Warning: Some of the content in this essay may be a trigger, especially for survivors of abuse.
So. This past week has seen several accounts of abuse or predatory behavior come to light in social media. In some of the cases, the accused agreed they had done wrong and made an attempt to apologize. Some left the public arena. Others tried to say that it was in the past and they had apologized and moved on.
In most of the cases, friends of the accused tried to stick up for the abuser. A variety of statements were made, such as “hey, he apologized, let it go,” “he’s actually a nice guy, this is not like him,” “he was drunk when it happened, he wouldn’t have done it if he were sober,” and “that doesn’t sound like abuse. are you sure it really happened?” In some of the cases, the victim was attacked, slandered, or dismissed by others.
I’ve been thinking all week as I read about the different cases of abuse and predatory behavior. Specifically, my thoughts have focused on what an offender can do to redeem himself. What does it take? How should he apologize? What can he do to atone for the things he did to violate another person?
First, a little about myself. Some of you may have seen a couple of articles I’ve written in the last year concerning abuse and intolerance. Others may not know anything about me at all.
I am a survivor of childhood abuse at the hands of my father. I’m not going to go into detail here, that is not the point of this essay. I just want to get that out there so you know where I am coming from. The abuse I received was physical, but there was a strong verbal component as well. That situation continued until I grew up and moved out on my own and cut all ties with my father.
Time, distance, support and therapy have gone a long way towards healing. But the pain, the shame, the anger and rage, the occasional bout of depression, and other factors, they’re still there. They’ve never gone away. Their power has been muted in my life, and thanks to therapy, I have tools to deal with them, but they’re still there and I suspect they will be till the day I die. Abuse affects a victim in a myriad of ways, and it can cause permanent changes in the victim’s personality.
For instance, victims of abuse often deal with lack of confidence and a horrible self-image. Abusers have a tendency to make their victims feel as if the abuse is their fault, that they’re to blame for what they’re receiving. And, contrary to public opinion, abusers are not sullen social rejects who abuse others to overcome their own pain. My father, for example, was the “life of the party.” Everyone loved him. When he walked into a room, people’s attention gravitated to him. They made a point of going to him, shaking his hand and greeting him. The few times in my life that I tried to reach out for help or tell someone about what I was going through resulted in the other person looking at me in disbelief and trying to tell me that I was mistaken, that my father meant well, that I just didn’t understand. That added to the self-doubt and belief that I was the one who was wrong.
Today, I still deal with the fallout of that. When it happens that there’s a disagreement or a confrontation with someone else, my first impulse is to go quiet. I have to fight hard against the feeling that I am wrong. That I am at fault, regardless of whether or not that’s true. I don’t feel justified standing up for myself. Many times in my life I have quietly just acquiesced and let things go the way the other person desired while quietly seething inside. I have a problem dealing with people who are naturally aggressive. Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, I have to struggle with thoughts of grabbing the other person and slamming them against the wall and just screaming in his face until he cowers.
I also have a hard time saying no to anyone. There have been times in the past I’ve hurt others because I couldn’t say no to a request when I knew I didn’t have the time or ability to do what was requested. It was a real struggle for me. Even today, it’s hard. I often feel like I’m not justified in saying I can’t do something. Like I owe the other person. Like I have no right to refuse. I’ve learned how to deal with that shortcoming in myself, but it’s never gone away. It lingers, even after all these years. That weakness is one reason why I avoid salespeople and telemarketers like the plague.
I’ve learned, over the years, how to deal with those feelings. I’ve developed ways to overcome the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy so that I can function and succeed in social interaction. I’ve learned how to deal positively with people who are aggressive. I’ve learned how to channel the feelings of helplessness and the rage that bubbles up when someone acts aggressively toward me into a positive response. But it’s still a struggle. I’ve yet to reach a point where the tools are no longer necessary. My skill at using those tools has improved, and continues to improve, but I suspect I will always need them.
Now, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I don’t pity myself. I’ve learned to accept myself and my shortcomings. I’m not writing these things about myself in order to garner sympathy from anyone. I just want others to have some knowledge of where I’ve been so they can better understand what I’m about to say.
Here it is. This is for all the abusers out there. This is also for those who enable those abusers. First and foremost, fuck your apology. And for those out there who see an abuser make an apology, and who then attack the victim for not immediately accepting it, fuck you too. Even more than the abuser himself, you need to shut your fucking mouth and either sit the fuck down, or just fucking leave. I have nothing gentler to say to you.
Harsh words? Yes. I mean them. An apology from an abuser is worthless. Seriously. Even if the abuser has somehow, against all odds, changed. And yeah, that sounds mean, but counting my father and people I’ve met who had abused other people, not one of them has ever changed. So, forgive me if I won’t hold my breath on that. Maybe there is an abuser out there somewhere who has managed to turn himself around and stop the patterns of abuse. He could be out there, but I’ve never met him. And even if the abuser has changed, it really doesn’t make a difference. The apology is still worthless.
Some of you will be shaking your heads as you read this. Some of you will be thinking “Geez, if the guy apologizes and tries to change, you should give him a chance.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I have one thing to say to you: Fuck you. Abusing another person is not like accidentally spilling your drink on someone. Or turning and accidentally bumping into somebody. Or even getting angry during an argument and calling someone a jerk out of anger. Those things you can apologize for. They were accidents. They were not intentional. You apologize, the other person accepts your apology, and you move on. If you think not being able to accept the apology of an abuser makes me a cold-hearted bastard, let me pose a scenario for you.
Let’s say you come stay at my house for three months. During that time, this is how I will treat you:
- You will not be allowed any quiet time. If I feel you’ve been silent for too long, I’m going to walk over to you and scream “TALK.” If you don’t immediately start up a conversation, and it better be one that I like, I’m going to backhand you hard across the face. If I’m really in a mood, I’m going to punch you. This may occur many times over the course of the day.
- I’m going to insist that you play games with me, regardless of whether or not you like them. My three choices will be Checkers, Chess, and Backgammon. You better focus. You better not make any bad moves. If you make a play, and I think it could have been done better, I’m going to punch you to get your attention and make you focus. I might throw you against the wall. If I think it’s a really bad move, or if you’ve made several less than stellar moves during the game, I just might backhand you across your face, and then grab you by the hair, pull you close and spit in your face and tell you that being with you is a waste of my time.
- I’m going to allot you some spending money for the times when I just want to be by myself so you can go out and do something. When you do go out and spend the money, I’m going to get in your face, scream at you about how you’re a pathetic waste of life and then I’m going to give you a hard beating.
- If I walk into your room and you’re reading a book, I’m going to tell you in no uncertain terms how pathetic you are. I’m going to talk at length about how sad and pitiful you are because you’re reading a book instead of doing something else that I approve of. If you don’t immediately put the book down and suggest something for the two of us to do together, you’re going to get a beating.
- If at any time you decide you don’t like any of the treatment I’ve already mentioned, and you declare that you’d like to leave, rest assured the beating you get is going to be swift and harsh. It will involve kicks, punches, and hard backhand slaps. I will probably throw you against the wall and then get in your face and tell you that if you think you’re tough, I’m going to grab you by the throat and see just how tough you really are.
- Be careful about telling jokes. If you tell one, and either it rubs me the wrong way or I just don’t think it’s funny, at the least I will backhand you. Make sure you don’t repeat the same joke, or tell one that’s similar to another one, or I will get angry and you will be beaten.
- Lastly, when I speak to you, don’t make the mistake of looking me in the eyes. I will interpret that as a challenge and I will beat you down in response.
At the end of the three months, you will be released to return to your home. Before you leave, I’m going to come to you and tell you I’m sorry for the way I treated you. Will you accept my apology? I’m guessing the answer is no.
You might be shaking your head in disbelief, perhaps thinking that no one treats others like that. On that, you’re wrong. Everything I described in those 7 points were things I experienced at the hands of my father. He went to his grave without apologizing once for any of his behavior, but if he had, I would not have accepted it. An apology isn’t even a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to atone for abusing another human being.
So, let’s get to the point of this essay: the path to redemption for an abuser.
If you’ve abused another person, and you honestly regret what you’ve done, here is what I think you should do.
- Confess what you’ve done. Confess it in public. Let the whole world know what you’ve done. Don’t offer excuses or reasons why you did what you did, don’t try to explain, just state the cold hard facts of the fucked-up way you treated another human being. Make sure you go to the police and tell them what you’ve done as well. And don’t wait for your victim or someone else to out you. Do it now, of your own volition.
- Don’t apologize for your actions. Your apology is worthless. I suffered for many years at the hands of my father. No apology can make that go away. Further, the apology will be seen as an attempt to avoid repercussions, to escape the consequences of your actions. Fuck you. Your victim suffered for a long time because of you; it’s only fair you suffer as well.
- Be prepared to accept the shaming and public humiliation you’re going to receive. Be prepared to suffer the legal consequences of your actions. Don’t hide, don’t offer excuses, don’t try to evade the consequences in any way. You were tough enough to put someone else through hell, be tough enough now to face hell yourself.
- Tell your friends, your family, and anyone else who might try to come to your defense to shut their mouths. There is no defense for you.
- Stay away from your victims. Don’t call them. Don’t email them. Don’t try to contact them in any way. There’s nothing for you to say to them. You’ve treated them abominably. Respect their right not to have you in their lives ever again. If they decide to speak to you, that’s their choice. Until they make that conscious decision on their own, stay the hell away.
That’s it. That’s the road you need to go down if you wish to atone for your actions.
Sound harsh? Think I’m too tough on you? Think I’m being unfair? Well, fuck you. The hell you put your victim through is what’s unfair. Frankly, I think it’s unfair that your victim ever had to have you in his/her life at all.
You also need to be aware that you may never achieve redemption. Your path to atonement may end up being a long hard road with no end. Personally, I think it’s what you deserve. Your victim will never fully recover from your abuse. Your victim will bear the pain and the scars for the duration of his/her life. The struggle may get easier in time, perhaps, but it will never go away. Why the hell should you get off easier than that?
Last thing I’ll say to an abuser is this: the only one who can offer you forgiveness and redemption in this life for the abuse you dished out is your victim. Any sympathetic words offered to you by anyone else are worthless.
Finally, if you’re the friend, relative, or associate of an abuser, don’t try to defend him. There is no defense. Don’t get indignant if his apology is not accepted by his victim. Don’t make statements about how nice of a guy the abuser is, or about how he regrets what he’s done and wants to move forward. There are really only two things you should do. The first is to be supportive of the victim. Offer your hand. Be a friend to the one who suffered. Don’t be pushy or forceful, just let the victim know you’re there and ready to help in whatever way the victim needs. If you can’t do that, or don’t feel you know enough about the situation to do anything, then keep your fucking mouth shut.
That’s all I have to say. Go in peace.