Blame doesn't help anyone. Reasons do. It seems like a fine line between blame and reason. The difference is that reasons explain and blame moves responsibility.
This topic came up in conversation yesterday. A coworker and I chatted about domestic abuse. His mother and he experienced aggression from his father. I asserted a connection between slavery and people in an abuse cycle, and he insisted in a difference because slaves did not have equivalent opportunities to leave their situations. Our conversation ended due to other obligations, and we agreed to discuss the topic at a later time.
I can understand how it's challenging for people to observe others in pain. In an attempt to make sense of the situation and feel comfortable, the observer may assess blame for one of the players. This is natural, albeit not helpful. Our minds want to comprehend, and the only way it seems to make sense sometimes is if someone is at fault. Why doesn't s/he just pack up and leave? In my experience, by the time the person experiencing abuse is aware of it as abuse, s/he is already void of esteem. The lack of confidence can make it near impossible to perceive choices. This emptiness appears to fill when the aggressor and victim enter the honeymoon stage of the abuse cycle. It is a false fill, and the cycle continues until one or both partners (typically the submissive role) seeks assistance. It can take many attempts to leave before the person secures independence. This experience can differ for each person.
A cycle of abuse occurred in my early life. My parents had minimal to no empathy skills. Words were often used as weapons, and emotions were frequently ignored or criticized. I distinctly remember one Christmas overseas. It was my mom's turn to open a gift. She appeared happy before she opened it, a smile on her face. Then the paper came off the package and her face fell into hurt... it was a suitcase. My dad was telling her, through this gift, to get out of his life. I sensed a chill in the air after my mom revealed it. I didn't understand what was happening, and I tried to console her with comments about how nice the suitcase looked. My older siblings sat with horrified looks on their faces as my dad smirked. His actions were incredibly cruel (toward my mom) and callous (toward his children -- it was a special day, and he planned his gift, wrapped it, and then delivered it in front of us. Thanks for the memory, Dad!)
That was one of many instances of cruel behavior in my childhood. My parents exchanged hate like it was some kind of cookie party. Why didn't either one leave the marriage? My dad did, eventually, and I barely saw him after he exited. He called, visited me once or twice a year for an hour or so, and provided money. In spite of years of telling me how much he wanted freedom, he married a woman half his age just two weeks after the divorce finalized and quickly started a new family. I was 13.
So, do I blame him or her? No. I see reasons why both of them participated in the cycle of abuse. Each one has reasons why s/he developed into a person who tolerated and perpetuated abusive practices. My mom went through war time in China, and she believed a woman stayed in a marriage no matter what happened. In my mom's view, any time a marriage failed, it was the woman's fault. Her ideas were very old-school China. In my dad's view, marriage didn't need to be forever. His mom experienced a nervous breakdown when he was about 10 years old. From that point forward, he was mostly responsible for raising himself, and he developed a tenuous version of empathy.
One time about a year after the divorce, I visited him in Singapore. I stood by his side on a balcony overlooking the island. I was so relieved to see him. I'd missed him so much, and I thought he missed me. He then proceeded to tell me that the past year had been the happiest time of his life. He didn't express that he'd missed me, that I was important to him. Teenager me felt completely irrelevant to him. My self-esteem, already fragile, plummeted.
I later spent many years in therapy -- first, talk therapy. Then, art therapy. Gradually, I learned to accept my childhood and family circumstances. I grieved, heavily, for child me and the pressure put on her. It was incredibly challenging to navigate life without a clear sense of myself. No wonder I kept finding myself in stressful situations -- I didn't know what real confidence and security felt like! Neither one of my parents had a connection with true confidence, so they couldn't pass that along to me. They experienced hardships in their lives and did the best they could with what they had, emotionally and otherwise. Their insecurity and lack of empathy skills, while not their fault, left me with a lot of work to do as I navigated school, relationships, and my own emotions.
One of the key factors in my confidence development has been to decline blame. When I don't blame, I don't look for ways out of responsibility or experiencing my emotion(s). As I allow myself to feel my emotions and know myself -- prickly, uncomfortable times as well as luscious, joyous feelings and those in-between -- I feel connected and purposeful. I accept responsibility when I need to, and I don't accept responsibility that isn't mine. If I make a mistake, I learn from it and continue on my way. Freedom and independence is fabulous.
Well hello there.