Fair warning: Today’s post is going to quite a bit more serious than my usual fare. It is about emotional abuse, which may be a trigger for some readers. I hesitated in publishing it because I like to sprinkle my writing with fun and laughter. But there is nothing funny about emotional abuse and abusers.
When speaking about friendship-users in Wednesday’s post, I wrote about people whose narcissistic tendencies are an outgrowth of immaturity rather than being motivated by a desire to actually cause harm to me. Today I want to address the topic of scoundrels, which is the term I use for the people who intentionally hurt you, manipulate you, exhaust emotional resources, and do their best to decimate your self-respect in an attempt to make themselves feel more powerful, respected, and in control.
Webster’s dictionary defines a scoundrel as “an unprincipled, dishonorable person; villain.” As hard as it is for some of us bleeding hearts to admit, there are villains out in the world and they aren’t dressed up like the villains in the cartoons we used to watch. They are masters of disguise, dressing up as the person we want them to be, making us believe that, with them, we are the person we most want to be. The harm caused by this type of person is intentional. It is not a lack of maturity that causes them to behave in a charming manner until they get you where they want and then attempt to systematically break you down; rather, it is a system of manipulation that they have been honing for years in order to get exactly what they want from you. And what do they want from you? Everything.
I’ve known a a few scoundrels in my life and I’ve learned a few things about them. They can be any gender. They most often appear in the form of a significant other because scoundrels usually have only casual friendships where acquaintances are kept at arm’s length to preserve the lie that the scoundrel is a charming, exciting, healthy individual. They are master manipulators and excellent liars. They are emotionally abusive and many of them become physically abusive if you stay around long enough. They consume you from the inside out, taking your time, your energy, your sense of stability, your idea of self-worth, feeding on you without true remorse (although they can fake remorse like a champ) until you are a shell of who you used to be and nowhere near the person you want to be. They keep things chaotic as a way to keep you disoriented and easier to control. They will destroy you if you let them.
As I said, I have had some in-depth experiences with scoundrels. They seem to be able to sense brokenness, vulnerability, and an ever-hopeful, ever-forgiving personality a mile away. In the aftermath of the relationship that almost broke me, I kept asking “Why me? How did he know he could do that to me? I’m a smart, strong-willed woman…so how in the hell did this happen to me?” Now, I want to make it abundantly clear that I was not responsible for the scoundrel’s behavior, nor are you responsible for the behavior of your particular scoundrel (if there is one in your life). Their behavior is 100% on them.
As part of the process of emotionally healing from all the relationships I’ve had with scoundrels and as a protection system against future encounters, I tried to think about the commonalities in myself and my state of mind at the beginning of each abusive relationship. If you have multiple experiences with scoundrels, your common denominators might be different, but I encourage you to think about them and make a list. Here are mine:
1) I was extremely lonely despite being surrounded by friends and family. I felt distanced from the healthy relationships around me which was probably a result of the fact that
2) I was depressed. Not sad, not morose. Clinically depressed. My negative feelings about myself and the world around me stemming from my depression isolated me from others. Part of my depression was based in the fact that
3) I had unresolved issues relating to my own sense of self-worth and inherent value. I felt inferior, undeserving of love and respect from anyone including myself. I felt fundamentally flawed and unable to make up for it.
These common denominators all worked together to make it easier for me to fall prey to an abuser. The scoundrel understood and embraced my negative feelings about the world and used them to connect with me, causing me to feel like it was us against the sad world, and thereby isolating me further from the people who truly loved me. He made me feel seen at a time when I felt like I was disappearing. He made me feel loved, wanted, and valuable just long enough for me to identify my worth with his opinion of me before he began his destruction of me.
One of the curses of being a compassionate believer in the basic goodness and worthiness of humans is the characteristic desire to save others. The scoundrel will often use our desire to ‘save’ them as a tool to manipulate us. People like me tend to think that if we are understanding enough, patient enough, flexible enough, self-sacrificing enough, compassionate enough, we will open the eyes of our abuser, they will seek salvation from their wicked ways, and we can live happily ever after. But it doesn’t work that way. Steven Stosny, Ph.D. wrote, “Abusers do not change by receiving compassion; they change by learning to give compassion” and it is not our responsibility to teach them that lesson. We cannot do it.
With friendship-users, I leave the door to my heart open a crack in the hopes of reconciliation, but the door to my heart is now closed and barred forever against someone who has shown themselves to be a scoundrel. It took me a long time to realize that I cannot save another human being from their own evil. It took me a great amount of personal growth to say “No. No more chances. No more apologies. No more.” I have forgiven the scoundrels in my life, but for the safety of myself and the ones I love, they will never be welcome in my life again. In my non-professional opinion, that is the best way to treat the true villains in your life. Forgive yourself for loving them. Forgive them (eventually) for hurting you. But keep that door closed no matter how much they plead with you and promise you that they have changed.
Emotional abuse is more common than you might imagine. If you think you might be in a relationship with an emotionally abusive person, there are resources to help you recognize the earmarks of an abusive person and relationship. Some of these resources can be found here, here, and here. If the emotional abuse has escalated to physical abuse (which it commonly does) please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7322) or visit their website. You deserve to be safe. You need to be safe.
I am not a psychologist, doctor, or professional expert on emotional abuse or physical abuse, but I am a survivor of both. If you want to reach out to me, have a safe place to tell your story, and receive reassurance that, no matter what it feels like, you are not alone, please contact me via the Contact Leah link. You don’t have to pour your heart out to a text box. Just use it to send me your email address, and I will get in touch with you.