When Love Is Abuse

When Love Is Abuse July 16, 2015

Love. Love. Love. It seems to be all I hear about.

I was raised in an evangelical home. Between five and ten years ago I went through a time of incredible pain at the hands of my parents. They believed I was bound by God to obey them even as an adult, they freaked out when my beliefs began diverging from theirs, and they cracked down, hard. Their efforts to control and manipulate me can be safely termed emotional abuse. I cried so much during that time. I was still so young, and out on my own for the first time. I needed their love and support, not their rejection and their anger.

But they loved me, you see! They did what they did because they loved me. Or so they told me. And so their church friends told me. Even my boyfriend and my future in-laws told me that my parents loved me, and that they did what they did (misguided as it was) out of love. In the years since then I have watched this same scenario play out in other families, and all with the same narrative. Always there is love.

What good is love if it is not accompanied with kind actions?

I have come to feel that love is a neutral thing, not an automatic good thing as most seem to assume. It is in and of itself neither good nor bad. There is a selfish love, there is a smothering love, there is a love that seeks to control, a love that does not let go. This is not a good love, it is not a kind love, it is an abusive love. And so I find that I care less about whether someone “loves” another person than I do about how they treat them.

Loving someone does not get a person off the hook for treating them horribly—nor does it soften the treatment. Indeed, it makes it worse.

There are many women who stay in abusive relationships because their abusers tell them they love them. Physically and emotionally abusive parents in the population at large usually say they love their children. Some might say that these people do not really love, because if they did they would treat those they love with kindness and respect, but that does not change the fact that many abuse victims stay when they technically could leave. Love becomes a prison key.

After all, what is love? No really, what is love?

If someone had told my mother that she did not love me, back during that time of trouble between us, she would have found the idea too ridiculous to countenance. After all, what was that feeling she felt for me but love? I, too, would have rejected the idea that my mother did not feel love for me. I knew her actions were wrong, I knew that it hurt and that I only wanted out and that at some point I didn’t care if I ever saw her again (or so I told myself), but to suggest that my mother did not feel something for me—no. She clearly did, else why go through all that trouble?

At some point I came to realize that my parents did not really love me, but rather the person they imagined me to be, or the person they wanted me to be. I came to this conclusion when I realized they did not really know me. Not only that, they did not care to know me. They refused to listen, truly listen, preferring only to lecture and to deny. And if I did not know me, and did not care to know me, how could they love me? No, what they loved was a mold they created in their own minds, and then sought to press me into.

Years ago my aunt told me that when she became engaged to my uncle her father asked her three questions: Do you love him? Does he love you? Does he treat you right? Note the inclusion of the third question. If love implied good treatment, that question would not be necessary. We make a mistake when we assume that love means right treatment. This is a mistake because too many people end up in abusive relationships, held their by the belief that their partner (or mother, or what have you) loves them. And love must mean right treatment, so if there is love, all must be okay—even when it’s not.

There is little that means less to me than a parent’s statement that they love their child. Do you have any idea how much abuse parents have justified in the name of love? Love serves as a sort of get out of jail free card, as though all that matters is that you love your child, and how you treat your child is irrelevant. I’m sorry, but no. Right treatment matters. There is little I have more anger for than a parent who says they love their child while treating them like shit. What does this do to the mind of a child? Here is this person who says they love you, and yet they’re hurting you. What does that tell the child about love?

Love is overrated. Kindness isn’t.

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