I’m not black, and I’ve never been persecuted for my skin color. But. I know what it’s like to endure years of unrelenting abuse at the hands of power.

If you’ve never experienced it, if your mind can’t grasp the scale, then maybe this personal story will help you understand.

My mother beat the shit out of me from 3 to 13. CRUNCH! There’s no suitable onomatopoeia for the sound of an adult’s hand belting a child across the face. There’s no word that describes what it’s like to feel your cartilage ring. She’d backhand me across the face for nothing, out of nowhere. She’d beat me with whatever was handy — spoon, belt, hand — and she’d always scream at me that it was my fault. I made her do it. There was always a reason, always a transgression. “You’re only hurting yourself!” CRACK!

By the time I was four years old, I had a strategy: If I feigned sleep when she carried me to the car each morning, I might be safe… for a little while. If I was asleep, I couldn’t offend her somehow, and maybe she wouldn’t hit me… that morning.

She broke my nose when I was so small that nobody noticed, and it was never treated.

She finally stopped, though. She stopped the day I got old enough, and big enough, and desperate enough to strike back. I threw a basketball at her. I knocked her down.

And she called the cops… on me.

Yes, that’s right, she never called the cops on herself — her large, adult, child-beating self. She called the cops on her tween daughter who dared strike back, with a tiny fraction of firepower.

Does this sound familiar at all?

I lived my early years in constant terror, rage, and despair because the person who was in charge of my very life was the person who was bound to destroy me.

Imagine what that was like. Imagine if that were you. Imagine if you lived under the control of a “person” who beat the shit out of you, who had ingrained the fear and control so deep into you that you were formulating avoidance strategies at just four years old.

Now imagine if it wasn’t just one abusive shithead, but a thousand of them, roaming your neighborhood.

And imagine if you weren’t safe from them at school. Imagine if they could do it to you in school, and no one would stop them…

And imagine that they didn’t just beat you… everyone you knew and loved was at risk. Grandmas. Little kids. Pregnant women. Stupid kids doing stupid shit. All in constant fear.

And some of them got hauled away, never to return.

And some of them got beaten to death.

And some of their spines “mysteriously” broke during a ride in a police car.

Growing up with a flinch the size of a city.

Feigning sleep to avoid a punch to the face… for a few hours, maybe.

No, I don’t “condone” burning buildings, but I can tell you that more buildings have burned or collapsed in my city, Philadelphia, in the last year due to criminal negligence perpetuated by city government than have been burned by protestors in Baltimore. I don’t “condone” looting, or throwing shit at cops. I also don’t “condone” schools without books, or criminalizing school-kid infractions. I don’t “condone” violence.

But I understand it totally.

Sometimes it’s all you can do, because everything else has failed. Pleading for an abuser to stop never works. I know, because I begged for years: Mommy, please….

Abusers abuse because they want to abuse. They can stop at any time, but they don’t. They must be made to stop. Force is the only language they understand.

I am not proud of kicking my mother in the shins, or knocking her over, or locking her out of the house, or stealing her money, or all the things I screamed at her, or any of the things I did in response to the things she did to me.

I was a bad person. Truly.

But… she made me that way. I learned at her knee. Over her knee. At the end of a belt, or a wooden spoon. At the back of her hand in the car, at the grocery store.

It was still wrong for me to kick her. And yet… when I kicked and screamed, the beatings stopped.

Do you blame me?

She made me that way, and it’s taken most of my lifetime to break free of that early education. To be my own person, instead of a throbbing bundle of nerve endings.

But she was just one woman.

I fled her house at 15 because I knew, honestly, if I stayed, one of us was going to end up dead… and it wasn’t going to be me. I was filled with rage; no, there was nothing else left inside me at all. I was rage.

Luckily, she was one woman; I didn’t have to go far.

And I had books, a computer, the internet, a library… I had friends whose parents didn’t beat them up, I even had adult friends, who had jobs, careers, happy lives. I could see the outside world was not like the world I had to live in. That it wasn’t normal.

I had that.

What if I had nothing?

What if endless terror and violence was all I ever knew?

All that everyone I knew ever knew?

What if it wasn’t one psychopath, but an entire system?

An entire government?

And nobody cared?

What then?

Imagine that.

Now read the people who write about it, because it’s reality.

Start here, with this. This.. Now this Nonviolence as Compliance. Notice the patterns?

I have; they scream at me. The staged confrontations, the manipulation of events, the denial. Right down to calling in the National Guard… not to investigate the culture of wrongdoing, not to stop the abuse of its citizenry, not to root out the evil and destroy it… but to quell the people who finally couldn’t take it any more. It’s all too fucking familiar. A million times bigger, and a million times worse.

Yes, violence is wrong, no doubt about it. But is it unjustified?

If you’re still not sure, keep reading. This. This. This. Read their whole streams, really. And this: unarmed man charged with assault for bystanders hit with bullets fired by police. Yes, this is real life.


Narcissists: Sexists, Racists, Child Abusers, Saboteurs, Internet Trolls

This looks like a long and depressing personal story, but it’s a personal story in service of a point. If you find yourself manipulated, hated on, devalued, trolled, or abused — or caught up in arguments with angry, hateful people (including yourself) — whether in person or online, I’m telling my story so you can see what’s really going on. Keep reading. I wrote this for you. And I’m telling it as a story because simply saying the words won’t make it hit home.

“Some people are nice to everyone except their own flesh and blood,” my mother would sometimes warn. Yes, the same mother beat me regularly.

The last time I spoke to her, she was holding my car ransom. I needed to sell it to move abroad; I needed her signature; and when I called her, the first words out of her mouth were, “Well, maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” Said with the vilest sneer you can imagine, that still rings in my ears 7 years later.

She was delighted to find she had me over a barrel, and she forced me to stay on the phone with her for over an hour. She cried, begged for forgiveness, told me how badly my lack of forgiveness had hurt her. She accused me of willfully forgetting “the good things” — and demanded an explanation for why, a decade before, I had not “gotten her the help she needed” (when I was 13).

She forced me to agree that I would call her more often (as ransom for the paperwork), on a specific schedule, and she forced me to say that she “wasn’t all bad.”

All this she made me do in order to avoid her economic sabotage. While she cried victim, about how badly I hurt her, with my feelings.

Not once did she put two and two together.

You might be thinking, “Wow, insane.”

But sadly it was pretty much what I expected. And it isn’t insane. It’s not even in any way remarkable.

It’s a strategy that had always worked for her, to get what she wanted.

It’s textbook malignant narcissism.

And you’ll find it all over the internet, wherever “trolls” reside.

Narcissists have one goal:

A malignant narcissist will say anything, claim anything, blame anything, DO anything in order to:

  • Get attention
  • Look “good”
  • Excuse their behavior

But these 3 things are in service of just one overriding goal:

To see their desired self-image, reflected to them, from the faces of other people — in the ways that make them feel strong, superior, powerful, saintly, or vindicated.

In other words, narcissists seek to force everyone else in the world to answer: “Tell me who I am! And I better like it!”

Narcissists always have an ulterior motive

And their ulterior motives play out at a million different “intensity” levels but here is an archetype:

My mother would beat me, and then she would cry pitiously and shake until I would end up comforting her. Again and again. She never felt genuine remorse, it was a show. It was a trick.

She did it so she didn’t have to change.

If she felt bad about herself, all she had to do was beat me, and presto! Someone would tell her they loved her and it was okay.

This wasn’t by accident, this was by design.

She could then feel free to act as if it never happened. As if it were erased. It happened, but I’m not a bad person, the magical mirror tells me so, ergo, it didn’t happen. Hence her willingness to impart “wisdom” about “some people.”

That’s a malignant narcissist for you. And you’ll see that behavior cut through all types of trolls.

Narcissists do not “lose control”

Everything they do is calculated.

It may not be on the level of their consciousness, but something inside them is running the numbers like a seasoned bookie. That’s why my mother stopped beating me as soon as I got big enough to hit back.

The violence was never due to her lack of control, it was her control.

When I started hitting back — as a tween — she changed tactics. She alternated between trying to destroy my sense of self with vicious commentary, and making herself as pitiable as possible. And because I wasn’t heartless like her, she’d always get her way.

Narcissists are unfathomable to normal people

I told you above how my mother would beg for my forgiveness while threatening me… She also liked to tell me how I “had” to lose weight, dress better, pluck my eyebrows or else I’d never attract a man. More than once, she said this in front of my long-term boyfriend.

This isn’t unusual, it’s typical of narcissists.

Narcissists have little to zero awareness of the situations around them, unless it helps them exploit them. That my boyfriend was there? Didn’t even register.

Narcissists don’t give a shit about self-contradiction, either, because they have no fixed sense of self. They “are” whatever they need to “be” to get their fix. When they need to change poses, they will, and the past will be forgotten as if it never happened (unless they can bring it up to hurt you again, and get two-for-one).

Narcissists lack boundaries

To have a sense of “No, I will not cross that line, that’s not who I am” — you have to have a clear idea of who “who I am” is to test against. Narcissists don’t have this a fixed sense of self, so they simply do not have that line.

They will say and do anything, if they think they won’t get “caught.”

Narcissists count on us not seeing them for what they are

Normal people have all done things we later regretted, with guilt and/or shame that kept us up at night. Those emotions are there to tell you you crossed that line, and not to ever do it again. That’s the origin of our self-control in the face of extreme emotions.

Repeat: this is for normal people.

It’s also normal to assume other people are like you, inside, with the same types of feelings. That’s the root of empathy.

So, we assume that if somebody — a stranger who seems “like us”, or especially somebody we “know” — does something so awful, there must be a reason. (That’s a little natural, human, everybody-has-it narcissism… nothing to be ashamed of.)

We figure it must have been something really bad, to overcome all the guilt and feelings that would have otherwise stopped them. For them to lose control of their brakes. (Hence even normal people, who do not abuse, can be innately prone to victim blaming…)

But narcissists don’t have brakes to begin with. Narcissists do what they do for its end. Always. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

My mother is a good example again: She didn’t beat me because she “lost control” — she never did it in public, and she stopped as soon as I could strike back.

She had brakes, but she put her foot on the gas.

So she could get what she wanted. From me.

To a narcissist, you’re nothing but an implement for them to use

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my mother not only never loved me, but never even saw me as a person, just a way to get her needs served.

I was a set of knobs and buttons and levers and she’d poke, prod, twist, and yank until I gave her the response she desired. She was just positioning her mirror so that it best reflected whatever aspect she wanted to see.

On the one hand… devastating. On the other hand, totally freeing, because it was the last nail in the coffin of the idea that any of it was my fault.

I realized: Not only was it not my fault, it had nothing to do with me, individually, whatsoever. I was simply handy and easily manipulated. (You know who else is easily manipulated? Children, dependents, people in bad situations, people who are hurting, people who want to be stroked and have their egos fed.)

That’s the only way narcissists can think of you — as inputs & outputs, means to an end — because that’s all they can think of themselves. They’ve disowned even their own selves in favor of their image.

Narcissists are everywhere.

This experience has shown me just what people can be like. And so every time some vicious internet debate flares up, I now see these behaviors for what they are — and they are everywhere.

These people are everywhere, in your workplace, community, church, and of course, the internet. (And, I’m sad to say, quite possibly in your family.)

They’re not all so overtly terrible. The “best” narcissists simply won’t pay you any attention unless you have what they want; the middling ones will simply campaign, slowly and gently, for you to lose your sense of self, the better for you to focus on them and give them what they want (power, reflection).

Or maybe they are so terrible, and you just don’t know it, because they are nice to strangers, and evil to their family. (My mother was right about this one.)

Here’s the danger, even if the person is not breaking you down or abusing you personally:

Unless you’ve had this kind of experience, you (very reasonably!) expect people to behave in coherent ways:

If a person claims that x is true, you either expect that it is true, or they have a clear & comprehensible motive for lying.

If they say, I did this thing because y, the sane assumption is to take that at face value.

For example, “I hit you because you just made me so mad with x that I couldn’t stop myself.”

Or, for example, take a person who says, “I troll because you don’t deserve what you have” or “because you are skinny, fat, white, black, male, female” — you are inclined to believe that they believe the words that are coming out of their mouth.

But that’s not true with narcissists.

Narcissists are extremely fluid

Narcissists will say, or do, anything to control the image they see reflected back to them… and that means controlling you. They will use any weapon that’s handy.

They will tailor their evil to your specific scenario, but don’t believe that this means it’s actually about you. That you caused it.

That you mysteriously, have the power to control them… which, of course, makes the narcissist the victim.

Your victim.

When you start to grasp the way that the abuser can view himself as a victim of the person he’s abusing, you are on your way to understanding the way that narcissists work.

Let me be clear: Nothing a narcissist does is your fault. Nothing.

Narcissists use all your emotions against you

Remember that their goal is to see themselves, as they wish to be, reflected in your face, their mirror.

That means that their constant prerogative is emotional manipulation.

What makes you doubt yourself? The narcissist will figure it out.

They will prey on your emotions like they’re pushing buttons on a black box. Push, push, push… what works? A narcissist may try to incite your fury (which makes them feel powerful, and also helps them play victim). Or they may go for your sympathy first, or your guilt, or your pity.

Here’s an example of how a narcissist will use guilt against you: You don’t want to hurt me this way, do you? You know I can’t control myself.

Again, the narcissist is happy to play the victim… if that means s/he gets exactly what s/he wants.

When narcissists resort to violence, the violence is only in order to create & feed the emotions they crave to see… in you.

Sometimes a narcissist tries to convince the world

Sometimes they try to sell a big lie to the world — or at least you — in order that they can believe it.

For example, the various flavors of virulent racism and sexism you find online usually fall into this category.

Think about it: What would motivate a person to not only act in a racist or sexist way to people, in real life, but hang out on forums and talk about it all the time? To aggressively justify it at every turn? To pick fights?

Hint: it’s just as self-serving as beating a child so she will give you reinforcement. The beating was never the point, the reinforcement was.

Imagine: if you could see a thousand faces with the same expression as your face, what would you feel?

Which is of course why it is so dangerous to join a mob… any mob, no matter how “noble” the stated purpose may be. The mob is almost surely led by a malignant narcissist. And that narcissist is using you.

The flip side of the reinforcement coin is…

Narcissist see only mirrors, they don’t see you

My dateless, friendless mother was so toxic nobody wanted to be near here except those of us who had no choice. But of course she saw fit to tell me how I had to change in order to “get a man.”

Again, this isn’t crazy, this is typical.

Whenever nasty things a narcissist says about someone else, they’re really saying about themselves. Narcissists, living in a world that consists only of reflections, are more prone than anyone to the psychological sin of “projection.”

Example you see online: narcissists tearing into someone for achieving career success the narcissist says they do not “deserve.” The narcissist claims, then, ipso facto, said target achieved it by some form of trickery. What this tells you is that the narcissists believes he/she got their own success (however much or little) via trickery… and yet, they didn’t get as much as their vilified target. Therefore it is “unfair.”

And again, the narcissist enjoys being the victim, because then it means it’s not their fault… while simultaneously they can claim superior powers of observation and understanding.

At heart, all narcissistic tactics are tactics of control and “defense”

If a narcissist can figure out how to make you feel, they can manipulate you.

If they can manipulate you, they can control how you look at them, so they can control the information the world gives them about themselves, so they can control their own self-image.

For example: If someone cowers at your feet, then the they must see you as standing tall and powerful, like a god — or so a narcissist would think.

Or… if they feel the hint of some terrible feeling boiling up inside themselves, they can “defend themselves” against the feeling by forcibly projecting it on you, by making you feel it, instead. And then they can watch.

Malignant narcissists will use your own human instincts against you.

When a person is talking, your instinct is to believe that they believe what they’re saying. Most people are fairly straightforward.

But narcissists are not straightforward until you spot them for what they are.

Narcissists will contradict themselves readily, even in the same breath. They will take any position in an argument as long as you’re on the other side, or it puts you where they want you, or it makes them look “good” (powerful or terrifying or saintly).

Whenever they give a justification, they are lying, plain and simple.

They have no compunction against saying things in flat denial of reality (e.g. “You’ll never get a man” in front of my man, or “You don’t want that” in the face of undeniable want).

They don’t notice, they don’t care. There is no internal logic to their claims or behavior except bottomless, insatiable, ravenous hunger to fill their empty shell.

When I picture the way a narcissist makes me feel, all I can see is a giant, gaping mouth.

Narcissists are adult babies

A malignant narcissist is an adult body with the emotional development of a toddler. Imagine a typical conversation with a very small child:

“Why did you break the vase?”
“I didn’t!”
“But the vase is broken.”
“It was like that.”
“No, it wasn’t. I heard it break.”
“Tommy did it!”
“No, Tommy was in the kitchen with me.”
“It was a dragon.”
“A dragon?”
“Yes, it flew in through the window. It’s gone now.”
“Honey, I know you broke the vase. Why don’t you just say you’re sorry?”

Because very small children don’t have even the physiological capacity to deal with total reality, consequences, or empathy… we know this is just a developmental stage, nothing personal, and so, in a way, it’s cute.

You don’t believe the toddler when she blames the dragon.

Narcissists: there be dragons. Lots of them.

But that’s the exact same kind of conversation (or experience) you’ll find yourself having with an adult narcissist. Only it won’t be about the vase, it’ll be about power inside your family, or your self-worth, or your hair or clothing or personal choices, or what you “deserve,” or work, or politics, or equality, or code, or spelling, or anything at all.

And, like children, narcissists are often preoccupied with what other people “deserve.” Hear them crying, “It’s not fair!”

Narcissists are “never” at fault

Narcissists will blame you, their parents, their spouses, their children, their tools, their bosses, their coworkers, the corporate heads, elected officials, their fellow citizens (who “don’t deserve” what they have), the poor, the rich, writers, TV personalities, men, women, dogs, cats, the weather, the “system,” their upbringing, their dinner, their biochemistry, the internet, the age they were born in, the past, the future, the stranger on the train, the train itself, the tracks, the earth, the universe itself.

Whenever you hear someone blaming these things, ask yourself: Are they really an otherwise reasonable, kind, generous, empathetic person, who is internally and externally consistent… with just this one blind spot?

Sometimes the answer is “Yes.” Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has moments of weakness. Those people you can work with.

But… if the answer is no?

Then it’s a superficial ploy. Don’t believe it. Don’t buy into it.

Don’t argue the point, because there’s no way you can convince a narcissist that it’s wrong to “hate women” or “hate men” or “punish” children because, firstly, they don’t truly believe what they’re saying or doing, and secondly, they cannot feel what we call “wrong”, and lastly, they don’t respond to logic or argument.

How can you tell if a narcissist is lying? Easy: their mouth is open.

One more story about the changeable shiftiness and perverse logic of the narcissist:

Once, I fell down the stairs and sprained my wrist, and my mother was as solicitous as could be… until she was spitting at the mouth angry, and she grabbed my injured arm and twisted.

I screamed.

She claimed she didn’t mean to hurt me, after she grabbed my arm and twisted it.

But every time I did something totally innocuous that she didn’t like, that had no bearing on her at all, I was “trying to hurt her.”

This was, of course, well after she stopped trying to beat me because I was too big and it was too easy for me to beat back. She saw a weakness, though, and she struck at the opportunity.

To a person who doesn’t know the secret of the malignant narcissist, this sounds like some kind of crazy “double standard” — but actually it is entirely consistent, because neither of her actions (nice, or hurtful) were for me, or about me, they were for her and about her. She felt like looking nice, which would get her what she wanted. Then she felt like being cruel, which would get her what she wanted.

Everything is always about the narcissist — they will personalize every single thing you do — except for the their own actions, for which of course the world is at fault.

Narcissists always strike first, and excuse later.

The abuse is the tool they use to get what they want; the reason they’ll give you is fake.

They’re not telling you how they really see reality, not at all, they’re just saying “a dragon did it.”

And if their “dragon” (their excuse for harming you) harms you even further? That’s icing on the cake.

You will lose if you treat a narcissist like a regular person

Malignant narcissists walk and talk like regular adult human beings, but they’re not. Trying to interact with them as if they are? That’s a one way ticket to insanity.

Once you buy into their lies, their justifications, their machinations, their superficial acts… it’s too late. They’re getting what they want: a reflection of the image they are desperate to build.

It doesn’t matter whether you side with them or against them. If you side with them, they get what they want, because their image is justified. If you side against them, they get what they want, because their image is justified. They’re getting off on it either way.

After all, when you attempt to fight them, you are firstly proving that you buy into the image they’re selling, and you’re giving them the thrill of being persecuted at the same time, which reinforces the power of that image.

You’re caught in their web, and you are wiggling like dinner.

The only way to win with a narcissist is not to engage at all.

If you can’t entirely avoid them, there are strategies to handle their schemes:

Are they witheringly critical? Say “Thanks.”

Are they foaming at the mouth in some *ist manner? Say nothing to them, or, if you must say something, say, “I can see how it benefits you to say that” — and back away. Don’t fight, don’t argue, don’t break down; that gives them what they want. They will know then that you’re easy pickings and they will never leave you alone, ever again.

(Feel free to inform the rest of their audience what’s going on, though.)

If a narcissist is trying to manipulate you in any other way, just give them a look that says, “I see exactly what you’re doing” — and float above it.

Once you see the malignant narcissist for the mewling, scrabbling eternal toddler they are, somehow all their machinations fall away and all you can feel is pity for their miserable existence. (But don’t let that pity fool you into trying to “help.” Narcissists love playing the victim as much as any other role. That is, after all, why they are always blaming anything else but themselves for their actions.)

Remember, they’re saying that thing to you specifically because the biggest thrill in a narcissist’s life is to feed you inputs and watch you dance, like a puppet, because they’re getting something out of it, be it reinforcement or power. (Just like a baby who discovers that if he knocks the blocks off his high chair, they fall over, and mommy or daddy will pick them up, again, and again. Only the baby grows out of this infantile display of power, and the narcissist never will.)

Finally: If a narcissist starts to abuse you overtly or covertly, run away, as far and fast as you can, because they can never be reformed, because they will never believe it’s wrong, and they will never stop, just change tactics. If you can’t escape completely, bring your interactions with them into the outside world as much as possible (e.g. in public), because all but the most far-gone narcissists will dial it back to preserve their carefully tended image. If people do not believe you, because the narcissist seems “so nice” out in public, find a way to prove it, get help, and get out.

It’s up to you.

Unlike most people, I have many vivid memories from my childhood.

I remember being not quite 4. I had a strategy: every day I would feign sleep so my mother would carry me to the car, over her shoulder. I would loll, listless, in the seat, til she dropped me off at the babysitter’s, because this way maybe I would make it to the evening without being struck.

I don’t remember how old I was when she broke my nose. Nobody noticed and it was never treated so I must have been very young.

I remember being beaten with a wooden spoon, or leather belt, or whatever was handy, and I remember the crazed look she’d get in her eyes, and I remember the time she dislocated a finger from striking me so hard, and all the times later over the years she used to bring up that injury and laugh about it, like it was our little family joke.

I remember the nights I spent wailing into my pillow, trying to choke my sobs so she wouldn’t hear, “I wanna go home, I wanna go home,” because wherever the hell that was, I had never been there. The thing I wanted most in the world was to wake up and find that this was not my real life, that was somebody was going to come and take me away. The despair was not a word, and not an emotion, but a relentless, merciless pounding, like a fist, inside my ribcage, til it felt like my organs were pulp and I would die.

I remember being 13, finally bigger, and stronger, and intoxicated with violent energy because suddenly I wasn’t the one who had to be afraid. I kicked, and hit, and pushed her down, and she called the cops on me, and I ran. They found me, of course, and I cried silently, uncontrollably while they told me that my mother explained to them what she did to me, so they wouldn’t take me this time, but if I did it again, I’d be jailed. By that age, I never cried. I couldn’t feel it. But the policeman and policewoman talking to me so calmly made me pour rivers of tears and snot not only because I was ashamed, but because they knew what she did, and yet I was the one in trouble. I remember the term they used: incorrigible minor. Finally somebody knew, but they didn’t care.

I wish that was more than just a drop in the bucket. This is enough, though.

I practically never talk about this because… what’s to say? How does it enrich my world, or anyone’s? It was beyond bad, but I set out to get better, and I’ve healed as much as anyone can.

I’m writing this because, by the time I was 13, I had been hurt so long and so badly, I couldn’t even feel that pounding despair any more… or anything, really. The black hole in my chest was a vacuum, the cold emptiness of space.

I filled up the void with rage.

I hit, I screamed, I manipulated. I stole, I cheated. I was nasty to strangers. I lorded myself above others, because I was smarter than them, better than them, more righteous than them; I had special insight into the shitshow that those ignorant losers called life. I dared those close to me to stop caring for me with my cruelty. I fell in with people just like me, who gave as well as they got, and together we waltzed further into hell. When I hurt someone, when I scored points, I felt satisfied, triumphant. It burnt like a sear on my heart. In retrospect, the satisfaction wasn’t really satisfaction… but a sense of completion. This was right. This was what they deserved.

I took what was done to me and then I did it myself.


But to perpetuate what was done to you is to give up any hope of being an individual. It is to become a mindless automaton: stimulus, response. What is life, except a struggle to become your own person, to be more than the product of what luck, or life, did to you? To be a verb, and not a noun.

Certainly, this has been the defining struggle of my life. I believe that, if a friend of mine reads this, he or she will not recognize the person from the previous few paragraphs, and for that I am grateful. It has been hard.

That’s why it bothers me so much to watch wounded people gleefully wound others. It’s all too familiar.

The tendrils of abuse are many and barbed, insidious and subtle:

When someone would cry, in surprise, “You don’t talk to your MOTHER?” — I used to jump right into the dislocated finger story (or worse). The shock would render them speechless, the conversation dead. I got a vicious little thrill from it. The dark recesses of my mind cheered — “Take that!

That’s how I knew it was wrong.

I didn’t use my fist, but it was still a punch. It wasn’t meant to educate, it wasn’t meant to connect, it was meant to hurt. Because they dared question me.

That very feeling of righteousness is a warning bell.

These days, if someone says something like that to me out of innocence, I smile at them and shake my head. I’m glad that they can’t understand. It’s a gift. Depending on the situation, I might explain, gently.

And sometimes they say that and it’s not innocent, and they mean it cruelly, and I’ve found that that is usually because they have an abusive parent and want to hurt me, because I protect myself and they don’t believe they can. I feel sorry for them, and hope they find peace.

Maybe I make it sound easy; it isn’t. But I keep trying, because that’s the only way to restore a pummeled heart. That’s the only way to reclaim identity from the people who would steal it from you.

The fact is:

Some people are born lucky. Some don’t suffer the way we have. That’s a beautiful thing for them and for the world. Luck, love, and innocence are not “privilege” to be ashamed of — but a goal for us to all work towards, so that maybe some day, the kind of pain we have experienced will be totally unknown.

When a person doesn’t understand, and makes an honest mistake that hurts you — it’s an honest mistake. To respond violently, even with words, is no better than slapping a child.

To begrudge someone their innocence, to castigate those who have not been hurt, to put pain on a pedestal, to pretend it gives a deeper and truer understanding of the “real world”… that is feeding the abuse that lives inside you.

I understand, because I’ve lived it. The eternal ache is crying inside you — “Why did I deserve this?” You didn’t deserve it. The abuse strikes out, desperate to protect itself, to shield the holes in your heart — “Why not them?” But they don’t deserve it, either. Why would you want them to?

When I see hurting people hurt others, it reminds me of something my mother spat at me again and again:

“I hope some day you’ll have a child JUST LIKE YOU.”

It never worked. I was still exactly the child I was going to be, with a mother like her.

Whatever you want, you won’t get it by being cruel. You won’t get it by “scoring points.” You won’t get it striking out when people don’t understand (or even when they don’t agree). You don’t help yourself by joining with others who egg you on.

That vicious little voice inside you that cheers when you lash into someone — that voice is not your friend. It will never help you reach people. It will never  change hearts or minds. It cannot build bridges, it can only destroy. It will never let you be happy, and it will never let you heal, because it will never, ever let your abuser die, because it lives inside you and comes out through your voice, your hands.

The only way to escape the abuse is to starve it. The only way to starve it is with love and gentleness. This is not apologia bullshit; it has nothing to do with your abusers, and everything to do with you. The only way out is to cultivate a generous heart. That means towards yourself, and to others. Share joy, divide pain.

Be glad that others are innocent of the suffering that you have endured. Teach them gently.

Approach each person as an individual — regardless of race, sex, or circumstance — and let their actions speak to the contents of their character.

Leave the blame where it belongs — with the people who abuse.

Don’t let them turn you into one of them.

Because I know this will be misinterpreted, let me say this:

I do not mean “love people who abused you.” I do not mean you should talk to them or be near them, ever again. I do not mean you should “forgive and forget.”

What I do mean is: When I hit, screamed at, manipulated, denigrated, sneered at, and threatened other people, it was wrong. Even though my mother beat me, beating her back — after the fact, not in immediate self-defense — was wrong. Even though I was doing exactly what she taught me. Even though I was a teenager.

I have forgiven myself, and I forgave her in my own heart for never being adult enough, or brave enough, or caring enough to learn the lessons I did… but I didn’t speak to her for 6 years up to her death, and if I had to go back before she died and do it again, I would have chosen the same.

That I forgave her in my heart simply means I put down a weight I felt I had to carry, for my own wellbeing; I never told her, because I didn’t owe her anything. I hope she found peace, but it was never my job to give it to her.

If you think I’m a terrible person for that, that’s okay. I’m truly glad you don’t understand.

If you read this and want help to break the cycle, let me say that I owe my life to accidentally stumbling on this audio book: When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. (Here’s another source.) I also have the written book but it doesn’t have a tenth of the impact, so please, get the audiobook. Her voice is like being cradled, while she leads you out of the dark. You have to do the work, but she is the best guide I have found.