There are people who don’t allow the feeling of compassion in. That may seem amazing to you: If someone else said they are hurt, how can you not feel badly about it? The answer is that they come from worlds away where tears don’t stir emotions; they are hardened – except, perhaps, to themselves. Interestingly, they feel their own pain but have never been able to leave themselves behind in their dealings with others. They play victim. That means they feel they have a license to strike out and hurt others. That’s emotional abuse. Here’s how it works:

This is what people like this believe about their loved one when the loved one cries and says he or she is hurt:

  • they must be manipulative.
  • they are just too sensitive and they will react badly to anything.
  • they are really hurt because of something else and it is convenient to blame me.

–Anything to not look at themselves

Evan and Alice

A year ago, Evan thanked Alice for the lovely tie that she gave him for his birthday, but was not as enthusiastic as Alice would have expected. He explained that he really would have preferred a new golf club. Alice was taken aback by this as he knew that she objected to his devotion to golf at the expense of time spent on Sundays with the family.

She didn’t say anything and hoped he would forget that he had mentioned it to her. Now, a year later, his birthday was coming and Alice didn’t know what to do. During the year, she had gently mentioned her objections on Sundays although it fell on deaf ears. She would take their boys to the park to play and they did seem happy.

So, she bought him a book she thought he would like and tickets to a game she knew he would enjoy. But Evan was hurt. This time, his hurt flared up into accusatory words. “Knowing what I wanted, you just ignored it!” he railed.

“But Evan, I told you that I objected to golf to begin with. Every week I tried to let you know in a nice way that I didn’t agree with it. I know you love the game, but we have little kids who want their father!” Alice responded reasonably. “Why would I buy you the very thing I objected to?”

“So,” Evan retorted, “it’s all about you, isn’t it? It’s all about you, not me. That’s the story.”

At this, Alice burst into tears. Not only were her wishes disregarded, but Evan didn’t even want to entertain them. All he knew is that he did not get what HE wanted and Alice was not being nice to him.

Look at this turnabout: Evan attacks Alice and she’s crying, but to Evan, it is Alice who is not being nice to him!

People Who Play Victim Think They Have A License to Attack

That is the essence of being unable to put oneself in another’s shoes – in particular if the other person’s position is diametrically opposed to one’s own.

People like Evan give money to charity, help the needy, and walk old ladies across the street. The problem is not an inability to feel compassion but rather an inability to feel compassion for someone who has crossed them. And that is the case even when the other person didn’t exactly cross them anyway. Alice, after all, did give Evan some other gifts that he should have been happy with. She also was asking him to change his schedule for the sake of their children, not herself. None of that mattered. Evan simplified the whole thing in his mind to: “My wife doesn’t love me at all.”

With this one “brilliant” stroke, Evan can remain a victim, can be impervious to his wife’s tears, can overlook the needs of the children – and can continue to play golf on Sundays. If Alice wants to improve her marriage, it is doubtful that Evan would come to therapy. He would probably complain that she was wasting money and all that was needed to improve their marriage would be for her to apologize for her insensitivity!

Were he to venture into the therapy room, he would not want to examine himself. After all, it is clear that there is nothing wrong with him. If, in exasperation, Alice threatens divorce, Evan would tell himself, “See! I knew she didn’t love me.”

Evan has a lot to learn about love.

The most important thing that he does not know is that loving is giving, and he must start with himself. When you wonder if the other person loves you, it is not wise to ask yourself how much they have done for you, but to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, the question is how much you have done for your spouse.

Sometimes that process of giving is simply all about giving time – the only thing that Alice was requesting. It could also be giving the benefit of the doubt.

The solution for Evan must be a shift in position from “me” to “we.” When he realizes that he will be happier including those he loves as being as important to himself as himself, Evan will be able to give to them. After all, giving to them is, indeed, giving to himself. He might or he might not hear that message when his wife – or his therapist – delivers it.

What Can Alice Do? She Should:

  • not apologize. To do so would be to reinforce Evan’s distorted view that she did something wrong.
  • keep it simple and repeat her position only if he requests it. To repeat it more is a waste of energy as he is not listening.
  • reinforce whatever Evan does that is good in her eyes. For Evan to move towards empathy, he first must feel good about himself. Underneath his self-absorption there may be a fear that he may not really be good deep down.
  • have moral clarity on the issues in their lives. Evan apparently lacks that such as when he doesn’t see what’s wrong with ignoring his children on Sundays. Eventually, a morally correct position may take root in Evan’s heart.
  • search for what she always loved about Evan and keep that in mind constantly. Her love will reinforce his efforts in the right direction.
  • remind herself not to take Evan’s outbursts personally.
  • enjoy the other activities in her life; this will serve as a source of strength as Evan makes changes.
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