As a naïve 20 year old I received a shock in one of my psychology classes. The topic of the day was rape. I knew that ahead of time, it was listed in the syllabus and the professor had warned us that we were going to be covering a difficult subject. In fact the week before he’d invited any students in the room who’d been victims of rape to talk to him before the lecture so he could help them get through the discussion.
My shock came in the first few minutes of the lecture when the professor said, “Rape has nothing to do with sex.” Seriously? How could forcing a person into any sex act not be about sex? The lecture that followed blew my mind. He waited a few moments and went on to talk about sex. It’s obtainable without assaulting someone. Even the most socially awkward person can hire a prostitute for almost any sex act, no matter how strange it is.
Yes, a rapist does get sexual pleasure from the rape. But the pleasure is not just from sex. It is from the act of controlling another person. No matter how good an actress a prostitute is, the fact that she’s agreed to whatever is occurring prevents that feeling of control for the rapist. This is the nutshell version, of course. There are different types of rapists, yes, anyone who watches modern crime dramas has heard about them. But at the core is the control over another person.
Toward the end of the class the lecture moved on to other forms of control. All abuse, whether physical, emotional or verbal, is about the same desire to control another person. It doesn’t necessarily involve the same kind of pleasure a rapist gets, but there is an aspect of pleasure or reward in the feeling of control over another person.
Verbal abuse is not about what the abuser says you did wrong. It’s not about you not being good enough. It’s not about the spilled milk or being late or the fact that you’ve suddenly turned grass green. It’s about the abuser’s desire for the feeling of being in control.
Why is this important? Because it helps you take the control back. Whatever the abuser says or does is not because you spilled the milk, took ten minutes too long on a project, or suddenly turned a brilliant grass green. It’s about something inside the abuser. That desire for control is something he or she needs to work out. You have no responsibility for that desire being there. You are not responsible for filling this desire. In fact, it is harmful to both of you. Remind yourself of this daily, hourly if needed.