Abusive people do not feel empathy, but they are responsible for their behaviour

As you slowly and painfully increase your understanding of what makes you abusive and how you control, you can begin your journey of making some amends to your victims. This means taking full responsibility for your abuse. No excuses! No minimisation! It was wrong. It hurt others. It was deliberate. You had an agenda. You were selective in choosing your victims. You did not show or indeed feel any empathy. You could have chosen non-abusive behaviour, irrespective of how your brain was programmed during early childhood. I know that you are beset by toxic shame, but being ashamed of hurting others is good shame. Feel it. Acknowledge the hurt unambiguously, and apologise. Make a written and verbal apology. This apology must be sincere, accepting full responsibility, promising never to repeat the abusive behaviour, and pledging to take steps to eradicate it. It will take a long time before you fully realise how destructive abuse is, so try to put yourself in the victim’s shoes, and imagine what it must have been like for him or her. This will be difficult for you, because abusive people lack empathy. One of the best ways to understand the hurt is to get the victims to write a detailed account of your abusive behaviour, and how it affected them. I believe that the emotional impact of this on you will be greatly increased if you read these written statements to your counsellor. That takes great courage.
Writing an account of their suffering will also be healing for the victims, but it will also arouse their righteous anger, which they may verbally direct at you. It is important for their healing and for your own, that you do not become defensive. This will not be easy for you, because you were accustomed to vent your anger on them. Now you are the vulnerable one. But, if you do not give them space to show their hostile feelings, their suffering will be increased.
It is extremely helpful to enlist the help of other key people, such as close friends. This makes it more likely that the abuse will never commence again, because it involves admitting your abusive past. Again, this is difficult for people with abusive tendencies, who hide their hurt and shame behind bravado and narcissism, and see vulnerability as weakness.
If you have the courage to take this path, you will gradually begin to respect your partner, and recognise her/his boundaries. I suggest that you learn about boundaries, and this will help you see that healthy relationships show parity and respect in every aspect of being together, running a house, and rearing children, having equal responsibility, sharing, communicating, mutual handling of money, listening without interrupting, and giving space for your partner to be angry. Think boundaries! Become acutely aware when you are tempted to breach them. Be aware of the triggers and false beliefs that kick into action at that time. Pay attention to how your abusive tendencies are ignited if you feel ignored, insulted, rejected, or shamed.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press


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