After reviewing the 7 types of abusive behavior checklist, Mariah identified the abuse she received as well as the abuse she gave. Her mother was verbally, mentally, and physically abusive with her as a child, something that Mariah pushed aside and did not confront until in therapy. But what really saddened her was becoming aware of how she was passing down some of the same abusive behavior onto her husband and children.
She told herself that because she didn’t hit her kids, she was not abusive, but she was in different ways. Her kids endured timeouts that were unusually long for their age. The standard is one minute for every year a child is alive. The last time she disciplined her 6 year old, the child was sent to a dark closet for 15 minutes.
She was also verbally abusive calling her husband names in front of the kids and referring to her kids as stupid. Mentally, she twisted the truth and was very manipulative with her husband adding some emotional abuse by guilt tripping him and the kids into doing things she wanted. In order to prevent her family from becoming aware of her lies, she would gaslight them and make them feel like they were going crazy.
As Mariah read through the checklist, she was overwhelmed by her behavior and vowed to be different. But There is an art to accepting responsibility in a way that demonstrates understanding for the mistake, sufficient remorse to not repeat it, and gives empathetic treatment for the victim. Saying, “I’m sorry,” would not be sufficient in this case. Mariah needed to do more.
- Acknowledge Internally. The first step Mariah took was to admit precisely what she did wrong internally. This was not about blaming her mother or her childhood. This is the most critical step because it is not about what others see rather it is a condition of the heart. Mariah needed to recognize that her abusive behavior was wrong and hurtful to others and then choose to amend it. Many people fake this first step in order to look good in front of others or blame others for their behavior but without acknowledging the pain that has been inflicted onto others, no real positive change can occur.
- Confess to Another. This step can be embarrassing and is often skipped for that reason. Mariah confessed her abusive behavior to her therapist first to gain more insight and an accurate perception before talking to her family. When a person has done wrong to a victim, confessing their behavior to another person allows there to be a level of accountability. Doing it before confronting the victim, allows the offender a greater understanding of the severity of the abusive behavior. The goal here is to not pass abuse from one generation to the next. Mariah worked through the abuse she received and gave therapeutically before confronting her family.
- Admit to Victim. Mariah began by talking to her husband first and then they decided how and when to talk to the kids. There are two good ways to confess abuse to a victim: writing a letter/email or verbally declaring it. Making general statements like, “I’m sorry for all the hurt I caused you,” however is not sufficient. This is a way to dodge responsibility because there is nothing specific to hold the person accountable. Rather the statement should be, “I’m sorry for verbally assaulting you by calling you a name.” By admitting her behavior to her kids, Mariah was also teaching her kids not to tolerate the same behavior in others.
- Declare Understanding. During the confession, it is important to state how the offense hurt the victim. Mariah used her understanding of the impact of her abuse in this moment. For instance, “You looked sad when I called you that name,” accepts responsibility for a hurtful emotional response. Refusing to state that a painful remark caused unnecessary sadness opens the door for the abuse to be blamed on someone or something else. This step demonstrates a level of empathy for the victim that is essential to repairing the relationship.
- Erect a Boundary. Mariah gave a lot of thought to what her boundaries look like going forward. “If I do this again, I understand that you will…” demonstrates a grasp of the potential future consequences for any further abuse. It is also a way of showing awareness for the severity of the offense. However, some people use this step as a way to control the outcome or the consequence if she was to be abusive again in the future. Taking the time to gather input from her husband and kids as to what the consequence should be gave them more control.
- Give Time. After any offense/confession, the victim needs adequate time to believe the change is real. Mariah lost the right to state how long that time frame needs to be, rather it was her husband and kids that now has that control. Real change, like new habits, takes time to absorb into a person. Usually, several incidents of anger, anxiety, depression or fear need to occur to see if the change is permanent. This process is not a straight line, rather is a crooked one that is headed in the right direction.
- Be Accountable. Mariah’s husband, kids, and her therapist all have the right to question her to see if she is following through appropriately. A willingness to be accountable to other people for actions and behavior demonstrates maturity and responsibility. A break in this step indicates a person who has not truly changed.
Note that in all of the steps, nothing is required of the victim, Mariah’s husband or kids. It is not the responsibility of the victim to do anything after having been offended. They can choose to forgive or not as they see fit. Instead, all of the steps focus on the actions/behavior/attitude of the offender.