Have you ever been physically abused by a romantic partner? How did it make you feel – angry, helpless, bitter, betrayed? And more importantly, did you retain the same relationship with that person after he or she revealed that violent tendency?
I recently spent time with the brilliant Byron Katie, author of the exceptional classic book, Loving What Is. As she discussed “The Work” – her trademark system that helps individuals come to peace with all of the truths about themselves so they can be free to find happiness – one participant stood up and asked how to come to peace with physical abuse. Katie masterfully described a fenced yard, with a dog and a sign that says: “This Dog Bites.” She explained that if you do not want to get bitten, you simply walk away from the yard. However, if you enter the yard and get bitten, “the dog did not bite you; you bit yourself.”
I wanted to stand up and applaud. Admittedly, I have covered this topic in the past (see “An Important Distinction in Many Successful Relationships“), but Katie’s answer was so inspirational that I feel this issue is worth revisiting.
Another way of capturing her sentiment is to say that people rarely exhibit a particular behavior just once. Serious physical confrontations are usually preceded by less serious ones, and even by conflicts that are not physical but still speak volumes. These initial encounters are the signs warning that this dog will probably bite. If that’s not enough evidence, the first time the dog does actually bite you, it becomes clear that he or she will be apt to do so again.
Yet, often those of us that cry “abuse” have ignored the warning signs, disregarded past behavior and re-entered yards with violent dogs. Then we are upset to be bitten (again). I am not suggesting that anyone deserves to be hit by a partner, though some people might convince themselves that this is true of them. People who rely on this type of “physical communication” simply require a target. There is no reason to take it personally or to feel as though it is your fault. It is simply the way these people interact with others. But unless you are literally held captive, continued “abuse” does become your responsibility. The physical and emotional pain become self-inflicted wounds, because once you know the dog bites, you have the choice to adjust your proximity to it accordingly.
So, as you weigh your candidates for partnership, consider this: If there is a sign (or signs) that tell you this dog bites or this partner hits, stay out of the yard. And if you insist on blaming someone for what Katie characterizes as your abuse of you, blame yourself. It sounds harsh, I know, but coming to that realization now could save you a world of hurt (and possibly an even worse fate) down the road. And understanding this concept of self-abuse will take you one step closer to being a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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