|L'invention de la vie by Rene Magritte, 1928|
I remember a luncheon with several women who had been friends for numerous years. I was the 'newbie'. The one who was similar, though my divorce irrevocably defined me as being different from the group.
The luncheon was going as usual, each woman complaining about diets and calories and clothes that didn't fit while we justified eating Double-Fudge Brownie a' la mode together. As long as we talked about getting fat, it was okay to eat something making us fat. When the fattest woman in the group ordered dessert, the rest of us followed suit. We didn't even contemplate ordering one dessert with five forks as people tend to do these days--something my mother would have considered crude & gauche, eating off other people's plates! We wanted a whole dessert just for ourselves. Maybe we were willing to share our lives, but woe be the woman who wanted to share our dessert!
Now, I'm a very open person but even more than my willingness to self-disclose, is my willingness to listen. Being a good listener means people reveal things they may never have spoken of before. Maybe it's my older age, maybe it's my honesty, but people feel comfortable revealing innermost secrets. Secrets hidden beneath the cloak of public approval. Secrets locked inside for fear of criticism, rejection and public disapproval. After all, it's not nice to air one's dirty laundry in public.
Maybe I was invited to lunch because they noticed a clothesline attached to the end of my nose. Over the past fifty years, I've learned that nothing whitens sheets quite like exposing them to sunlight.
During this particular luncheon, one of the women admitted she'd been married before. This was a startling revelation since we assumed her current relationship was her first and only marriage. She said, "I'm ashamed to admit what happened, but twenty-five years ago my first husband left me for another woman. Just like you, CZ!"
I was relieved no one asked her why she had kept her abandonment a secret, or why she hadn't trusted her friends enough to tell them, or why her husband left. Instead, they offered her the grace of silence to compose herself. It's not polite for a woman to weep in her ice cream, after all. When she could speak without crying, she whispered, "Please don't tell anyone."
This summer, an older friend in my hometown was dumped by his new wife.
They'd been married less than a year when he returned from a business trip and discovered she'd taken his furniture, his vehicles, his lifetime savings account, and most of all: his reputation and credibility. One year of marriage and his 'beloved' felt entitled to everything he owned, which says a lot about her and nothing about him--other than the fact he'd been a dedicated saver.
When people told me about his plight, they said, "Well, I'm not one to judge! I don't know what he was like in private!"
See, this is what I'm talking about: the automatic assumption something was wrong with him for her to treat him the way she did! Why people do this is beyond me, but they do. They assume alls fair in love and war and who can say what's right and wrong when it comes to intimate relationships.
People are loath to make public judgments, yet are quick to deny private judgments about the victim. I don't suppose they'd say something like that if his business partner had robbed him blind; but hey, they were married.
Besides, everyone knows Water seeks it's own level. It takes two to tango. Birds of a feather flock together. All fine examples of ridiculous Blame-the-Victim thinking. People assume we must have done something to merit our abuse, rather than examining the facts and holding the abuser accountable for his or her crimes.
What's even more egregious is that people don't even think of the betrayed as a victim! That says a lot about people's dubious assertions of morality when they lack the guts to make a judgment call. What does it matter if he picked his nose at the dinner table or she farted in her sleep? What does it matter if their relationship was short-term, long-term, or purported to be perfect?
What matters is what happened and actions speak for themselves.
And if the shame of being replaced, robbed, or cuckolded by a trusted partner isn't crippling enough, people reinforce the shame of rejection by rejecting us, too. Imagine doubting our credibility after years of relationship with us! In a foolhardy desire to be seen as nonjudgmental, people give a free pass to the abuser. This means victims are not only mistreated by so-called 'beloveds', they are mistreated by their community, too.
It's easy to determine right from wrong, even with intimate relationships. Here's how ya do it: Look at the facts. They speak for themselves. Stop wondering why things turned out the way they did. Look at what happened. You know right from wrong, don't be afraid to say so. Because if you don't, here's what happens when abusers are not held accountable by their community:
They set the example for others.
What one narcissist gets away with, others will do likewise.
Narcissists know only too well that their victim's credibility will be in question. People are reluctant to believe anyone would hurt an innocent person. When a beloved abuses a beloved, there must be cause to the effect, or so people WANT to believe.
The victim is thus silenced, shamed and invalidated.
We know it, too. Oh, we may not be conscious of our observation that people question the victim's integrity, but we know it in our heart of hearts. Sometimes, the only way to maintain our dignity and self-respect is to hide ourselves beneath a cloak of public approval.
When we do that, when we silence ourselves, narcissists know they can get away with anything.
And so they do.