prior abuser back into your life if they seem to have changed for the good?

None of these are easy questions and there are certainly many contributing factors that should be considered as well. Perhaps abusers who once had drug or alcohol addictions and have now gotten clean for a significant period of time will have changed enough to give them a second chance.

What about those who lived for years with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness and finally get the help they need? How much of the abuse was who they truly were and how much was the influence of the untreated mental illness? This scenario is one I personally have experienced to some extent with my own family. How much responsibility should they hold for the abuse, especially any times they may have actually dipped into psychosis?

I know many abusers find religion at some point in their lives and claim to have been completely changed. I must admit I am suspicious of this claim. Perhaps religion truly does change the hearts of some, but much of my personal experience has taught me that if someone is a bad person before they find religion, they will likely be a bad person after they find it. Superficialities may change, but does their behavior/attitude/actions?

Unfortunately, I have no real answers to the question of whether abusers can ever change, but I hope that they can. I would warn everyone to be cautious in extending an olive branch to anyone who has deliberately hurt you again and again, but I do understand the desire to believe in the power of change.

 

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Why Did I Watch the Abuse?

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Last night I was thinking about my history of abuse and how I grew up seeing so much of it. As far as physical abuse goes, I did endure some growing up, but it was much more common for me to see someone else physically abused in my family. There was a “scapegoat” in our family who seemed to be the target of much of the worst of the abuse.

Thinking back, I remember how when this abuse would happen, I would scuttle into the corner or hide in a nearby alcove, but I never tried to actually leave the room. Common sense would seem to dictate that when violence is happening, you would want to get as far away from it as you can, but I didn’t even try.

I questioned myself last night why this was so. I came up with several possibilities. First, perhaps I was afraid to leave the room because I thought it would draw further attention to me. My main goal when violence would erupt was to try to become invisible. Sometimes the rage would boil over and the physical and verbal abuse would extend to me if I happened to get caught in the crossfire, so I naturally tried to fade into the shadows. Sometimes, early on, I would try to distract and please the abuser in hopes of calming them down, but that never really worked.

Another reason I think I stayed to watch was because deep down I feared for the safety of the scapegoat and I wanted to make sure they didn’t die. There may have been some morbid curiosity tossed in there too, the way that human nature makes us crane our necks to see what happened when driving by a car crash.

Lastly, I think I stayed and risked my own safety because I felt responsible for trying to make peace after the explosion. I hated to see the division in my family and the anger and pain created by these confrontations. After the worst of it was over, I would often go to the victim and try to comfort them, and then I would even go to the abuser and try to comfort them. I would try to mend the rift between them, although obviously looking back with adult eyes, I see the utter futility of my efforts and sometimes feel anger that I felt responsible to hold the family together in the first place, as I was so little at the time (elementary school age).

Suicide Isn’t My Biggest Fear

Recently I had kind of a weird realization. If you follow my blog closely, you probably know that I have written posts about how I fear I would be driven to suicide if I lost my husband, mainly because I fear I wouldn’t be able to support myself with all my health problems, and if I lost him I feel like I would lose 90% of my support system.

The other day though I realized something that rather shocked me at first, even though it may not seem such a big thing to others. And that realization was that my real fear isn’t that I WILL commit suicide if I were alone, it is my fear that I WON’T. Maybe that sounds crazy on the surface, but let me explain further. If my husband were to die, that would leave me utterly alone, and I honestly do not believe I could continue to live this life all by myself. If I found myself in that situation, I would have to either A) Give up and commit suicide or B) Find others to trust and rely on.

Option A isn’t my real fear, it is option B. I am terrified of trusting others and letting others in. I don’t trust my ability to choose people who will not take advantage of me or end up abusing me. I feel it is almost a kind of luck that I avoided marrying an abuser in the first place. Most people who grow up like I did, in horrific abuse scenarios (physical, sexual, emotional, or mental) tend to end up surrounding themselves with people who perpetuate the cycle of abuse. I also fear that if any of my past abusers are still around, if I found myself all alone, I would be so weak that I would turn to them. Which horrifies me more than anything. It took me a long time to get free from it all (and I’m still not 100% there), but the thought of returning to hell is far more frightening than the thought of death.

However, deep down I doubt my ability to actually take my own life. I do have a strong survival instinct and an immense amount of anxiety when it comes to any form of danger. Perhaps that is why I always told myself that if I did commit suicide, it would have to be a form that is instant and leaves no chance for reconsideration, because I know if I gave myself time to rethink it I would freak out and seek help.

So, with this odd realization, what is the point of it all? I guess it is some reassurance that maybe I am stronger and more resilient than I always told myself. But more importantly, I need to work on my fear of opening up to and trusting others. It is funny that here on this blog I can be so open and bluntly honest, but in interpersonal relationships I tend to build walls and push people away before they can get too close. Somehow I need to learn to trust myself to be a good enough judge of character to give people a chance. But I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to trust myself, let alone others.

Goodbye Letter to a Narcissist

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Dear Narcissist,

What do you have to teach me? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Once I thought you did – you seemed so sophisticated and knowledgeable, but those were simply projections of the person you wished you could be. Inside you resides only a quivering emptiness. Every attempt to reach outside of yourself slowly sinks into the abyss, becoming forever lost within the caverns of what could have once been.

Now it is obvious it was never meant to be, and the time has come to move on. If only I could throw this endless, undying desire to be loved back in your face as you vacantly stare through me, always searching for your own reflection. I wish just once you could see only me. But even now, as I walk away, the only reflection mirrored in your eyes is yourself.