“Abuse-logic”

I always find that talking about what it’s like to be in an abusive situation is a lot like talking about a dream you had. There’s a bunch of logic that made total sense at the time, but that you have to do a lot of hand-waving around when you explain it to someone else after the fact.

Delirium is really good at dream-logic.

Of course, when I’m talking about dreams, the hand-waving can usually be glossed over pretty quickly (e.g. “And when I realized that I was only wearing one sock, I was totally relieved, because in the dream-logic this would make it easier for me to…”), and that’s just fine. But when you’re talking about having been abused, there’s a lot of decisions you made while that abuse was happening that allowed, caused, or sometimes even encouraged, the abuse to continue or escalate. And people want to understand, or they think that your actions when you were in it (You stayed! You never complained about x at the time! Maybe you even said you liked it! Maybe there were specific instances that you could have prevented but instead decided to provoke!) somehow mean that the abuse wasn’t that bad, or wasn’t as bad as you’re now making it out to be, because they don’t understand that maybe you were numb at the time, and you’re only feeling a lot of the emotional effects now that you’re out, and all of your life-energy is no longer being completely expended on basic psychic maintenance.

Because the thing is, if you’ve never had to face up to the kinds of twisted logic that we all use every day to get through life and make the world bearable, you don’t realize that the mental gymnastics that abuse victims perform to justify their decision to stay, or to forgive again, or whatever, aren’t that distinct from the hundred little ways that everyone elides good logic every day.

We all put up with ridiculous things, just to get through day-to-day life. Women accept, or refuse to notice, that in order to look “professional” they have to spend far more money (make-up is extortionate, and women’s fashion isn’t built to last half as long as menswear) and far more of their time (the grooming!) just to meet the same level of acceptance as men. Women spend twice as much money as men on apparel alone, and that’s not counting all the grooming apparatuses most women invest in. This means that even if we achieve income parity, women will still be at a significant economic disadvantage, because cultural norms insist that in order to be equally professional, they must spend a much greater proportion of their money on their appearance.

BUT, this absolutely doesn’t mean that all women who wear make-up are bringing it upon themselves. It doesn’t mean that women who “choose” to wear make-up are responsible for their economic disadvantages. And it doesn’t mean that they’re stupid or damaged. It means that they’ve accepted this nonsensical piece of culture-logic, because they can’t see viable alternatives.  And ok, sometimes it means they actually think make-up is fun, but I’m talking about everyday make-up and grooming procedures here, the kind designed to cover “flaws”, the kind that I’m sure you’ve heard women in your life complaining about, and wishing they didn’t “have to” do. This is not the kind of grooming designed to make bold,  self-expressive statements, it’s the kind that many women feel they need to comply with simply to be able to make their actual self-expressions heard, just to earn a  base level of respect.

As I see it, the main difference between this kind of culture-logic and abuse-logic is that we can’t escape the culture in which we live, whereas people in abusive situations often *can* escape their abusers (they just can’t always see the escape route, or the alternatives simply seem worse). Oh, and very few people try to make women justify their decision to continue practicing grooming rituals that they profess to hate; we all understand why they make that decision, and why it would be so hard to “choose” otherwise, whether we’re the kind of person who sees and understands the bargain they are making with the culture at large, or we’ve simply bought so fully into the cultural norms that we don’t even think the stopping is an option – it would simply be unacceptable.

Stepping outside of what you know is scary. It doesn’t matter how much you’re sacrificing to stay in that comfort zone, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like to people on the outside, it’s damn scary. And abuse-logic is the logic that allows you to make the decision to stay, and it’s often oddly comforting despite itself.

And we really shouldn’t demand for it make any more sense than the justifications we have for all the other things we do in life. So I like to talk about my past now with phrases like “but when he said something obviously incorrect just to get his way, I didn’t bother arguing  and instead just agreed, because in the abuse-logic I knew that…” and I think that should be enough.

4 comments

  1. I’ve come out of a long term relationship, which was later a marriage, that was emotionally, psychologically, financially abusive. I’ve spent a lot of my energy since then feeling a strong, though probably irrational, sense that I need to explain why I would leave what otherwise looked like a stable marriage. At my lowest points, I’ve often doubted my own self and whether or not it was worth leaving, seemings how now I am stuck in court proceedings unable to afford a lawyer, while my ex and his wealthy family pay hefty firm-lawyer’s fees, and continues to be a thorn in my side.

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. That make-up section is bang on the money. This is such an insightful piece, in particular what you say about the memories refusing to fit. It’s such a vivid description. I totally get what you mean, that every time you think you understand what happened, something else floats up. It’s so tempting to try and make the pieces fit as though doing so would provide closure, but it’s so distant it may as well have happened to someone else.

    I’m definitely going to explore this blog for more well-written, thought provoking pieces :)

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