abuse revelations and the raft of rationalizations

Abuse revelations are much in the news these days.

Harvey Weinstein, Judge Roy Moore, Louis CK.  

Many more will come to light, I feel sure. 

Many more will never come to light, I know.

To victims, please know that I believe you.  I will always believe you.  I am with you.  I am on your side.

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

As we watch these revelations unfold, we see a range of responses from those accused of abuse.

There's denial, as in the case of Judge Roy Moore.

There's admission of guilt, as the case of Louis CK.

But wherever the accused fall on the range of responses, there's one thing we can count on for sure.


Rationalization: the excuses that explain why things are not really as bad as everybody thinks.

Rationalization says:

"I didn't know it was wrong."

"I didn't think it would bother you."

"I'm a good person, everyone admires me."

"Mary and Joseph..."

The person who violates KNOWS that they are violating their own personal values, the law of the land, their marriage vows, the boundaries of another person.  They have to create a set of "reasonable" explanations--rationalizations--in their own mind to continue with their behavior.  

They violate, they can't face the reality of what this means about themselves, so they rationalize.

Every single offender rationalizes.

Every single one.

Whether it's a big-name celebrity or your porn-watching husband, every single person who violates their own values, or the values of society, will rationalize.

After many years of dealing with situations where there's a clear offender (abuse, adultery, addiction) here is what I have learned:

WHATEVER the offender says, early on, is going to be rationalization.

He's had to create rationalizations to deal with his guilt and shame.

He's going to verbalize those rationalizations, because this is the only story he has. 

The offender has made their brain work this way to keep offending, until it seems plausible inside their own head.  The offender thinks others will see it as plausible as well, so out it comes.

Sometimes you get a farcical rationalization like "Mary and Joseph" in the case of Judge Roy Moore.  

Many times, there's an attempt to pretend innocence, as if the offender doesn't know the ethical rules of his own culture: "I didn't know it would bother you."

A lot of times, you'll get a round of victim-blaming: "What was she wearing?"

Every once in a while, you get a much more sophisticated and confusing rationalization like Louis CK's statement.  (Hint: if the person tells you 4 times in his confession how much people admire him, he's still protecting himself with rationalization.  Be wary.)

Whatever the specifics, know this for sure: the offender is rationalizing. 

He can't help it.

Assuming that there's going to be rationalization keeps me off the galighting crazy-train, and I hope it will help you, too.

If we get on the crazy-train, then we're using the rationalization exactly the way the abuser does: to distract from the abusive behavior.

But if I recognize rationalization for what it is, and I don't waste time and energy engaging it, I can turn my attention to what is actually within my control: healthy boundaries for myself.

Given the facts of the situation, regardless of the offender's excuses, what is healthy for me, here and now?

This is what I can do: decide on my boundaries, hold to my boundaries, live within my boundaries.  No matter what the other person chooses, my boundaries belong to me.

Most of the time, healthy boundaries are what offender doesn't want, because boundaries will mean consequences for them and a disruption of the fantasy world that they've created in their minds.  Boundaries will mean, possibly, that the offender begins to face some of his pain.

He won't like that.  And culture tells women to be nice, so we don't like it either.  


It is totally possible for the offender to face reality in recovery, and stop the rationalizing.

There is hope for us all.

But facing the reality in situations like Roy Moore's or Louis CK's, or even our husband's, will be personally painful to a degree that many people can't handle at a deep level.  A lot of people, when their offenses are exposed, will simply figure out how to be more socially acceptable. 

Being socially acceptable is good!  It needs to happen!  Behavioral change is important, no doubt about it.

However, I think that for true healing, the person has to face their own demons in the same up-close and personal way that their victims have had to.  Their own personally-felt pain should be comparable to the pain they have caused others.  Not for the purpose of shame, but for the purpose of truth and healing.  If that doesn't happen, I suspect there will continue to be dysfunctional outbursts.

Unfortunately, the rules of toxic masculinity have socialized men to deny and repress emotions (big boys don't cry, be a man), then taught them that it's inevitable that they'll act out (boys will be boys, locker room talk).  

True recovery from these deep roots of offending is a dark valley to walk through.  Not only do they have to face up to the reality of what they've done, but they also need to rework their entire interior landscape. This involves the kind of emotional work which men have been actively trained against.  They have to learn the skills on the job, and the job is a big one.

I personally think this is a generational project, and that true healing will be carried on as we parent our children in gentler, healthier ways, teaching every child, regardless of gender, to be emotionally intelligent, well-boundaried, loving, self-loving human beings.

So just be aware that true recovery is a tall order.  Not saying it can't be done.  Just saying it is painful and difficult.  It's easy for the process to stall out along the way because it's just so hard to push through.  

Nobody can do that work except the person whose work it is.  We have to let them do their work.

And we hold to our boundaries, adjusting our boundaries as needed.  We can't get caught up in rationalization.  We have to continue to face the truth and let it set us free.

I often get asked about "restoration of relationship."  How and when does that happen, people want to know.

Here's what I think.  If you're a victim, you are IN NO WAY EVER REQUIRED to be in a relationship of any kind with your abuser.  Whether the abuse is emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, economic, spiritual, you are not required.  

You get to choose what's healthy for you, and if that's no-contact, I am with you all the way.

Other people can walk with the recovered abuser.  It doesn't have to be you.

If he tells you that you are required to be in a relationship with him, he is not as recovered as he claims. 

If his therapist says you are required to be in a relationship with him, that therapist is violating the professional ethic of client autonomy.  Call your state licensing board and report that therapist immediately. 

If it's your pastor who says this, find a better church.  

If it's your parents who tell you this, my heart breaks for you. 

Release them to it, grieve, and find healthy community that loves you, respects you, and treats you with care and compassion.

You get to choose a life that reflects the value and beauty of who you are.

You get to be treated and loved the way you want to be treated and loved.

Boundaries, my friends.  Boundaries.

Whatever someone else chooses, we can choose to be healthy and whole.

And free.


Free indeed.

Print Friendly and PDF