Abuse or a Learning Experience: You Pick

Saturday, Sep. 17th 2011 10:57 PM

Just because I like to talk doesn’t mean I don’t like to listen. I see and appreciate the feedback that “Frank Love” readers provide each week. And there are often comments that inspire me to continue the conversation. In response to a recent blog about verbal abuse, Jim Accetta, an accomplished coach and speaker, seemed to suggest that there was more to this topic than I covered. He referenced his article, “What is Emotional Abuse?“, in which he quotes Beverly Engle, author of The Emotionally Abusive Relationship:

Emotional abuse can be defined as any nonphysical behavior that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish or isolate another person through the use of degradation, humiliation or fear.

He goes on to list ways people “abuse” one another, often unintentionally. This list includes withholding, judging, threatening and trivializing – ways that many people, in varying degrees, attempt to control interactions with their partners. I find the document thoughtful and agree that each of his examples can be categorized as bad or improper treatment, the literal definition of the word. But “bad” or “improper” are so subjective that to call the way one person interacts with another “abuse” – a term that conveys a special ugliness and helplessness – gives anyone who wants to be a victim free license to consider him or herself one.

On the other hand, those who refuse to be victims, who want and demand power over their own lives, can choose to learn and grow from their experiences, rather than telling themselves and other that they are being “abused.” This is why I maintain the position that I took in my verbal abuse blog and in an earlier one on physical abuse: If you can learn or grow from an experience, it isn’t abusive. It is a learning experience. And there is no such thing as “verbal abuse” when you decide to live a life rooted in your strength.

I recently heard Jay-Z discussing the neighborhood in which he grew up. He explained:

Sometimes on Sunday at eleven o’clock, there would be young guys running through the projects with Uzi machine guns and shooting. And you would have to run into your building. In 15 minutes, when they’re gone, you come back outside and finish playing.

It built my character. It built my resolve. It built my strength. It developed certain paranoia. It taught you these values. And taught you integrity. And taught you honesty. It taught you toughness as well. Because you needed that to survive. It was a brilliant upbringing.

Talk about an opportunity to characterize yourself as a victim – of a “bad” environment, an “improper” upbringing or an “abusive” neighborhood. Some children in this situation might even make a case that their parents were abusive for raising them in such a community. Instead, Jay-Z takes a position of power by seeing this experience in a very positive light. He learned and grew from what he lived through. And he used those lessons to propel him to where he is today. Whether we’re talking about abusive relationships or any other unpleasant experience, what (and who) we overcome often makes us who we are. Those struggles can provide us with skills, strategies and insights that lead to success – if we avoid taking the easy way out and crying “victim.”

It boils down to a choice that each individual must make for him or herself: Do you want to be a victim (and believe me, some people enjoy that role)? While the behaviors Accetta describes may be bad and/or improper ways to treat a partner, I would have to perceive myself as weak, incompetent and/or incapable in order to say that that my partner calling me too sensitive (No. 3), forgetting a commitment she made to me (No. 12), or any other manipulative action was “abusive.”

In contrast, you can choose to be a Powerful Person – and know that unless your partner is holding you physically captive, you can change your behavior and influence change in your mate’s. Or you can walk away. You choose your reaction. If you are interested in delving into your power, know that the term “abuse” has none.

Please understand that I do not write this without compassion for people who are hurting. I understand that some may embrace the term “abuse” as a step towards healing, recovery and strength. If your journey leads you down that road, it is the place for you at that given time. I understand. I hope that you do not stay in that place. Because if you wish to feel and believe that you are the most powerful person in your life, you must stop worrying about someone else’s “abusive” behavior and focus instead on empowering yourself. This is my wish for you.

I am listening … again. Please share your thoughts on this issue.

Keep Rising,


Frank Love


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Leave a Comment: Let Us Know Your Thoughts

How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

39 Comments on “Abuse or a Learning Experience: You Pick”

  1. Curtis Williams Says:

    We can all learn from difficult and painful experiences. However, if they are intentional, and the victim did not want to participate then it is abuse. To say otherwise is simply ignorance of the human experience.

  2. Razi Ghaemmagham Farahani Says:

    wove, it seems to me you want legalize abuse?! defining abuse and experience as equal to each other is none sense. Abuse is imposed aggression, violation, degrading and list goes on and on the other hand experience is a none directive, none imposed. however experienced abuse is called trauma.

  3. Pam Sirota Says:

    Depends on what the abuse is. If someone makes the choice to hit their partner, it is abuse and then from that you can learn the lesson that “one time is enough”

  4. Codruta Ilie Says:

    There is TV series character built on the “learning experience” side of a childhood abuse – Ria Torres in “Lie to Me”

  5. Garlette Lewis-Seifer Says:

    If the focal point here is abuse and not the experience, then abuse is abuse regardless of how it is dressed. There are always lessons learned from every experience one encounters; and abuse is still abuse and should never be excused or explained away as anything but abuse.

  6. Prof.Raymond Feldman Says:

    Frank, Great sense of humor, but I have seen so many people would take offense at the statement…..If you can learn and grow from experience it is not abuse….its a learning opportunity…

    I have seen people of all ages up to their 20s from very early childhood who would wonder what planet the idiot who seriously thinks this statement is clever came from??
    This does not refer to you, but how many lives have been smashed to minute particle, never recovered, and hate their abusers.
    Abuse as a learning experience? No matter the abuse, it does more serious damage from my experience that anything else that can happen to human beings in their infancy.
    This statement is based on cases I have experienced where even after therapy the abused person has taken their life or abused another/others and hated themselves for their actions.

    I know its only a discussion, and others have their opinions, but mine are 100% factual….Raymond
    Posted by

  7. Andrea Says:

    Great Article…I have been verbally abused and from article I just realized that I must start working on me. Just because someone tries to make me feel bad about myself does not mean that I have to choose to feel bad, instead I can use it as a stepping stone and keep rising. I have been the victim for too long and just got used to getting “positive” pitty from others. I seemed like the only way to feel better. Now I know why I loose relationships. It is because it is very hard to be someone who is annoying’s friend. I got a lot of work to do. Thanks for the great article.

  8. Cynthia Castle RN Says:

    I have witnessed and tried to stop my mother from being abused by several husbands. I was a recent victim of violenc by a protective authority. I am learning the most from being a victim who now speaks up to injustice. I aspire to bring light and resolution to any injustice in my path.

  9. Jessica Townshend Says:

    I think we all hope our clients can learn from their experiences. However, in my opinion that doesn’t negate the abuse label. Abuse is abuse regardless of what the abused person is able to do with the experience(s).

  10. George Anderson, MSW, BCD, CEAP Says:

    There should be any attempt to justify any type of abuse of another human being.

  11. Rachael Says:

    Whichever way you skin it, whatever learning comes from it, abuse is still abuse.

    Being able to grow and develop from the experience does not lessen the wrongdoing. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that if you learn from something, then it has not occured.

    I do agree with you Frank that if we can return to our own power and refuse to allow another to dismantle us through their actions then we take ourselves to an even greater standing but in the same token, it is important to allow those abused to acknowledge their experience as a victim (at the time) before they are able to move through it and grow, rather than try to convince them they weren’t and ignore their pain, anger, sadness and injustice.

  12. michael hecht, mft Says:

    Adults have hopefully already had the “learning experience” of not harming their peers in the sandbox. The only learning experience is that of empathy with the victim, “feeling their pain” and deciding not to do it again. I hope that the learning experience for the victim is to “get out of there” at least until she/he can be sure through the partner’s efforts to change that it is unlikely to be repeated. regards,

  13. George Anderson, MSW, BCD, CEAP Says:

    It is hard to imagine anyone sanctioning violence.

  14. Dawn Davidson Says:

    I disagree, Frank, with your subhead above. Abuse is still abuse, whether or not it’s possible to learn and grow from the opportunity. Yes, learning to take one’s own power, and to no longer be a victim are important steps in getting out of the cycle of abuse. But simply being able to “learn and grow from an experience” does NOT render that experience non-abusive. As an example, a child sexually abused by someone in a position of authority (e.g., parent, teacher, older sibling, neighbor, priest…) is still experiencing abuse in the moment, whether or not they can learn and grow from the experience in the future.

    Yes, we can–when we’re mature enough, which some people never live to be–learn how to choose not to be a victim. We can learn to respond to abuse from a position of maintaining our own integrity and power. To say, however, that the determination of whether an experience abuse is entirely up to how the recipient of that “experience” (aka, the victim of the abuse) frames it, however, is glib at best, and dangerous at worst. It allows the perpetrators of atrocities the latitude to pretend they’ve done nothing wrong, or perhaps even to think they’re doing their victims a “favor” by “teaching them a lesson.”

    Support the recipients of abuse to take their power, and leave abusive situations, and no longer be victims, yes. But don’t engage in victim-blaming, and don’t let perpetrators justify their actions. Abuse is still abuse, and it serves us to remember that.

  15. Deb Felio, M.A., L.P.C Says:

    And pedophilia? Not abuse because a child can learn from it? “learn’ that they are the reason they get hurt, that adults who are supposed to care for you are not to be trusted? I agree there are behaviors that are rude or disrespectful without being abusive, but abuse absolutely exists. If one learns from it – #1 that it is abuse!!! – it does not negate that it was abuse. It has taken way too long for domestic abuse to be regarded as something besides ‘ a personal or family thing’ to begin redefining to minimize assault against another. Rape victims for years were supposed to learn where not to go, what not to where and take the blame for another’s out of control abuse.
    What would you say about racial discrimination? If one has learned from it, was it not discrimination? KKK and Holocaust? Not abusive but learning experiences? Take that line of thinking far enough and there is no need to ever change any laws, offer any forms of protection and just label people as stupid rather than victim because they didn’t learn anything.

  16. Sheila Sessions Says:

    Outstanding! Thank you, Frank.

    I am Sheila, new to your group and I am happy to be here.

    All Good Things!

  17. Joy St. John Says:

    EXCUUUUUSE ME? In 12 step groups, people learn to be grateful to God for being addicts. They also learn to “Not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I have heard it said in meetings: “Hi, I am _________, a gratefully recovering abuse survivor.” Having survived abuse does NOT make it not abuse. Learning from our suffering does not make it not suffering. Jesus died and just because He was God and rose again doesn’t mean He didn’t really die! We live in this world but do not have to be of it…that does not mean we will escape the world’s sufferings.

    I am who I am today because of all the things that have transpired in my life and how God has used them to shape me. He even tells us that some discipline “seems grievous for a time but will reap….(can’t remember exact quote but it means) great rewards” I am even grateful for some of the ABUSE I have suffered because It forced me to my knees to seek escape. Some of our brethren around the world are being tortured and persecuted for Christ…because the praise Him in spite of it does not mean it is not torture or persecution.

    Twisting the meanings of words is a common technique of con artists, the devil, manipulators, abusers, liars and cults!

  18. Hilding Ohrstrom, LCPC, CCS Says:

    Frank, I think you go too far down this road. I read your blog on this and recognize the attempt to encourage empowerment, but to make a general statement that it isn’t abusive if you can learn and grow from it is probably not real helpful for most people.

  19. Tina Greenbaum Says:

    I don’t believe that if you learn from abuse – it’s not abuse. I actually think that’s absurd. Whether it’s verbal or physical abuse – it hurts and leaves scars. The process of personal growth is to continually clear the imprints of those scars. Some are easier to heal from than others. We can just get better and better at recognizing that the “trigger” or reaction is coming from our history and learn to respond to abusive people in an adult manner…which puts us at choice. Abused children are truly victims and no one should have to suffer those consequences.

  20. Sileah Says:

    Love is love and Abuse is Abuse, I personally have shook the abuse that I have endured and leveled it as experience. It’s to bad that I had to experience the hidden factors of the Abuse male a few times in my life before I decided to educate myself concerning this diseased condition which is not only limited to the male, however is more likely. I know the difference between love and Abuse because I have experienced both, I just couldn’t believe that a person could literally be that way and am glad that I truly know what love is.

  21. The Silverback Says:

    I must emphasize again to all that read this, “stuff”..this is entertainment NOT to be taken seriously. The 2 subjects in the title don’t even belong in the same sentence. My full retort will come later.

  22. HeatherStar Says:

    WOW, Frank!! This is so utterly damaging!! “If you can learn or grow from an experience, it isn’t abusive. It is a learning experience. And there is no such thing as “verbal abuse” when you decide to live a life rooted in your strength.”

    We learn from all experiences, like so many have already stated just because there’s learning, does not change that the learning came from ABUSE. So, you go to college and “learn” should you not get a degree in the end…after all if you learn, it takes away the “real” experience…. Right? Doesn’t that sound so absurd? Exactly! Saying that abuse doesn’t exist is absurd to the highest level.

    And what makes this so damaging is because if the abused chalks it at a “learning experience” how can the abuser “learn”? If this is true, they didn’t do anything but help and they can continue to hurt themselves and others. Hurt people hurt and the cycle continues until we recognize and call it exactly what it is to have all parties involved in the experience learn and grow!!

    Satan comes to steal , kill and destroy and he hides behind these kinds of statements and if we don’t expose him, he will succeed in his plan. Verbal Abuse EXSIST!!

    Lord, I come to you today, praying that we call evil what it is, no matter how it’s disguised and know that even in suffering, abuse, crucifixion, etc. we seek you first and all that we need will be added unto us. Thank you for your grace and mercy, in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

  23. Dan Says:

    Frank is talking about the experience of the client. If the client (Jay-Z) tells the therapist that he has grown and become a stronger person because of his experience growing up in a neighborhood wrought with Community Violence, for example, is the therapist supposed to tell the client “No, you were abused.” That is where the therapist can misuse his power and inhibit the client’s growth. Abuse is horrendous, but if the client can grow despite it or in part because of it, and can transform it into a positive experience that is good. Frank is not proposing to legalize abuse.

  24. Ivan Says:

    Razi, thanks for sharing your definition of abuse, experience, and trauma.

    Personally, it appears to me that everything is an experience, including abuse, regardless of passivity or activity.

    It’s commendable that someone can acknowledge their own strength, resources, and resilience in surviving and even thriving after transforming or overcoming a negative experience.

    However, I come from a post-modern, strength-based, solution-focused, client-directed, and outcome-informed perspective.

    Your orientation as a Gestalt therapist makes you see and attend to the problem differently than me.

    I think we can all agree that abuse is wrong and terrible, and that any reasonable therapist worth their license is not trying to legalize abuse (admittedly, this seems like quite a leap!). Do you really believe someone would wish to legalize abuse? That’s a conclusion that never crossed my mind!

  25. Ivan Says:

    Also, I think Frank’s reframe is very strong and provocative. It reminds me of language used with people who experience sexual assault: survivor or victim.

    In practice, a therapist would ask a client which term the client preferred, so as not to further impose, oppress, or invalidate someone’s experience or perception of themselves. Either term can be disrespectful, and it’s the client’s job to figure out how they wish to integrate the experience, and it is hoped they hire–and fire–whomever does not work with them in the way that they wish. At last that’s my perspective.

  26. The Silverback Says:

    Wow…complete concurrence! Heather’s right. Prayer is always needed. Especially when it appears that one has confused order with confusion. Order must rise above confusion and to compare the 2 topics breeds confusion. Let us continue to deal with the facts, shall we? I see at least one person on this string that ‘drank your koolade’ and I am concerned. Please be sure that you consider that some on here may be taking you seriously Frank, so you have to be very careful about the product you present. I notice that you say you are listening (reading) our responses. It begs the most important question and challenge to you: Are you learning from them?……

  27. Razi Says:

    Ivan, legalization starts with spreading new perception about abuse, with word, with joke, with people in authoritative figure such as counselors. when a counselor perceive abuse as a another kind ordinary experience of daily life and wanting project it to the society then it is attempting to legalize abuse

  28. Dan Says:

    Oh Razi… I hope you find your way.

  29. HeatherStar Says:

    The statement Verbal Abuse does not exist is actually verbal abuse!! After reading the first posting and all of the responses and then for Frank to come back with this, provided me the information to understand that Frank does not stand for the values that I do, and that’s his choice and free to it. Isn’t that what we should do Frank? And my choice is not to entertain, support or contribute to experiences that hurt and hinder me and others.

    So, I take this opportunity to learn from this experience and remove myself from it. Frank, please remove me from your email list. This is too serious to take lightly and I don’t wish to continue to take part in and/or support experiences and opinions that make light of something so utterly damaging.

  30. Charlton Says:

    Rasi…I think what Frank is trying to say is that the idea is to move from a ‘victim’ mentality to a ‘victor’ mentality.

    “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” – Richard Bach

    Note that this doesn’t mean that the abuse is the victim’s fault. What it means is that the ‘victim’ mentality can freeze someone’s progress so that they become reactive rather than proactive. For example, I was abused as a child myself. I could have used that as an opportunity to become paranoid and un-trusting, but instead I used it to help me to be able to identify with other victims of abuse and to help them to move towards healing.

  31. Dan Says:

    Yes! Perfect example Charlton!

  32. Massander Says:

    I agree with Frank, Charlton, and Dan on this. Frank Love was NOT suggesting that we SHOULD “abuse” one-another. He was suggesting that the only position of power in relation to “abuse” is one that allows you to shift from victim to victor. My personal belief is that none of us is owed anything in life. We are not even owed a life free of violence or assault. However, we can experience violence or assault and still go on to live powerful lives. Some people are threatened by the idea of someone dismantling victimhood as a primary lens through which to see the world. I am inspired by it. Like Frank, I recognize that people aren’t always ready for this kind of shift right away; however, I have found it to be a liberating shift once it actually happens.

    I suspect that most of the people commenting here have not actually read the entirety of the post written by Frank Love. I recommend that you take the time to actually read it.

  33. HeatherStar Says:

    Frank, Charlton, Dan and Massander we all agree that a victim of abuse of any kind should be empowered to move from victim to victor. That’s not the issue here, the issue is with the statement that “verbal abuse does not exist”. How can you move from victim to victor of verbal abuse if verbal abuse doesn’t exist? You have to be victimized to learn and use the knowledge to become a victor…..right? I have read the postings in their entirety and have read all of the responses as well and the statement that “verbal abuse does not exist” makes all the rest of the article regarding being empowered irrelevant, it’s a total oxymoron like Silverback stated in his first response. Mixing the empowered piece with the statement “verbal abusr does not exist” only perpetuates confusion and some that read this may receive mixed messages and that is very damaging.

  34. Sheree Says:

    As usual its all in how we look at things! You can look for the negative and be a victim or look for the positive learn the lesson and be a winner! Happiness really is a choice!

  35. Amber Says:

    I agree with Garlette that abuse is abuse. However, one would hope that the abuse would be an educational experience and the person (both abuser and victim) would seek help. In the real world though, very often the lesson learned is not to seek help, but to continue the victimization and hide the crime.

  36. Dassana Says:

    Well I guess that is one way of looking at it. Personally my decision to grow and learn from an abusive experience does NOT let the abuser off the hook, nor change the action of abuse to educational life lesson. To me that perspective only adds to the abuse, detracts from the abused person’s inner strength and does not help an abuser to take responsibility for their actions. Weird and dangerous philosophy Frank.

  37. SAMUEL Nii Says:

    Yes this is a weird way of learning. Frank you agree that some learning experiences could be traumatic and unpleasant and there is the desire not to remember it. Why? Because they bring unpleasant memories to mind. One may desire therefore to behave in a manner to possibly prevent the abusive behaviour. No matter how you look at it, it is still abuse not different from physical abuse. Not recognising the abusive relationship is just like not recognising the danger it poses. Like I said earlier, it s just like burying the head in the sand in the presence of danger – ostrich-like behaviour.

  38. Lois Says:

    Everyone has the right to say what they feel, even if it is grounded in racism, ignorance and stupidity. Comparing someone to Hitler is ludicrous. He stands alone as one of the most evil people ever to walk this earth. Just because your father was a great country music star, and you are a cut-rate one, also doesn’t mean you’re particularly bright when it comes to delivering your opinion, although you are entitled to it.
    One should always know the ramifications of speaking one’s mind. Perhaps if he wrote a song about it, using metaphor and perhaps a wistful story he would have gained true attention to his views. I’m just happy I don’t have to look at him anymore. Let Faith Hill do those intros too.

  39. DANIEL S. Says:

    Hi Lios,

    Sounds more like a personal, emotional dislike for the man as an artist more than anything.

    “One of the most evil people ever to walk this earth”; Hitler or Mr. Williams?

    Although I wish he had used another method to get across his point, can you tell me the difference in ideology between hilter and obama with respect to the socialist state they both believe as being the best form of government?

    Just like to hear different points of view based on facts.

    Have a good evening,

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