Are We in an Abusive Relationship with Ourselves?

I read two blog comments and a couple of articles recently that made me sit up straight – very straight indeed. The topic was abuse and it made me realise how relatively easy it is to talk about abuse when it concerns an identifiable victim and a perpetrator as two or several people, when we talk about physical, mental, emotional, financial or sexual abuse. Even the term ‘self-abuse’ has become part of our daily language and we associate it with any kind of visible self-harm, as in cutting or under-eating for example.

But what about the application of the term ‘abuse’ when it comes to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, kicking the dog in anger, spending hours gaming or watching TV, punching a hole in the wall, slamming a door?

It gets a little uncomfortable when we start talking about the possibility of describing as abuse pastimes that we might frequently dabble in, resort to, if not rely upon as coping mechanisms and for a sense of equilibrium. As forthright citizens, we might rightly say that we don’t inflict sexual, physical, mental, financial or emotional abuse – but what happens when we go a little deeper and examine the real quality of our daily lived life, what we do to others and especially, what we do to ourselves? And yes, I am not talking about cutting here, I am talking about drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco or any other substance, about going to bed later than what our body clearly signals to us, about asking our body to do the impossible, day in and day out.

Dr Eunice Minford, a general surgeon in Northern Ireland, asks in her article, ‘Abuse – just a way of life’ (1) whether abusing ourselves has become our everyday reality and is now considered normal. Her answer, by implication, is a clear yes; self-abuse in its ‘finer’ detail has become a way of life and is deemed normal. Sobering indeed.

The question is: what do we opt for and busy ourselves with, instead of addressing our deleterious food and beverage choices or our pastimes, from evermore entertainment to gaming and harming food and beverage choices?

Is it possible that abuse starts with self-abuse and our unwillingness to be honest and admit that a lot of our so-called ‘normal’ behaviours are in fact self-abusive? For example: when a child is tired and we refuse to let them go to sleep, but forcefully keep them up by any means possible, we would call that abuse and sleep deprivation. But we so easily do this to ourselves, pushing past the point of enough is enough and often right into exhaustion, if not ultimately a diagnosable illness. What’s the difference?

How can this be abuse if inflicted on another but not self-abuse when we do it to ourselves?

By Gabriele Conrad, Goonellabah NSW


Related Reading:
Abuse – My Understanding So Far
Alcohol Abuse – What’s Normal?
The Art of Appreciation – Helping to Break the Cycle of Self Abuse

461 thoughts on “Are We in an Abusive Relationship with Ourselves?

  1. On returning to this blog and reading the comments, it would seem that we can only continue to abuse when we do not have a relationship with our body, one where we listen and learn, as if we did, whilst we may try and test things in life, those that don’t feel great in our body would fall by the wayside – as abuse.

    1. I find the relationship you describe with listening to my body is continuously deepening and the more I honour the messages from my body the more I see the places that I am still abusing my body.

  2. Good question Gabriele: ‘Is it possible that abuse starts with self-abuse and our unwillingness to be honest and admit that a lot of our so-called ‘normal’ behaviours are in fact self-abusive?’ And the answer is ‘yes’ from where I stand. I have often noticed that when people say things like, ‘Can’t wait for work to be finished then off to the pub for some drinks’ it is said in a tone that wants you to join in and say (in a longing tone) ‘Yes that’ll be fantastic’ . The invitation is always there to comfort the person going to the pub (or it could be anything, not wanting to pick on pub-goers) so that you will say ‘me too’ and join. We know we are abusing ourselves and so we need this continual confirmation from others to say that it is okay . . . when we know full well it is not okay.

  3. We become links in the chain of self-abuse. Someone above us is given a deadline and the responsibility if it is just passed down to the last person. It becomes an upside-down pyramid with all the pressure at the bottom, and we except this as normal?

  4. This blog is so needed so that we have a platform to discuss the effects abuse has on us. For example a friend of mine is seriously ill and I noticed for lunch that they were eating foods that we both knew were not at all suitable for their condition, and I raised the possibility of their body going into reaction. It seems that this food for lunch was considered a treat for being so good during the week. Looking deeper into what was at play before me it was easy to observe that there was something more insidious going on. For instance where do these thoughts come from that have us believing it’s okay to put harmful foods into a sick body that will make it even sicker? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  5. This is great to examine in the detail for when we look at the mechanisms we use for ‘maintaining equilibrium’ which in fact are abusive we can get down to much finer points. An example is overeating. We sometimes overeat hugely, and it is painful but we can also overeat when we eat just one mouthful that is not required for our body for nutrition and is instead eaten with another purpose.

  6. Indeed the subtle nuances of our daily sleep cycles can become very self destructive and over time manifest as a dull exhaustion that we counter with coffee and sugar until this oscillation becomes our accepted norm.

  7. In answer to your question Gabrielle . . . “Are we in an abusive relationship with ourselves?”. … Abuse can only start with us as if we are not in the whole mode of abusing ourself on a regular basis we would never ever allow another to abuse us. But as it stands with abuse being normal for most of us and with self-love and self-caring acts being looked down upon and judged as selfish or self-centred in many circles, one would have to admit that we have a lot of ground to cover as a humanity to get back to a basis decent foundational love of our self and one another.

  8. I am just starting to see how much we can dishonour the truth of who we truly are as we go about life rather than deeply embracing that grandness, so I guess we typically are in an abusive relationship unless we do.

  9. ‘Is it possible that abuse starts with self-abuse and our unwillingness to be honest and admit that a lot of our so-called ‘normal’ behaviours are in fact self-abusive?’ If I am rushing to be on time or to get everything done at my work it feels as abusive for my body. It is ‘normal’ and accepted but actually to be honest it is self-abuse.

  10. “abuse if inflicted on another but not self-abuse when we do it to ourselves?…” What a great statement that brings to question as to what point does something cross the line to become abusive to another or self harming?…

  11. Sometimes we are in something so deep and familiar that we have lost all sense of it being abuse. I have certainly been that way with food. And I was also that way with a house I was living in which looked amazing in many ways – an acreage with a little mountain, beautiful trees and a stream. It was only when I moved house to a nearby country town and found out first hand how ‘easy’ the living was, that I realised the abuse level of having clung onto that so-called ‘paradise’.

    1. It is easy to fall for images and pretty pitcures, they are oh so convincing until we feel what is really going on from and in our body.

  12. We have created a scale of abuse where we can say that one form is ‘not as bad’ as another and by all accounts in a very temporal sense we can say this is so. However, energetically speaking, abuse is anything and everything that is not honouring of the innate love that we are. Put this into the equation and we suddenly have to examine every thought, belief, ideal, behaviour and word that pulls against the expression of this love.

  13. Everyone is affected by abuse and there are degrees of it we have become immune to feeling or even noticing so that it isn’t even considered abuse in the mainstream any more. Having negative thoughts about ourselves is one such abuse that we rarely clock as it can be deemed as just background noise in our heads.
    If we let our heads get away with that it is easy to see how other abuses can become acceptable and supposedly normal to the point where we are only shocked when extremes are brought to our attention.

  14. How easily I identify abuse outside of myself, yet ignore the areas of self abuse that I allow within myself. How insidiously self abuse is, and the layers of camouflage I have held to not be there. For me it is hanging onto comfort of where I live and the house I live in. The question I ask “will I/we find another house so beautiful as this one”. Mind you the beauty is only in the eye of my husband and I and perhaps this house for others would not hold the same for them. Thus to stay in comfort is self abuse and it is this that I need to bring my awareness too.

  15. Asking the body to do more than it wants to sounds so ridiculous, but it is so true that we can listen to the mind sometimes more than the body, yet the body has so much more wisdom.

  16. Self-abuse can be so subtle. Energetically all forms of abuse – however ‘bad’ or less than ‘bad’ – are still forms of abuse. We have a lot to learn.

    1. It looks like we redefine the meaning of words all the time; health for example is now just the absence of a major disease or serious medically diagnosed symptoms but has been stripped off true vitality, joy and zest for life.

  17. “How can this be abuse if inflicted on another but not self-abuse when we do it to ourselves?” I feel that for most of us it’s because we don’t value ourselves in the same way we value others. We become accustomed to the abuse we heap on ourselves so it becomes so normal we don’t react to it, just accept it. Abuse towards another will more often than not illicit a reaction so we get to feel that our behaviour towards them is unacceptable. Of course our body is constantly communicating a response to our self-abuse too, however if we say for example, consistently overeat and get bloated and uncomfortable (our body communicating to us) we can just accept this as normal and eat until we feel this way. Amazing how we can override and reinterpret our body’s signals in this way, just so it becomes a convenient truth for us so we can stay in the comfort of not facing our irresponsibility and self abuse.

  18. I have recently become aware of how much I abuse my body when I hang on too long to empty my bladder or as delay or ignore listening to my body. Any pattern or behaviour that is not truly self loving is a form of abuse.

  19. From a discussion recently, I came to understand that I constantly dishonor myself and what I’m feeling and that this dishonoring is the abuse I pour into my body. Now I’m giving my self some space to really feel this in my body and from there make a different choice. Again I have to ask the question of humanity, “Why is it that we are not taught from day one to honour ourselves in everything we do, because we are so worth cherishing this deep respect ourselves?”
    And I have to wonder if we were encouraged to do this as a child would this have an impact on our health, would this reduce the rates of illness and disease?

  20. “But what about the application of the term ‘abuse’ when it comes to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, kicking the dog in anger, spending hours gaming or watching TV, punching a hole in the wall, slamming a door?” – so uncomfortably true Gabriele, the truth is, we are living in a world and living our lives through choice in absolute abuse when we consider all the tinniest things that are not love or loving towards ourselves, our bodies, and others too. Anything that is not love, has to then be abuse.

  21. It is a real problem that self abuse has become the norm, because abuse of others, follows on from self abuse and neither is being called out for damage it is doing.

  22. It really is becoming very clear that what is truly harmful to the human body needs to be explored as all these new activities and foods and beverages take their place in our lives so fervently, because without the guide or marker of what is actually harming us and what is not, is it possible that perhaps we are all collectively saying yes to things that our bodies do not want or need?

  23. Without a marker of absoluteness like LOVE everything becomes relative, hence what we consider to be abuse depends on how we like to define it personally – usually by comparing it to acts of less or more severe abusive behaviours.

  24. We have for so long turned a blind eye to abuse both within ourselves and in relationships, that we no longer see being spoken to in an aggressive manor, being undermined, or made to feel less as being abusive and harming. We have to be more honest with ourselves and be willing to speak up when we feel someone is being abusive, even if they feel certain they are not. Calling out abuse both in ourselves and in others is incredibly powerful and very healing, and it is the willingness and openness to do this that will change how we view abuse at present.

  25. Self abuse is played down as an issue but have we stopped to consider that we could only abuse another after abusing ourselves?

  26. You bring some good points here Gabriele. I’m sure most people do not even think about how they are treating their bodies, let alone be honest about the fact that they are abusing themselves. Using the word abuse makes us sit up and take notice. And in fact it is an accurate description of what we do if every choice is not made from love.

  27. I have been aware of how abusive my negative thoughts can be, and it makes a huge difference to how I feel when I notice and don’t let them in. It is something I have chosen and I am now choosing not to choose them anymore.

  28. We are good as a society at seeing what others do that is abusive towards others and at times we are appalled, but we don’t seem to class how we are with ourselves as equally abusive. No-one I know says, I’ve been really abusive with myself today or for that matter, most of my life. We make up a story about things that happen to us and make it about the person or thing that inflicted stuff onto us but never choose to see our part in it all because we are too busy blaming.

  29. ‘How can this be abuse if inflicted on another but not self-abuse when we do it to ourselves?’ – this has been a really good measure for me, using my love and respect for others as a measure of integrity and love for myself.

  30. As our abuses in society become more extreme, we ignore of the subtleties of how we are abusive, because the more subtle behaviours are deemed to be everyday, normal. But its in the more subtle ways that the abuses can potentially be more dangerous for they creep up over a period of time. Being more loving with ourselves is the only way to see this more clearly and the only way to let go of ways and behaviours that are harming ourselves. If we harm ourselves we are also harming those around us. That is challenging to feel.

  31. ….’self-abuse in its ‘finer’ detail has become a way of life and is deemed normal. Sobering indeed.’ Absolutely Gabriele, it is very sobering. And listening to how our body feels is how we know when we are allowing that abuse.

  32. Abuse has become so extreme in society that we have become numb to the lesser forms of abuse. It’s like our scale of acceptable behaviour keeps being pushed away from respect, decency and care for ourselves by what we see in the news. Learning to not abuse ourselves in the slightest way is where we really learn what abuse is and sets a standard for how we will treat other people.

  33. Blame goes out the window when we first take responsibility for all of our choices and the quality of relationship we have with ourselves first.

  34. What a superb question: ‘How can this be abuse if inflicted on another but not self-abuse when we do it to ourselves?’
    That clearly detects the level of intelligence we have accepted that suited our careless minds, whilst a true intelligence is awaiting for us to attend to and live by.

  35. By bringing a deeper level of love, care and attention to how we take care of ourselves, we start to appreciate the more subtle levels of self abuse that we have been allowing into our lives, and then we can really start to address and change these behaviours.

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