On Emotional Responsibility & Abuse

by devas 3 min read24th Apr 20188 comments


Crossposted from my personal Tumblr. This is how one does cross posts, right?


This is going to be a pretty serious article.

I very recently listened to a long video on youtube, discussing a case of emotional abuse in close detail, through chat logs and publicly available info on the behaviour of each member of the couple.

I won’t link directly to the video-it’s tangentially about a fantastically controversial affair, and I’d prefer not to catch the attention of a segment of the internet which could and would gleefully ruin my life-but the observation raised during it feel to me very valid. If you hold a different opinion, please let me know, being exposed to different ways of interpreting the same facts is something I value very much.

Anyway, the video brought up several times the fact that in the relationship in question, between person A and person Z, where person Z is the abuser and person A is the victim, Z acted as if A’s action were responsible for Z’s feelings, state of mind and emotions.

Things like “I cheated on you because you made me feel unloved” “You’re devoting more resources to caring about your friend than me, which makes me feel shitty, so stop seeing them entirely”.

And in the moment, I was confused.

Why was the video saying that Z had responsibility over their emotions? One thing I’ve learned throughout my life, although I can’t point to when or where, is that people have no immediate control over their emotions, that they can’t help how they feel about a particular thing when it happens.

This is a very important concept; with it, people can still have their emotions validated, even if the immediate cause for it is trivial or subjective, and it blocks others from shaming them and using their vulnerability to hurt them (in theory).

Think of how a pregnant woman might have heavy mood swings, crying like a fountain because their taco doesn’t have onions, or a football fan might fly in a rage at seeing someone dispute a referee’s decision.

It’s also a concept very important in relationship; to give a hypothetical example, someone can say to their lover: “I’m sorry, I don’t love you. I’m breaking up with you” “But I bought you flowers, gave you chocolates, complimented you, spent all my free time with you...you can’t not love me!” “The things that you did do not make me love you” and the conversation can end there.

(This is a concept that a depressing number of people don’t grasp. And yet, on the side of the unloved person, this feels horribly unfair and unjust).

At least, that’s the theory. The practice is different, of course...but from what I’ve seen and done personally, in a healthy relationship your partner is not going to hold your emotions against you.

And yet, the behaviour outlined in the video felt to me obviously abusive.

How can I square these two things?

After pondering this for a while, I came to a conclusion.

What the video was probably talking about, and not communicating clearly, is that someone feeling an emotion is responsible for any and all actions taken because of that emotion, but that the causa of the emotion itself is not under anyone’s responsibility.

What an abuser does is present their action as being the same thing as themselves feeling the emotion-so for example “I’m angry, so of course I smashed the vase you gave to me as a gift! You shouldn’t have criticized my driving!” or, more insidiously “You know that whenever we go out it makes me happy, so why aren’t you taking me out anymore?”

This way, if the victim protests, the abuser can (of course) get angry and defensive about what they see in their eyes as something they can’t help doing, shifting blame on the victim’s shoulder and making out the victim as the bad guy, the one who is morally in the wrong and deserves any and all punishments.

Incidentally, this is why some shades of selfishness can be a virtue, not that common culture is ever going to say it outright.

The video itself did have a strong emphasis on blame shifting, guilt tripping and gaslighting-all things that for people who don’t expect them can be hard to detect.

Perhaps a way to prevent this is to keep in mind one’s own boundaries within a relationship-to keep a separate identity from one’s partner, and not act as if a strong bond between people means that they are one and the same in some respects.

This because an abusive person, not having the self control (or using motivated thinking to falsely believe on purpose that they don’t) to stop themselves from committing certain acts in response to feeling certain emotions, safeguard their ego from depletion by putting the onus of self control on the people around, so that they themselves don’t have to go through the tiring, pain in the ass process that is monitoring themselves.

Aside from that though, this raises a very interesting question!

Those who know me know that I care a lot about self control, and self discipline; I do not know how much I possess myself, but it is an argument I am heavily invested in, and of which I have read a lot (like, a lot. And a lot of that is dross, but that’s a different topic :-P ).

But what about people who don’t know or don’t care about self control? Do they have to go through life from one bad relationship to the next, hurting people by accident?

Or perhaps, are people with low self control implicitly obligated to change their immediate reactions to some emotions from hurtful ones to positive ones?

In all cases though, my conclusions from these considerations is that if a person who insists that actions on your part lead to actions on their part automatically, as if one triggers a law of physics, that’s a gigantic red flag*, and one should be very cautious in dealing with them.

*you added too much Chloride of Nagging to the solution, which turned it supercritical and had as reaction crystallized Slap-In-The-Face Chlorate Salt!