What I think I left out from my previous post, which was probably the point of it, was something I have said before.

Until I could process the idea that my parents intended to hurt me–both of them, not just my dad, but both of them–and sit with that long enough to connect it to specific sensations and perceptions, it just kind of floated around a this incomprehensible pain. It meant that when someone in the present does something intentionally to hurt me–or when I am not sure what their intentions even are–I can’t process that either, and I don’t respond effectively or in a way that’s thoughtful.

I think I should add as a caveat that I had a therapist for a couple of years who was around for the worst part of my long term relationship and worked with me after we broke up. I stopped seeing for her a while because I would end up in session feeling so utterly hopeless I worried about my ability to maintain my rationality. There was one day I left her office feeling frankly suicidal, and it was a bright day, beautiful sunshine, perfect breeze. I was meeting my partner to look for a desk we were going to buy for my birthday.

And I thought actually life isn’t hopeless, but therapy is convincing me that it is. It’s distorting my thinking to such an extent that I can’t keep in my mind the idea that there are bright spots in my life, there are things I enjoy that are good, even if it’s just sunshine and a new piece of furniture.

I went back to her after the relationship ended, although now I can’t adequately explain why.

But what I wanted to say about this therapist is that I think in light of my present understanding that she wanted me to respond to my abusive partner by being abusive myself.

When she said, “Set boundaries and enforce them.” I think she really meant, “Retaliate and punish her.” And I couldn’t do that. It’s wrong.

The reason I say that has to do with a sense that she believed as long as you followed certain rules of behaviour or claimed certain motives, behaviour wasn’t abusive. She used to tell me, “So how do you take care of yourself?” And I think she meant, “How do you still get what you want?”

So, for example, if we were having an argument and I said in the middle of it, “I need a break. I’m going for a walk,” (which I did), this wasn’t abusive behaviour even though my partner would feel abandoned by that, because I could simply decide for myself what taking a walk was supposed to mean, and if my partner understood it differently and felt hurt by it or punished by it, or if she began to fear disagreeing with me because I would leave her when that happened, that was on her.

Which isn’t to say it’s not okay to take a break during an argument. But it’s not really about behaviours. It’s about the impact of your behaviour, because in a couple that has been together for a long time, you pretty much know what that is.

She gave the example of a friend of hers who was being emotionally abused by her husband. It was happening in front of her. She didn’t feel comfortable with witnessing what was happening, and she said if it didn’t stop she would leave. It didn’t stop. She left.

Well, good for her.

But the impact of that behaviour was that her friend now felt alone and abandoned with a man who hurts her. It didn’t help anyone except her own sense of righteousness.

I don’t have any idea what one should do when someone is doing something intentionally to hurt you. However, it can help tremendously just to recognize that someone is doing that instead of having your brain shut down because this thought can’t be thought.

It happened at the end of the school year with a parent: You might remember her. She was flipping out about the kid in my class who is emotionally disturbed and disrupting class. During the conversation, she said something about needing to get some balls, and it helped me a lot to recognize that she was intentionally saying that to hurt me. It was the worst insult she could come up with and that’s why she said it. Whether that was true or not wasn’t probably the point. The point was she was angry and she wanted to cause me pain. Recognizing her motivation gave me a sense of control over the conversation, and I ended it at that point. It took me a long time to get there, because there was this huge WTF in my brain I had always gotten to before.

This feels like my parents trying to hurt me.

Yes, because that intention is the same. It feels the same because it is the same. The details are different, but the core element of it is not. Without the WTF in between, the whole process becomes a lot smoother. She is trying to hurt me. This is how I protect myself from actual harm.


8 thoughts on “Intent

  1. hothead July 16, 2017 / 10:23 pm

    I appreciated this post. I have also had an enormously difficult time understanding that people would hurt me on purpose, which meant that in some situations, other people’s behavior was just completely baffling and I felt very stuck trying to understand why someone would act the way they did.

    Now I know that this is a thing that people do. That it is something that even people who say they love you, and feel deep attachment to you, might do.

    That said, I still get stuck. I understand now that people do this, but I still can’t understand how or why. How they let themselves, how care for me is not more important to them, how they don’t monitor and stop themselves when they have a cruel urge like I do… I get the one fact that people do it, but I still can’t grasp it emotionally. I am still stuck when it happens, still trying to understand, “How could they”.

    • Ashana M July 18, 2017 / 8:28 am

      I had to be able to connect it to times when i felt very angry and I did just want to hurt the person I was angry at. They were people I basically felt little connection to. Well, what if the connection someone felt to me was not stable for them?

      • hothead July 19, 2017 / 12:42 am

        That’s interesting to think about, and I appreciate your comment. There are moments that I want to hurt people, too. The impulse is not deep, and my internal monitoring and values keep me from doing it. And even when I want to hurt someone, I dunno, my sense of care exists simultaneously and stops me, or my knowledge that this is not what my deepest self wants.

        So I still find myself asking: okay, I get the impulse in a tough moment, but how does someone let themself act on it? Over and over? This still confuses me.

        But I think what you are saying about connection not being stable may well be a piece–in certain emotion states, their empathy or sense of connectedness shuts down and somehow they don’t have the internal monitoring or ethical barrier to stop it.

      • Ashana M July 21, 2017 / 3:42 am

        Yes, that’s what I am saying. Either they never really cared in the first place, or in the moment overwhelmed by their own emotions and a perception of being in danger or attacked, they forget they care about you. All of a sudden, you don’t really seem like you. You’re a monster. There are, of course, other people who truly are just looking for an opportunity to release aggressive impulses and see you in a moment where maybe you can’t or won’t defend yourself, and they just release the impulse kind of like just letting a fart out.

      • hothead July 21, 2017 / 3:50 am

        In some ways, I wish I could forget that I care. It sounds like a relief.
        At the same time: I am a pretty safe person for other people. That matters to me.

      • Ashana M July 21, 2017 / 3:52 am

        If it consoles you any, not caring is probably profoundly lonely. People like that tend to be perpetually anxious and depressed and just kind of out of sorts without knowing why. They don’t know they need relationships in order to be happy, and that to have relationships you do need to be safe to be around.

  2. Alexandra Roth July 19, 2017 / 10:20 pm

    Yes, what Hothead said. I think it’s hard to imagine some people’s inner world. And we try to apply our our dynamics to them and can’t understand their behavior. Some people are so completely immersed in their emotions at the time that they lose access to rationality and restraint. Then they come out of the emotional state and it’s as if it didn’t exist and they shrug off what they did because they really don’t quite remember it; it’s state dependent. Yet these people don’t look “crazy.”

    • Ashana M July 21, 2017 / 3:49 am

      Well, it happens to me or has in the past. I am overwhelmed by a sense of being in danger or under attack or even just deceived and betrayed. I don’t know that my first impulse has been to lash out. I am more likely to run away, but that has hurt people. If I kept doing it, it would hurt people I truly don’t want to hurt. In those moments, there is just a deep confusion about who someone really is or what their motives really are.

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