Tonight’s training topic was Dynamics of Abusers. We covered a lot related to why and how abusers abuse, whether abusers can change, and what kind of treatment is available. All of that was fascinating stuff and crucial to my continued understanding of sexual violence dynamics.
Some of the things that I took away as relevant to my own relationships are:
-One of the most basic psychological principles is that if you want a successful outcome, focus on the process and not on the outcome itself. Focusing on the outcome itself can lead to trying to control your environment and others, which is not healthy. Focusing on the process means staying in the moment and doing your best in the moment. Worrying and agonizing over past mistakes or potential future mishaps will not serve your purpose. Live in the moment. For me in an open relationship this transfers to the idea that sometimes J or I make mistakes. The goal is to have a satisfying and healthy relationship, and what matters are the small things in the present. Worrying about a past mistake or about making one in the future is not conducive to having a peaceful and happy relationship. Putting your energy into trying to control others, versus putting your energy into understanding yourself and understanding your partner, is also not helpful. Focusing on communication, compassion, and understanding are key, and if we are both doing the best we can in the present to prioritize these things, then we will succeed.
–The dynamics of narcissism. Everyone is narcissistic to a degree, and a healthy narcissism means that you are able to be flexible about how your behavior and your image of yourself may or may not match up. If someone gives you feedback about your behavior or image that then does not line up with how you see yourself, you are able to take the feedback and either change your image of yourself or change your behavior. Unhealthy narcissism means that you will defend your image of yourself and your behavior at whatever cost. You respond to feedback with defensiveness, denial, and anger/aggression, and will deflect responsibility and blame others. Everyone can experience this kind of interaction (not just abusers, obviously!) and it’s a potentially unhealthy one if it can take precedence in interactions between partners. So: take responsibility for your actions and work on taking constructive criticism and feedback to integrate your image of yourself with your behaviors. Call out deflection and and aggression, and gently help partners see that they need to own their actions (given that it is safe to do so, of course; I have non-abusive relationships in mind here).
–Attachment theory and attachment in adults. I have learned about attachment theory before, but basically it is the idea that our caregivers help us form the style of attachment that we generally carry into adulthood. You can take a quiz here to being to explore your own attachment style. This is something I have thought a great deal about, as I generally score as a secure or insecure-anxious person. The insecure-anxious person, and this description fits me well (from the quiz website hyperlinked above):
“You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviors overly personally. As a result you tend to act out and say things you later regret.”
For better or worse, these are my natural inclinations in relationships. And it’s something I continually work on.