When Love is Abuse

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jackie.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on 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. Lovebecomes 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.

17 comments

  • Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    YES YES THIS IS PERFECT, READ IT

  • One thing I often have to communicate both to the victims I’m in touch with and occasionally their abusers is precisely this. You are not your intentions or your motives.

    You are your actions. We’re struggle against our own narcissism, and we were raised by the dumbest generation of narcissists in the history of the world. It makes sense that my parents (and many others) were attracted so strongly to the fundamentalist lifestyle. It fits.

    “I didn’t mean to hurt or abuse you, honey!”

    That’s nice, mom, but you did it anyway. Lots.

  • Love isn’t love without trust and respect. I tell my kids regularly that loving someone doesn’t mean you won’t disagree with them. Nor does it mean that you will never argue. It does mean that if you don’t trust someone enough to tell them when you disagree with them, then you either don’t love them OR you are becoming aware of the fact that they do not love (and respect) you. I don’t even mind disagreements but I want them to explain their thoughts to me so I have a chance to listen and be persuaded.

    So my kids and I do disagree on things and sometimes loudly. I still respect them. I don’t always trust their judgment but unless I can see that a decision is CLEARLY going to lead to dire results for themselves or others, I extend them more latitude as they grow up. I have a resident adolescent at the moment, so there’s a bit of reeling in at times and then allowing more autonomy. Sometimes we get it just right, sometimes we don’t, mostly it seems to be okay though.

    • Lee, I think you express the wide love that is possible in family. Have you read Rue Kream or Norm Lee, or pondered the work of Gatto or John Holt? You sound like a very open learner. I would be grateful if you would talk about it some more, only if you have time and wish to share….. gracias.

      • No, I haven’t read any of these authors. Would you recommend any particular order or books?

      • sorry to overlook your question…. Norm Lee is available as a free .pdf on the web.
        http://www.nopunish.net/
        Rue Kream, “Parenting a Free Child” can be easily had on Amazon… she has a great quote somewhere responding to a critic who suggests that she is preventing good socialization to occur by allowing her kids to unschool. She answers that once in awhile, she thumps her kids and steals their lunch money from them just to be sure they get that important social knowledge! (I am completely hacking this quote by memory but it made me laugh aloud when I first read it.)
        Holt and Gatto are educators who think outside the box and are the early foundations of things other than herd schooling. Both fascinating….
        Have fun and please keep writing!

  • Pingback: Christian Married Couples Who Think Husbands Using Physical Force on Wives Is Acceptable and Christian Married Men Who Deny There is Such a Thing as Marital Rape | Christian Pundit

  • Read Norm Lee because it is a free .pdf at nopunish.net (I think)…. Rue is available via amazon. Holt and Gatto, like Norm Lee are trained educators who learned their way to freedom and walked away from public schools eventually… When I was first looking for opportunities in learning for my kids (who attended public school- and their mom is a teacher) I began reading about education and the developing popularity of self-directed learning. My wife now consults in education for self-directed learners and my kids are long-time supporters (adolescents now) of free learning, unschooling essentially. When you marry free learning with a commitment to never punish, life becomes quite wonderful in family. Norm Lee said to me once: First, do no harm. Second, let the children lead you. My very best wishes to you and yours!

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

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

    Also gives the victim on the receiving end of The Treatment(TM) one helluva definition of “love”.

  • This is a great article. I finally had the courage to go “no contact” with my abusive parents several months ago. I am a 47 year old mom of 6….I was not homeschooled, but I do homeschool my kids…not the way of “fundies” but with true love and respect to my children, treating them the way I wished I had been treated with simple human kindness. I always vowed I would never be like my mother and I’m not.
    I HATE it when people say “but she’s your mother”. My point exactly. That means she should be held responsible for her actions, not just a “free abuse” card because she gave birth to me.
    My heart goes out to you all who have suffered like me in the “name of Love” and even worse “in the Name of Christ”. I don’t believe for one second that He ever condones this kind of abuse.

    • I’m glad you finally gave yourself the gift of no longer giving away head space to people who should be paying you in bars of platinum for it. I’m also sad that your parents haven’t changed and shed their abusive ways. I know the odds are better that a million dollars will fall out of the sky, encased in blue ice, and land in your backyard, but I will still hope that they do change for the better before the chance is gone.

  • Reblogged this on lifeofgraceandpeace and commented:
    This is so true! And is why, to this day, I value someone’s actions rather than their words. Thank you, Libby Anne, for posting this! Love Joy Feminism

  • Oh my. I don’t know exactly how my attention was brought to this case and if it’s not something that should be posted here, please remove it. The comments following tell me more than the articles did and they were bad enough.

    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/52332
    http://va.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19891024_0040046.VA.htm/qx
    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/29450
    http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/20300
    http://hsinvisiblechildren.org/2013/06/05/dominick-j-andrew-diehl/

  • Reblogged this on whoeverwander and commented:
    “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 they did not know me, 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.”

  • Reblogged this on // everwander // always learning and commented:
    “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 they 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.”

  • Pingback: When Love is Abuse | rosealiasmask

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