Authority and abuse.

Abuse is abuse no matter who it comes from. It is easy to spot someone being abusive if they are a stranger or a bad guy on TV. It is much harder when it is a person in authority, or a person you should be able to trust. I’ve already written about some of this before but it is important enough to say again from a different perspective.

We are taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to give them second chances. We are taught to put our own needs second, or even last. We are taught to put up and shut up. But if someone is abusing you, you have not only the right but the obligation to tell them to stop, and if they don’t stop, then you have a choice. Continue to be abused, or leave the relationship.

I’ve already provided a list of helpful books in the “resources” section that I call “survival books”. They aren’t about how to start a campfire with a bit of string and wood, but they will keep you alive. Pick one or two of those to read and you’ll be on your way.

I was abused psychologically by my brother for many years. The breaking point was when I realized that if he was anyone other than my brother I would have left him years ago. I was operating under the Christian idea that I’m supposed to love my brother. While “brother” isn’t just literally “brother” but “everybody”, it is extra hard when that actual brother isn’t a nice person. He was (and probably is still) manipulative. He didn’t care about other people’s feelings. He only cared about what it meant to him.

After reading “Difficult Conversations” and “Codependent No More,” I decided to tell him how his behavior towards me made me feel. He backed off for a little bit, but then started with the same behavior all over again. He started slowly so I wouldn’t notice. It worked. Soon he was back to his same level of manipulation and guilt-trips and harassment. Soon I was feeling guilty for even saying anything. Perhaps I deserved this treatment. Perhaps I was supposed to take it. After all, this is my brother. Our Mom expected him to take care of me after she died. Older brothers are supposed to do that, right?

Then something amazing happened. I realized that he had addressed me as “Sister” for many years. I wasn’t even “Betsy.” I was a placeholder. I wasn’t a person. So I started to think. If he was anybody other than my brother, I wouldn’t even be talking to him. He isn’t a nice person. He certainly isn’t a friend. He can’t even be spoken to without expecting a confrontation. He was the kind of person where you could say “What a beautiful day it is outside!” and he would say “Are you saying it is time for me to mow the lawn?!” Every conversation went like that. He assumed that you were attacking him in some indirect way. My sister-in-law (a counselor) thinks he might be a paranoid schizophrenic. Perhaps he is. I don’t know. I just know he isn’t a nice person, and I took his abuse for way too long.

I want to encourage you to analyze your relationships. If you are not being treated as a valuable person, as a friend in all your relationships, then you need to speak up. Tell that person how you feel. Tell them how their words and actions make you feel. If they don’t take your words to heart, leave.

It is better to be alone than be in a relationship that is abusive. Our society doesn’t say this. Our society says that being alone means that something is wrong with you. I say that being together with an abusive person is far more wrong. Walk away. You can do better.

Now – here’s the big thing. This applies to everyone – regardless of position. We are taught to trust our family, and our friends, and our teachers, and our church. They are not to be questioned. They are supposed to be good to us. But remember the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. People gain a certain level of power when they are in positions of authority. They gain even more when we give them free reign.

So if your parent, or your priest, or your politician does not treat you in a healthy, respectful way, speak up. If they don’t change, leave.