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How Does Abuse Happen?

As I write this, our country is rightly embarrassed and understandably shocked
after learning about prisoner abuse and other atrocities
committed by us, and against us, during war.

As a therapist, I know that abuse doesn't occur only in war.
I hear nearly every day about abuse committed by parents, partners, clergy and others.

How can such horrors happen?
What can we do to stop it?

HUMAN NATURE

We all have a natural ability to momentarily enjoy hurting others.
Such sadistic behavior shows itself strongly in pre-adolescent children.
At these ages, boys feel glee at physically mistreating playmates and animals,
and girls derive pleasure from gossiping about and demeaning their peers.

After proper, non-violent handling of this misbehavior by the adults,
most of us stop doing such things.
But the ability to feel very short-lived glee while hurting others is still in our genes.

Adults who were brutally disciplined as children
or who live in violent or deprived situations into their adult years
can maintain and even strengthen these impulses.
These are the people who may choose to abuse.

DESPERATION

Both the abuser and the abused need to believe they have no other worthwhile choices.
Whether they are children,
insecure spouses,
faithful followers of some "all powerful" religious system,
or soldiers who believe they must please their powerful superiors to survive,
the abuser and the abused see themselves as desperate.
Only desperate people live with abuse.

FAITH WITHOUT DOUBT

Young children have no choice but to believe in their parents' power.
Spouses may believe too strongly in their partner, or in the power of love.
Those abused by clergy can believe too much in their leaders, or in what the leaders are preaching.
Soldiers can believe too much that their country is right no matter what it does.

Faith without doubt is a necessary component of all abuse.
It doesn't cause abuse, but it provides fertile ground for abuse to flourish.

ABSOLUTE POWER

"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

'Nuff said!

WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP IT?

ABOUT HUMAN NATURE:
We can't change human nature but we'd better be alert to it.
If we treat others as if they shouldn't have power
they will want to use their power on us.

ABOUT DESPERATION:
Everyone must have healthy options.
The only legitimate use of economic, social, political, religious, and military power
is to provide what humans need.
Eliminate desperation to eliminate horror.

ABOUT BELIEF WITHOUT DOUBT:
When your government, partner, religious leader, or military superior
insists that you believe something without doubt,
you are in danger!
Protect yourself by maintaining your right to doubt,
even if you choose to believe.
And teach everyone you know to do the same.
People who insist that you believe them without doubt
may be good, misguided people who love you,
but they are wrong.
Maintain your right to doubt.
Never give up your right to think.

ABOUT ABSOLUTE POWER:
Insist that all power must be shared.
Cooperate wisely.
Share your power but do not relinquish it.

ELIMINATING ABUSE

Most parents, spouses, clergy, and soldiers do not abuse.
Most adults do not abuse.

Those who do abuse need their victims to "cooperate" by:
believing they are desperate,
giving up their right to think,
and deciding they are powerless.

Never give abusers the tools they need to hurt you.

Keep your power.


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Tony Schirtzinger, Therapist (Milwaukee) 

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