A reader asked:
re: ‘I’m not being abusive!’ – I’m concerned I’ve done this in the past because I grew up around someone very verbally/emotionally abusive and am trying to work through those behaviors. I feel like I flag myself sometimes that way to check in with others, but get the feeling this is a really bad way of dealing with things. Any advice on what I can do in these situations when I’m very worried I *am* being abusive and want help to stop?
I think there’s a couple of things:
First of all, recognize the difference between asking for feedback and asking for reassurance:
- Trying to find out whether something is wrong is one thing.
- Trying to get someone to reassure you that nothing is wrong is a different thing.
- It’s important to be open to the possibility that something is actually wrong.
- If you’re not open to that possibility, then don’t ask.
- Because pressuring someone to tell you that everything is ok makes things worse
- Work on learning how to be open to the possibility that things are wrong
- And ask in a way that makes it clear you actually want to know.
- Eg, don’t say things like this: “You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?” “Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
- Things like this are better: “I feel like something might be bothering you. Is something wrong?”, “Did I mess something up? I feel like I might have.”
Don’t rely too much on people you might be hurting to teach you how to act right:
- It’s important to listen
- But it’s also important not to make them responsible for your actions
- You are responsible for learning how to treat people well. People you might be hurting are not responsible for teaching you how to stop.
Get outside perspective of some sort:
- Outside perspective is important because it is a way to get feedback without putting pressure on people you might be hurting to tell you things are ok
- It’s also an important way to protect yourself against gaslighting. People who worry that they might be abusers are particularly susceptible to gaslighting. Some gaslighters prey on this worry really aggressively.
- It’s important to care about treating people well. It’s also important to care about protecting yourself and being treated well.
- It’s also a way to learn things that no one involved knows
- Outside perspective is important for other reasons I’m having trouble articulating
- For some people, therapy is a helpful way to get outside perspective. Therapy is not for everyone, and it can be actively harmful for some people, but it works really well for people it works for
- For some people, it helps to talk things over with friends outside the situation
- Reading fiction and watching TV can also be helpful
- So can reading blogs and books that are explicitly about interpersonal dynamics, although unfortunately there are not many good ones.
Any of y’all have other suggestions?