We burn the eggs, drip salad dressing down the front of a new blouse. We misplace our glasses, and lock our keys in the car. We mistakenly toss our wallets down the garbage chute, along with the trash. We amass fender benders, and parking tickets. We trip with the dog food, and scatter kibble across the kitchen floor.
Human beings are imperfect…as housekeepers, dry cleaners, locksmiths, building superintendents, and highway patrol officers (not to mention our pets) can attest. Minor shortcomings such as these are the least of our failings. For abuse victims, however, even minor imperfections can be deadly.
Abusers will set impossible standards for their victims, and punishment out of all proportion to an infraction. These standards may be the very ones to which the abusers were held in childhood. Not all abusers were though abused. Nor is childhood abuse a license to abuse others in adulthood.
Some individuals will inflict pain or deprivation on their victims from outright sadism or an extreme narcissism. The abused child (or abused adult partner) is viewed as a representative of the abuser before the world. All the abuser’s insecurities are projected onto the victim, who is then seen as deficient, defective.
Often the abuse victim will strive to achieve these unrealistic standards, as much out of love as out of fear. This is not brainless. Human beings are meant to love. Unfortunately, the image we have of love can be distorted.
Victims commonly blame themselves for an abuser’s actions, preserving at all cost the delusion of an ideal parent, caregiver or spouse. For children, in particular, it is terrifying to contemplate a dangerous world without the protection of a loving adult. Easier to shut our eyes on reality, and assume the abuser’s guilt.
To regain control of our lives, we must stop lying to ourselves; must deliberately set aside the futile pursuit of perfection; and – like the rest of humanity – must come to terms with our limitations.
Thankfully, excellence does not require perfection. Not even God does.
“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3: 14).
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