Abusers' Accountability?

by Sara
(New York, USA)

I've posted before about my situation. My mother targeted me to unload all her resentments from an early age. She was a bitter, miserable woman in a difficult marriage. My father was an angry man who lost his temper easily and threw tantrums. The two of them were constantly yelling at each other when they were together. The difference is my father is innately wired to frustrate easily and explode, although he recognizes this and does later apologise. He never sets out to specifically target anyone. My mother on the other hand is more selective and stealthy about it.

When my father was not around, she'd target me to vent on. Slapping, belittling, shaking, throwing dishes. Her face was pure animal rage when she'd light into me. Unlike my father, who would stop at verbal domination, my mother's rage knew no bounds. She was totally out of control. She'd shove my face into my plate and make me stay at the table as long as it took, until I'd cleaned my plate. She'd verbally abuse me daily, often escalating to shaking and slapping which continued well into my 20s, I'm ashamed to say. She expected me to be responsible for the housework (not my siblings, not her) and whatever I did, she found fault with, using it as an excuse to light into me more. She was always angry at me for the condition of the house, which she deemed too messy. She'd complain bitterly to me that no one respected her and she somehow blamed me for that. Yet no one else faced her wrath or was responsible for these things. The difference is she would be beaming and vibrant, all smiles with outsiders. She would switch in a flash if in the presence of someone else. It has always been important for her to appear perfect, well liked. No one would believe how violent and bitter she can be behind closed doors. Truly, she is not like this with anyone else.

It all started when I was little and she'd be frustrated all the time and make comparisons of me to my father. She was giving and loving towards my siblings. But with me, it was as if I were never a child but her competition, an enemy she hated. Even as a small child she'd call me "bitch" and slap me out of the blue. If she was dressing me, she'd start shaking me and complaining about how the neighbors kids could dress themselves since they could walk, and I'm so bad and just like my father, etc. These are just some examples of how it was every day with her. The thing is, she is an intelligent woman. She grew up in a loving stable home in which she was doted on as the only girl. She came from a healthy home. My grandparents thought she could do no wrong. Yes, she had a contentious relationship with her husband, which may have caused her to abuse me in turn. Yet I suspect there is something innate in her that makes her an abuser...something my father doesn't have--which is a fierce sense of self-righteousness and an inability to admit that she has done something wrong. This is the common trait with true abusers, isn't it (those not impaired by drugs or mental deficiencies)? I've started to understand that she will NEVER admit she was abusive because she's incapable of seeing herself that way. It would destroy her need to see herself as that vibrant, smiley, perfect "nice" woman. I can understand someone having little control over their temper, but I can't excuse blaming the victim, getting angrier, more punishing when the person on the other end of the abuse asks you to stop.

Now an adult, she had mellowed considerably towards me. Unfortunately, a few months ago I was preparing a meal for my dad when she started criticising the way I was preparing the meal. It was so silly, but she just kept going on and on about it, getting angrier by the minute, saying she never did it this way, and her mother and grandmother never did it that way etc. Then she took over at the sink and actually shouted at me. At which point I backed away from her and let her have her way. I thought it was a very silly thing to be so upset over. I started reflecting back over the years her pattern with me. After a few moments passed, I asked, "Is all this anger worth it?" BAM! She slammed the microwave door, not shut, but backwards into the direction of my face, then stepped up into my face, fists clenched, eyes red and twisted in rage, "YOU MAKE ME SO MAD!" I could tell she wanted to hit me just like she used to, but I give her credit for not going that far this time. I know she wanted to. The incident inspired me to write her a letter, asking that she not revisit physically abusive behaviors with me. I THOUGHT (mistakenly) that she was in a place now where she could handle that. Wrong. She responded just as she used to...which is childishly...becoming enraged...blaming me. She was completely self-righteous and claimed I was never an innocent child. She took no responsibility for her violent outburst. Nor for her past behaviors. She turned it all around on me and became blaming, emotional. So...I was shocked that she would STILL behave this way after all these years. I truly thought the abuse was in the past, that it was situational, that it was caused by her contentious relations with her husband and her depression. But she's been free of both those high stress situations for years now (she had largely stopped attempts at communicating with my dad since they only led to fights). I thought it was finally safe to address the issue...WRONG! She hasn't changed, after all. And now I get it that SHE is the one out of control and immature!

All these years I'd been brainwashed into believing I wasn't good enough, that there was something about me that would always deserve this kind of treatment. My family reinforced it by looking the other way. NO ONE wants to go against the one with the power. It's easiest to blame the victim, to do nothing to intervene, to justify it. Most people nearly always side with the one with power over those with the least power. They'll go to great lengths to justify it too. That's another lesson I learnt, and the main reason for my post.

Family abuse is so often shoved under the rug, denied. The victim is blamed and punished all the more even by other members of the family. It seems the need to protect the family, i.e. protect the abuser, is STRONG and almost always comes at the expense of the victim. It's like you're abused doubly. There's the initial abuse and then there's the massive cover-up. It's like a wave of injustice pushing you down where the family joins together to bury the victim if they speak out. My question is what should we do about this phenomenon? Yes, of course it's important to heal yourself. But why do abusers so often get away with it? Especially abuse in families. It seems there is no justice. No holding accountable the abusers. If anything, they rally around the abuser and try to squash the victim. In no other situation would this be acceptable. If it were a stranger that did these things to you, they'd be in jail. But families and law enforcement let atrocities happen behind closed doors; and it is acceptable, it is silenced, discounted. Obviously victims need to heal themselves, but what about this very large problem of abusers getting away with it? There should be consequences to torture and abuse, not turning a blind eye and saying oh well that's just the way they are, move on.

I have read the stories here and they resonate with me all too well. Abuse destroys children. It changes who they are. I can't help think of the other side of these stories. Of all these evil, out-of-control sickos that get a free pass. Do you think they've stopped their abusive ways just because you were lucky/brave/smart enough to leave? These people are not the ones who need to be protected, they need help or to be locked up. Something has to change. That is the issue I would like to see explored.

The irony is now that I've confronted my parents about the abuse, that is I dared to acknowledge it, they have joined forces and now get along with each other better than ever! They actually spend time together now and are careful not to be spiteful and argumentative with each other. Something I'd never thought I'd see in this lifetime. My speaking out has caused them to bond so they can re-invent their histories to themselves, and bury me. Needless to say, I find I am marginalized even more than before and that they are actually uniting over it! These two people who for decades, as long as I've known them couldn't even talk to each other, at best they had tense exchanges or didn't communicate at all, more often they had screaming matches. Suddenly, since I wrote that letter they actually make an effort to get along....Interesting.

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Comments for Abusers' Accountability?

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Dec 20, 2007
The answer is complicated and complex Part 1
by: Darlene Barriere - webmaster

I've moved your post to this page, Sara, because it really is more commentary. You make excellent points, points I've made myself in several postings on this site.

Change can only come about when people's attitudes change. When people learn and accept that children matter most. But as long as we continue to view children as property, as long as we continue to accept that children have no rights, nothing will change. Abusers will continue to abuse, free from consequences, and victims will continue to be blamed and have to serve a life sentence for being victims. It's all so very twisted and convoluted.

I find it interesting that you say your mother was raised in a healthy environment, yet you say "she could do no wrong" in the eyes of your grandparents. A child raised with this type of mindset learns they can do no wrong. A child raised in this mindset learns they are never to blame for their actions. A child raised in this mindset learns there are no consequences for their inappropriate behaviour. This is one of the most insidious forms of abuse, Sara, because children who learn they can do no wrong never learn how to live in the real world. Your mother is a product of her upbringing. Her childish ways of coping are evidence of that. Please, don't get me wrong; I'm certainly not making excuses for her erratic, hostile and outrageous behaviour. It is an explanation though.

Children need discipline in their lives. They need to understand that there are limits and there consequences for all behaviour, good and bad. But discipline is not synonymous with hitting, spanking or yelling. Discipline is teaching the difference between right and wrong, in a loving, respectful and nurturing way.

If we as a society refuse to adopt effective and appropriate methods of discipline, we do so at the peril of future generations. As long as we continue to allow abusive parents a "free pass" as you put it, Sara, the problem will not only continue, it will get worse. And the worse it gets, the more problematic our futures will be.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Dec 20, 2007
The answer is complicated and complex Part 2
by: Darlene Barriere - webmaster

You mentioned posting here in the past, Sara. Indeed, you asked the question, 'why do parents target a specific child?' I answered your question at great length in my October 2007 issue of Barriere Bits e-zine. UPDATE: This article can now be found on this site at Why Parents Target a Specific Child for Abuse. Feel free to leave your own comments.

I hope you had a chance to read it. Much of what you wrote about your mother in this post was characterized in that e-zine article.

Sara, the points you've made are multifaceted. Perhaps you'd consider taking on the abusers' accountability cause. If so, I invite you to open a room in Safe House as part of OpenSpace on this site. It would give you an opportunity to voice your concerns, and effect change, change that will never happen unless people like you and others speak out against such deficiencies in the laws and speak out for our most vulnerable in society: our children.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Sep 11, 2008
My comments to you about your mom
by: Anonymous

I think you should stay away from your mother. Even if she has mellowed toward you...she began shouting again at you....she doesn't deserve to have you around.

I wouldn't give her credit for anything....she hurt you and scapegoated you.

Why stay. I don't think you'll ever heal if you stay around her. I'd write her a letter and then I'd get on with my life and leave her out of my life!

This will take tremendous strength but everyday it will get easier and then you will begin to feel your rage and then you will begin to heal.

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