A reader asked:
Hello, I have a question. Do you know how to deal with someone who hurts and manipulates you and then makes you feel bad about it? Like, if they say mean things about/to you and justify it by saying ‘I was angry’ but if you are ever mean to them, they get really mad at you for it and say you’re a terrible person?
I think in that situation, the best thing you can do is get distance so that person can’t keep hurting you like that.
Some people treat anger like a blank cheque that justifies anything they decide to do to you in their rage. Those people are abusers.
Anger is not a justification. Things that are wrong when you’re calm are still wrong when you are angry.
One thing that anger does is lower inhibitions against certain kinds of actions. That can be a good thing, if it makes it feel more ok to protect yourself. It can be a bad thing, it if makes it feel more ok to hurt people who don’t deserve it. It’s easier to make certain kinds of mistakes when you are angry and have lower inhibitions against doing things that might hurt others. We all make mistakes in anger, from time to time.
But those mistakes *count*; the anger doesn’t cancel out the actions. People who treat their rage as a justification for mistreating you are unlikely to ever start treating you better. If someone still thinks what they did was ok once they’ve calmed down, then they *actually think it was ok* and will do it again next time.
What people say when they’re angry counts. What people say when they’re drunk counts. What people say and think always counts. This is especially true if they are very distressed by the possibility that you’ll judge them for saying mean things, but not at all concerned about the possibility that they hurt you by saying mean things.
If someone calls you a terrible person on a regular basis, assume they mean it. Even if they say they don’t later. Even if they say it was just anger (or alcohol, or stress, or exhaustion.) And keep in mind that friends are people you like who like you, and people who dislike you aren’t friends.
People who regularly tell you that you are a terrible person are trying to make you feel unworthy of friendship so that you will put up with anything they decide to do to you. If they really thought you were a bad person, they’d be trying to get away from you, not trying to keep you close.
The best thing you can do is distance yourself from this person, and spend time with people who actually like and respect you.