I’ve had a few conversations lately during which overthinkers have said things like, “How do I know I’m not an abuser?” I love the deep thinking!
Here are a few things that we know:
Yes, everyone is selfish. We have to be! Many psychologists talk about how we had to be selfish historically in order to survive, and while that’s true, it’s also true that in order to be productive and functional, we have to be selfish literally every day in the here and now. When we wake up in the morning, we have our OWN agenda of tasks or things that need to get done, so our day literally revolves around me and what I need to do. What I explain to people is that it is the degree and frequency of selfishness that matters. For example, are you selfish because you won’t share your food with someone, or are you selfish because you rarely let others decide what’s for dinner? Do you always refuse to consider others or is it because you really like this dish?
Everyone lies. There are more honest people in this world, but even the most honest people have told lies on occasion. To expect anyone to ALWAYS tell the truth is unrealistic. Again, it’s the degree and frequency. Example: are you lying about what you’re doing on your lunch break or are you lying about who you’re seeing on the side of the your committed relationship? Do you always lie to your boss or partner or is it because you really need to do this important thing today?
Everyone disappoints. It really upsets me when clients decide to cut someone off for disappointing them. Even the best friend out there is going to disappoint on occasion. So here we are again, where the degree and frequency matters. Are you disappointing because you didn’t go visit your friend in the hospital during finals week or are you disappointing because you spread rumors about the person all over your social group? Does your friend always fail to show up for you or is it a rare problem? Side bar: sometimes people have a serious pattern of disappointing and need to be cut off, but also sometimes our expectations aren’t fair as no one can be available all the time.
Everyone can be mean. We all have the capacity to get angry. Now I have met people who very rarely get angry and don’t yell or raise their voice; however, even those people can be harsh with their words/behavior when triggered. So at risk of sounding like a broken record, we are again considering degree and frequency. Are you name calling and yelling on a regular basis, or is after you’ve been pushed? Are you the type of fighter who cuts deep or do you have rules of places you won’t go? Are you getting complaints of hurting people’s feelings on a regular basis or is it occasional?
When it comes to narcissism, antisocials (psychopaths/sociopaths), and other abusers, there’s one more difference that is VERY important, so last but most certainly not least, it’s a person’s ability to take ownership and apologize. An abuser does not own his/her role in problems. An abuser does not say sorry frequently. Abusers tend to deny ownership or twist things around so that it’s not their fault. Abusers struggle to change and grow, because they can’t say, “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” Finally, if an abuser does say sorry, it’s usually to get something they want, not because they genuinely feel guilt or sadness over what they did.
I always say that EVERYTHING exists on a spectrum, and that what we are always seeking in life is balance. Being aggressive can be a good thing, and it can be important. Standing up for yourself and prioritizing yourself is important. We just want to try to stay away from extremes. Being too passive or too aggressive can have significant consequences. Balance is difficult to achieve, but we know we are at optimal functioning if we can balance all areas of life. It’s a journey! The bottom line for this article is that we all mess up and misbehave, but we are not all abusers. There are distinct differences in the…dare I say it…degree and frequency.