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This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships.
clarifies the difference between abuse
proposes the value of knowing when to use each of these terms;
describes four types of abuse; and...
suggests key options for responding effectively to abuse and aggression.
This brief YouTube video clip previews what you'll read here.
The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons - I've reduced that to seven.
The article assumes you're
the intro to
this nonprofit Web site and the premises
Have you ever felt "abused"? Would anyone say you have been "abusive" to
them or someone else? Do you know an "abusive" person? Keep your answers in
mind as you read...
Before reading further, think of someone you feel has been abused. Then say your definitions of
abuse and aggression out loud,
and compare them to what follows...
an inflammatory word which is often
misunderstood and misused. Three things must be clearly true for behavior to be abuse. Otherwise, the behavior is aggression. "You were aggressive with me"
feels less insulting and provocative then "You abusedme!" to most
shame-based people. Which would
you rather hear?
Three Requisites for
person (A) must control something that the other person (B) depends on and
can’t provide for themselves. In child and elder abuse, this manifests
in a person being significantly dependent on their caregivers for
shelter, food, clothing, health care, education, transportation, protection, and other necessities.
provider (A) must intentionally gratify
some personal needs by using the dependent person (B) in a way that
significant harms the dependent person emotionally, mentally, physically, and/or
For example, gratifying sexual needs
against a dependent person’s will always causes major
psychological + spiritual + (sometimes) physical harm (trauma).
dependent person (B) must be unable (vs. unwilling) to defend
themselves or withdraw from the harmful behavior.
Some people ruled by
false selves may believe that they can't
protect themselves or leave
an abusive relationship safely, so they endure harm that they really
you know anyone who would dispute this three-factor definition?
What would they lose if they accepted this as accurate?
Four Kinds of
One person can abuse another verbally, physically, sexually, and/or
spiritually. Often these occur simultaneously. They can occur suddenly or gradually
- e.g. caregivers who significantly neglect the
developmental (vs. physical) needs of
dependent kids over some years can be said to be "gradually abusive." The
are the same either way.
an adult yells obscenities, threats, or shaming
insults at a dependent child (verbal abuse); or whips, burns, starves, or
chains them up (physical
abuse), that is clearly "child abuse." So
is an adult
intentionally scaring a naive child with vivid forecasts of a demanding, wrathful God
vengefully punishing them for being "bad" by forcing them to
"burn forever in hell" (spiritual
Each type of abuse causes the receiver significant
shame, guilt, fear
(anxiety), confusion, and physical and/or psychological injury
and pain. And abuses usually hinder the receiver from filling some key
needs, like dignity, security, and self respect.
neglect of dependent kids, disabled adults, and themselves is passive abuse. Other common examples are abandoning, scaring, excessive threatening,
starving, confining, intentionally embarrassing, deceiving, bullying,
harassing, and excessive teasing.
Verbal abuse is any
vocal or written behavior that
causes excessive or chronic
hurt, shame, guilt, anxiety, confusion,
disappointment, loss, or injury in the
receiver. Common examples:
threatening ("If you don't stop bawling and blubbering,
I'll give you something to cry about!")
name-calling ("How did you get
to be so incredibly spineless, stupid, and ugly?"),
scaring (vs. alerting) ("If you
play with yourself, young man, your eyes will fall out!");
shaming ("It's clear to me that no
sane person is going to love you - ever!");
never amount to anything! Who would want to hire you?"); and...
disappointing ("Sorry I missed your
game. I know I said I'd come, but, well, you know...") etc.
abuseis any intentional
or thoughtless behavior that causes significant bodily harm or pain
to a dependent or helpless receiver. It is usually emotionally abusive too.
Examples: whipping; severe pinching; excessive tickling; burning; poisoning;
cutting; forced feeding and/or enemas; starving, unnecessary injections; smothering; holding under
water; tripping; non-playful punching, slapping, kicking, and hair pulling; pushing down stairs; etc.
Sexual abuse is
characterized by the abuser satisfying sensual and/or sexual needs in a way
that injures the
other person psychologically, spiritually, and/or physically.
This type of abuse does not have
to involve physical contact - e.g. forcing a child to witness or listen to
sexual behavior or language before they're developmentally ready to
understand it. Depending on many factors, sexual abuse - specially incest -
can be exceptionally traumatic to average kids. See
this for more
is any intentional behavior that uses spirituality or religion to cause
excessive shame, guilt, anxiety or terror, or unhealthy, dangerous,
unhealthy, or criminal activities. Some people also consider willful
behavior that blocks healthy personal spiritual growth in a dependent person
as abusive. See
this article for more perspective.
Abusive behaviors - specially if habitual - usually indicate that the
childhood and is psychologically wounded. Self-motivated personal
can significantly reduce abusive and neglectful behaviors over time.
Learning to apply effective communication
skills - specially
(boundary-setting and enforcement) - can help (some)
abuse victims defend themselves, within limits.
Note that recent
researchsuggests that childhood trauma like abuse can activate genes
that promote physical, cognitive, and psychological problems. We can
wonder if such genes then pass on to the next generation...
Aggression, Submission, and
behavior can be typed as aggressive, submissive, assertive, or "disengaged."
Can you describe the difference?
Think of someone you feel is often aggressive. What criteria do you use to judge this? Are you
aggressiveat times? What do you feel and do when someone is
aggressive with you? Do you feel aggression is usually or always
"positive," "negative," or neither? How does this compare with what your
child-hood caregivers thought? Here, "aggression"
occurs when person A tries c/overtly to fill their needs by using
person B, without caring about B's needs or feelings.
Now think of someone you feel is submissive. How does
this behavior affect your respect for the person? Would others describe you as submissive at times or often?
Premise - submission is choosing to
put someone else's needs, opinions, or values ahead of yours in order to
In excess, this is self-abuse. Habitual submission invites social disrespect, discounting, and exploitation
Chronic or compulsive submission is often a sign of being
shame-based and ruled by a tireless false self. Such
people often are ineffective communicators, because they feel inferior and steadily
broadcast "I'm 1-down"
People suffering the condition of
(relationship addiction) are often compulsively anxious and submissive.
Now think of someone you'd say is notablyassertive. What's the
difference between them and the aggressive person you identified? Would
people who know you well say you are often assertive? Premise
- assertionis "the learned skill of knowing how
and when to (a) identify and state your current social
clearly, and to (b)
expected resistances effectively." How does this compare to
Typical victims of repeated aggression and abuse can't
(get their needs met), because...
a dominant false self promotes self-distrust,
shame, guilts, and fears, and the person doesn't know
that or what to do about it. And...
Clearly knowing the difference between
aggression, submission, assertion, and abuse
essential for avoiding and effectively resolving many relationship "problems." Do you agree?
Pause and reflect - how do you usually respond to aggressive or abusive
adults and kids? Is your way effective (get your needs met well
enough)? Compare your normal behavior to these...
Response Options to Aggression and Abuse
Some responses to these stressors are more effective than others.An effective response will...
preserve the receiver's
boundaries and consequences with the aggressor/abuser.
Does this describe how you usually respond to abuse or aggression?
An ideal response to aggression and abuse also raises the other person's awarenessof...
what they're doing, and...
the effects of their behavior - e.g. "I'm
losing my trust in and respect for you"; and...
why they're behaving like this - (e.g. because a false-self dominates them now which
doesn't know effective communication skills),
an ideal response
motivate the abuser/aggressor to want
to learn more effective ways of filling their needs.
Habitually abusive and overly-aggressive people need to hit
true bottom before they're genuinely motivated to change their
behaviors. So trying to use logic, persuasion, threats, hints, and
manipulation probably won't promote permanent changes in abusive or
aggressive kids or adults.
Let's use these ideas to explore your response options when (a) someone is aggressive or abusive with you,
and when (b) you witness aggressive or abusive behavior between other people. Think of any recent examples of each of
these, and keep them in mind as you read.
To get the most from what follows, read these articles on
assertion and "I-messages"
and return here. Then get
ready to respond effectively to abuse
or aggression by first...
rights as a
unique, worthy, dignified person - i.e. "promote yourself to equal."
if your attitude
about you and the other person is genuine mutual respect and compassion, go ahead. Otherwise, suspect that a false self
and wonder whether your attitude may be unintentionally provoking the other
commit to gaining competence at effective-communication
skills by studying
Lesson 2 here;
learn how to judge whether the other person
is ruled by a false self; and
what to do if they are;
learn how to tell abuse from aggression
because they merit different responses.
If the aggression or abuse is
significant and chronic
despite your best efforts, question why you're in this relationship
which of your subselves is choosing to endure the disrespect
and stress, and why);
Keep your current life
in mind, and use them to guide your responses;
Use these wise
to help you decide what you can affect and what you can't; and...
Is there anything preventing you from preparing to respond to abuse and aggression
Now let's look at your...
Response Options if Someone is
Think of a recent situation where you feel another person was insensitive to
your needs and feelings - i.e. they put their needs, dignity, and worth
ahead of yours. Recall your emotional and behavioral response to them,
and how you felt about yourself. Imagine what would
have happened if you had decided to...
Use these traits to
decide if the other person is
ruled by a false self. If so, affirm that you
didn't cause that, and can't change it;
Recall that aggression means the other person...
has a 1-person
awareness bubble focused on themselves, and
is unaware of that and what it means; and...
their dominant false-self ranks its needs,
worth, and dignity higher than yours right now (feels
probably cannot communicate or problem-solve effectively
with this person now.
whether the other person's
is "above their ears" so s/he can't hear you now. If so
and the situation permits, use patient, respectful
(hearing checks) to bring the level below their ears and restore their
Choose among options like these to suit your
Clarify what you need now from the other person,
and compose a respectful
I-message to assert your need
Expect resistance, and
calmly respond with empathic listening. Then re-assert your
you get what you need, or...
you shift to
If you feel you're in physical danger
and assertion isn't working, call 911 or some other helper, or
If you're feeling significant guilt
about your attitude and/or response, consciously decide if it's
warranted or not,
and act accordingly - if your Self is clearly
Response Options if Someone is
Note thatall abuse is
aggression, but not all aggression meets the three criteria for abuse.
If you decide that you and another person clearly meet the three criteria,
then review your options, starting with those above. Take as many of those
preparation steps as circumstances allow, and...
review your version of this Bill of
Personal Rights. Use it to justify your attitudes and responses
to the abusive person.
check your assumptions. Are you really unable to
defend yourself or leave, or are your dominant subselves too scared to
If your true Self is
you'll probably get a protectively-skewed answer to this vital question.
A common crippling assumption is that
there are only two options (black-white thinking).
always more than two choices!
passively avoiding firm,
respectful confrontation with your abuser is
them - i.e. you
are half the problem. Restated - face the
wayyou have responded to the abuse (if it's chronic) is probably half the problem, which means...
you are probably controlled by a
protective false self, which is the primary problem.
abuse is a symptom of it. Feeling and thinking "I'm helpless"
is a sure sign of false-self wounding and denial.
When your Self is solidly guiding
face what enduring the abuse is doing to
your self-esteem and your identity ("I am a person who doesn't
protect myself"). A powerful option is to ask your
Shamed Child subself
what s/he feels about this. If you are an able adult, enduring
abuse is self abuse.
decide how and when to identify, assert,
and enforce specific needs, boundaries, and consequences with your abuser
within the limits of your situation.
consider discussing your options with a
skilled objective life-coach or counselor, and/or your wise
Future Self. Your can see this
situation as a learning opportunity (glass half full), or a stressful
problem (half empty).
if your physical safety is at risk, consult
with local police and perhaps legal counsel to clarify your rights and
options. If you choose to invoke the law (e.g. an
order of protection),
first consider the long-term pros and cons - specially if you're
Response Options if
Someone Abuses Another Person
see if your true Self (capital "S") is
in charge. If not, make
your Self your first priority unless the abused person is in immediate
danger. Then use the three criteria above to
make sure the behavior is true abuse, vs. aggression. This will guard
you against biased attitudes ("Abusers are despicable morons!"), using provocative
language, and overprotecting an able person.
If time permits and you feel hesitant about intervening, reflect: "How will
I feel about myself later if I don't take action now?"
Identify the specific abuse is and what you want the abuser to change, so
you can compose an effective verbal intervention. For example, "Stop abusing
that little girl!" is more provocative and vague than "When you
scream obscenities at that girl, you're harming her and destroying her trust
in you. Calm down and tell the girl what you need."
If the abuse is chronic (repeated), plan your intervention and consider if
you need help in making it. If you choose to intervene (assert),
expect "resistance" from the
abuser- e.g. "Mind your own business" or equivalent. If you get
calmly say back what you hear with good eye contact ("You
feel I have no right to interfere.") and then...
firmly reassert your
intervention with steady eye contact.
Avoid the temptation to get into a
power struggle ("I'm right! No, I'M
right!") or screaming match - lose-lose-lose! Also avoid...
a poor excuse for a parent you are!"),
insults ("You have the brains
of a doorknob!"), and
threats that you don't mean or can't enforce.
Sometimes just looking steadily at an abuser without speaking creates enough
discomfort to stop their behavior. Depending on the situation, use options
like those above to guide your attitudes and choices.
If you're ruled by a false self and/or feel at risk of major harm (i.e. you
feel you can't protect your-self and/or an abuse victim),
you may agree with
the ideas in this article and not act on them. Answer the following honestly
to see if this may be so."T" = true, "F" = false, and "?"
= "I'm not sure," or "It depends on ___ (what?)"
I _ can tell when a
false self is
controlling me or someone else now, and I _ know what to do when that happens.
(T F ?)
I _ can tell
from aggression now, and I _ know why differentiating them is
(T F ?)
I'm motivated to
people who use the terms "abuse," "abuser," and "abusive" incorrectly and inform them of this important
difference. (T F ?)
I believe I was
significantly abused (including psychological
neglect) as a child. (T F ?)
I am abusing someone
occasionally or regularly now. (T F ?)
I have been
tolerating significant abuse from someone recently, rather than
asserting and enforcing appropriate boundaries and consequences. (T F ?)
I know someone who is
abusing another person now, and I am motivated to intervene - or - I am
ready to find appropriate help on intervening. (T F ?)
I view people who
abuse others as wounded and unaware rather than bad, evil, immoral, selfish, and/or "sick."
(T F ?)
I view adults
who tolerate being abused as (a) wounded (e.g. shamed and scared) and
(b) unable to assert personal boundaries, rather than pitiful, weak,
spineless, cowardly, or self-neglectful.
I'm sure my true Self
responding to these statements now - or if not, I know which of my well-meaning
subselves are responding. (T F ?)
This article describes three conditions that must be present for behavior
to be abusive. If they're not all present, the
behavior is aggression. Aggression is
a less inflammatory personal and social judgment. The distinction is
important to minimize aggravating relationships by
mis-labeling someone as "abusive."
The article describes four types of abuse, and gives examples of each. It
briefly explores the difference between aggression and submission, and concludes by suggesting practical response options to aggression and
Unless you're morally or legally responsible for the other person (like a
child) or you depend on them for health and security, (a)
choosing to endure abuse or
aggression and (b) how you respond to it are the real problems, not
the other person's behavior.
Reflect: why did you read this - did you get what you needed? If
not, what do you need? Who's
these questions - your wise resident true Self