I’m So Sorry to Tell You This, But You Can’t Love People In To Loving You

⚠️ Content warning: discusses domestic abuse

I am genuinely so sorry to be writing this. I know, for some reading, they may be holding on to a hope that if they just love someone the “right” way, they will change. It might sound pessimistic, even hopeless for me to say it (I don’t think it is) but that just won’t work.

I talk quite openly about the fact I have been subjected to domestic abuse, which took many forms. I even wrote about it briefly in my book, Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal and the significant impact it had on me, and I work hard in my spare time to facilitate change that lasts. I don’t hide my experience now, because I am not ashamed of it. It is not my shame to carry. Genuinely, there is nothing I could have done to prevent it.

Statistically, as I explain here, the likelihood of me ending up with a man who harmed was quite high. But I didn’t “seek him out”, it wasn’t “daddy issues” that drew me to him, it’s not that I’m “underprivileged” or just “a bit thick”; these are all false myths and stereotypes used to blame women for what violent men (in my case) do to them. Misogyny is prevalent. And the only person responsible for the harm caused is the harm doer.

I have also made it clear, as I did in this article for Tiny Buddha about grief and betrayal, that I do not see my experiences as a “lesson”. I did not need the trauma of what happened to me to be a “better person”; I was already good enough. Whilst I honestly understand why some people need to process it that way, that’s not how I choose to see it.

But I do want to talk about the trap we fall (or are coerced) into, when we are being harmed by another: that if we “just” love someone and please them enough, they will stop hurting us and change.

We seem to take responsibility for other’s behaviour (predominantly trying to keep them happy) even when they don’t take responsibility for their own, often I think because we’ve been socialised to carry that weight. And I’m not just talking about intimate relationships here; we might have been subjected to harm from a family member or even outside of a relationship, with a controlling and abusive boss at work.

It’s so important in these moments to recognise that you can’t love someone into loving you. They may tell you that you matter, whilst at the same time tricking you, through gaslighting and other coercive and controlling behaviours (all forms of violence), into believing that it’s you that’s flawed in some way.

But as bell hooks explains in All About Love, abuse and love cannot coexist. Whilst what the other may do might loosely and occasionally be described as “caring” when they choose to be, violence is never love.

So it wasn’t that you didn’t love them enough and please, please let me reassure you that it’s not because you are unloveable. It wasn’t that you were “too needy”, “over sensitive”, that you didn’t give them enough chances; just as it isn’t because they had been drinking or were “under a lot of pressure at work” when they were violent (I talk about “entitlement” dressed as anger here).

It wasn’t because you didn’t get their meal ready on time, or because the house was untidy, or the way you look. It wasn’t even, as the apologist mantra implies, that “hurt people hurt people”. You didn’t “make” them do it, and it wasn’t because someone else hadn’t loved them enough.

It was because somewhere in their shaky ideology, they need to maintain power and control. They falsely – and harmfully – believe violence is their “right”. They lack the maturity and skills to handle the potential of rejection, so they try to control instead, using violence (of all kinds) to achieve it. Healthier skills do need to be taught, but no amount of “education” will help them if they’re not ready to relinquish that power.

They are not children. They have agency to choose to be different. And that’s on them, not you. When they are choosing not to change, that’s not your burden to carry.

Change is hard, but when people are ready they’ll find a way and do the work – they will take those steps. You letting go of that weight does not mean you’ve abandoned all hope, it means you’ve liberated yourself – rightfully – to make your safety and well-being a priority. And you’ve given them the gift of space (to seek help elsewhere) so they can choose to be different.

You can love everybody, but some you must love from a safe distance.

Liz Gilbert

So I strongly believe you cannot love someone into loving you, if they don’t want to change and stop the harm they cause. The decision to stop controlling and hurting is theirs, and not because you didn’t love them the “right” way. Only they can decide to let go of the power and control they seek, but until then, if that’s what they have to offer, it isn’t love.

If you or someone you care about are affected by any of the issues here you may find this list of links useful. The Domestic Abuse Helpline in the U.K. is 0808 2000 247

Copyright Delphi Ellis 2022

Published by Delphi

Offers "educational side-bars" which may contain uncomfortable conversations. Been on the telly. © All rights reserved.

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