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How Do You Define Abuse?

Would you say the waves have been abusing this rock for millennia?

How Do You Define Abuse?

No one likes to be abused. And abuse should not be tolerated. But where do you draw the line? This question points to a lot of grey area and is ultimately a very personal question.

In the end, how I define abuse will determine how I act.

The Sensitivity Scale

In doing The Work last weekend with a participant at the Autumn Virtual Retreat, I noticed something interesting. There seems to be a sliding scale of what I may or may not call abuse.

If I am very sensitive to detecting abuse, then I will see it much more often than if I were less sensitive to it. This can make a big difference when it comes to feeling victimized. If see someone’s behaviour as coming from stress but being relatively harmless, I don’t define it as abuse (even though it may technically be abuse). I naturally cut that person some slack for various reasons and I don’t see it as a big deal.

But if I see even the slightest abusive action as real abuse, I react as if it is the big kind of abuse. It’s as if my sensitivity is too high on the subject, causing me to lump every type of abuse from minor to major into one group.

It’s a Kind of Lack of Discrimination

I definitely fall into this camp of being highly sensitive to abuse. Here are some of the things I experience viscerally as abusive:

  • Someone questioning my own experience
  • Someone disapproving of something I say or do
  • Someone having a slight tone of anger or annoyance in their voice
  • Someone telling me what to do instead of collaborating with me
  • Someone being impatient with me
  • Someone not listening to me
  • Someone dismissing something I say
  • Someone overriding me instead of discussing with me

And there could be many more. What I notice as I write this list is that they all have to do with someone using some kind of unilateral force on me instead of engaging as an equal or collaboratively with me. And, when I’m honest, I do see the elements of abuse present in each of these. But how far do I go with it?

Overly Sensitive

Does that mean that every time someone questions my experience, I need to have a full-blown reaction to this kind of “abuse” (I would label it gaslighting, for example)? Or am I being too sensitive? 

Is there room for interpretation in the situation? For example, when someone questions my experience does that really mean they are putting me down, or dismissing my experience? Or are they simply expressing their own experience? Sometimes, what I think is abusive is not actually personal at all. I just interpret it that way.

Or could it also be that, even if there is a real put down happening, it is forgivable? Maybe it comes from an insecurity in the other person that they can’t help (like a kind of handicap). Or maybe it comes from the fact that they never get enough feedback to know it’s not a great way to communicate (everyone is too intimidated to tell them). Or maybe it is simply not a big enough deal to worry about.

Seeing these perspectives make me realize that I am often perfectionistic in my expectations of others. Even a hint of abuse and I’m ready to call 911. 

What If I Were More Discriminating?

What if I could see that some abuse is more tolerable than other forms of it? What if I could cut the other person some slack sometimes? What if I could save my larger reactions of fight or flight for when they are actually needed? 

I think I would be more balanced. Instead of being triggered by every little form of behaviour, I would have more of a buffer. I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff. 

The Work Helps Me Find This Balance

Whenever I do The Work of Byron Katie, I relax some of my hypersensitivity. I often see these very points that I describe above in specific situations. And as I continue to question my stressful thoughts about these kinds of situations, I find more clarity. 

Without a hair trigger, I can be much more effective when dealing with abuse of any kind. 

The Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet Is Perfect For This

If you want to work on situations of abuse, big or small, the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet is a great tool for identifying the stressful thoughts to question. And if you want to get in-depth practice working with this worksheet, take The Work 101 course. There you will find the support and direction to turn around any stressful thinking abuse while gaining clarity on how to deal with it in a non-stressful way.

The Work 101 starts anytime. Go at your own pace. You can get a personal trainer, and join our community of open-minded people interested in questioning everything. 

Take The Work 101 today.

Have a great week,

“Could it be that he’s right and that’s what you don’t want to hear? That’s not verbal abuse. We call it ‘verbal abuse’ when someone tells us the truth about ourselves and we don’t want to hear it. That is, we think we don’t want to hear it. Deep down inside us, we hunger for the truth.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Further reading: No One Can Abuse Me, That’s My Job

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.