Abusers of all types act like gods in their houses of horror. But when they get dragged blinking into the light, they often act like victims.
I recently read an article about Ariel Castro and his jaw-dropping denial and self-pity. It turned my stomach.
But it also sounded familiar. Almost every victim of abuse–whether verbal, physical, sexual, or spiritual–has sat sweating in the presence of his or her abuser and felt the lens of blame turned back on them. This is called blame-shifting and it results in re-victimization of those who have suffered abuse.
Why Does it Happen?
When an abuser is in control—when his victim squirms beneath his gaze or suffers beneath his lash—the abuser feels that all is right with the world. Strutting in his house of colored glass, the abuser finds his happy place of uncontested power. Free from the constraints of accountability, he convinces himself that he is a benefactor. He believes that the victim needs him—wants him, even—or that the victim at least deserves the abuse.
He admires his own golden qualities and may feed off the body and blood of religion like a parasite. He lives in rationalization and denial for so long that his lies become his truth.
But shatter those windows, expose those deeds, and pull an abuser wriggling into the sunlight and watch his sudden breathless explanations. Exposed for what he is—an abusive person guilty of sin—he feels outraged at the accusations. Incredulous that he should be blamed. His is a reality darkened by sin and covered by fathoms of black water poured daily for decades.
His outrage is real, not feigned.
He truly feels misunderstood and persecuted by his fellow man. He is a sea-creature pulled onto dry land. What happened underwater, he believes, matched that economy. His tentacles were harsh, but just. If the judge, the jury, and the whole watching world would just go with him there, then they would understand. They would see why he had to do what he did—how he could have done nothing else. *sob*
If he admits any wrongdoing at all he must pin it on someone else. He was raised by his father, no, his mother, no, his grandparents. He is uneducated. He was over-educated. He suffered so much, had so many crosses to bear. How could he turn out any other way?
Or he blames society. He blames an addiction. He blames the Devil, or more fashionably, the demons. He blames God for making him this way and not some other way. What he did, he did in the name of Law or love.
But whether or not he admits any wrongdoing or accepts any responsibility he always—always!—blames the victim. Such blame-shifting re-victimizes victims.
What Does this Look Like?
The abuser may say how much the victim needed him—how much he sacrificed for him or her. The victim put himself or herself in the position to be abused. If she hadn’t worn that outfit—if he hadn’t been so trusting—if she had been somewhere else—if he had learned his catechism—none of this would have happened. It wasn’t his fault—it wasn’t really abuse. Just a simple misunderstanding, you see, a difference of opinion, an interpretive disagreement, a matter of degree, a failure to receive his love-language.
Please sir, let me go and I will sin no more.
True, some abusers may be victims of childhood abuse. They may have mental illness or addiction. But abusers first and foremost are perpetrators who must own their own behavior. They have made a choice—more often a series of choices—which has colored their perception of the world in some sepia-tinted and carnival-mirrored distortion. They plunged their victims into this shifting world of confusing darkness and salted the world with their tears.
But deeds of darkness lose their power in the light.
Like a dripping carcass dragged from ocean depths and hung in clean air from the bow-hook of a trawler, indicted abusers look both monstrous and pitiful. Robbed of their power, they inspire disgust rather than fear. Despite their self-justification and blame-shifting, they remain guilty. While sin can be forgiven, it can never be undone. Society must invite victims into its embrace and shield them from the farcical self-justifications of abusers. No one should ever allow an abuser to justify his behavior.
Even if he says, “But I’m your pastor.”
Update, 8/10/13: I’ve been reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In the book, a wise priest says:
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love. And in order to distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures and sinks to bestialitity in his vices–all this from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone else.”