When you have told and discussed your stories, you should begin the healing process, as discussed in the last blog. This means sitting down, and acknowledging and taking responsibility for your part in the abusive relationship. Listen to each other’s unconditional admission without interruption and without becoming defensive. Both of you might also write down how you were abused, and how you abused. Take plenty of time to ensure as much detail as possible. Then apologise for each abusive incident noted, and agree to move on.
Moving on means discussing how you each niggle and annoy each other by pressing the other’s buttons to stoke anger, rage, shame or guilt, all ancient experiences coming from childhood. This discussion is very important because it increases your understanding of your partner, and helps to avoid further conflict and abuse. It will be difficult for both of you to draw up boundaries, because these are alien to abusive people. But, you can take practical steps to concretise them by writing down your partner’s behaviours that are particularly annoying and objectionable to you. These would include anything from the list of abusive behaviours already explored in earlier chapters. Discuss these, and pledge to avoid them in future. This is not a perfect world, and humans are imperfect, so you will find that you will have to compromise on some issues.
Some therapists and researchers state that the success rate of changing the abusive outlook is low, partly because the abuser must make the most honest and strenuous efforts to overcome this behaviour. They may not be ready to change, because not everyone is able to bear the pain of exploring the root causes of why he or she has become an abuser. Neither are many able to bear the shame of revealing this dire trait to another. Beverly Engel is more optimistic, but I feel that overcoming abusiveness is a lifelong task. You will abate your anger and your shame. You will succeed in largely rewiring your brain, and become calm and kind. But, in addition to the above steps, you both may have to go for individual counselling to get at the roots of the abuse.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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