Why do we accept abuse?

I’m still unraveling the friendship that ended (I know, my readers are probably tired of it, so I’m sorry.) But writing about stuff is how I process it.

The only way to fix something is to figure out why you did it and decide not to do it anymore. So I’m looking at myself and my role in things. I’m left with one question that I keep mulling over: why did I accept the abuse for so long? I think sometimes we accept abuse because it feels familiar.

That’s just a small excerpt of the things she said to me. I have never talked like that to anyone in my life (although it sounds very middle school and I can’t remember things I said that long ago, so anything’s possible.)

For her part, during one of the earlier fights, she said if I was so hurt that I couldn’t let it go, I should’ve just told her to fuck off and stopped trying to be her friend. And that’s exactly what I should have done. I just kept hoping she’d change and I liked the good parts.

The weird thing is also that she’s the only person who ever talked to me like that, at least since the peak years of when I was bullied as a kid. I was tormented by spoiled rich kids who got everything they wanted and had no consequences.

Although she also grew up getting everything she wanted and having few consequences, she said she never bullied anyone in school. (Though I wonder if other people who knew her then would agree.) She said I was holding her privileged childhood against her.

It did bother me when I still saw similarly spoiled behavior, like when I loaned her my diamond earrings for her wedding and instead of saying thank you, she said, “oh they’re so tiny!” It felt like a put-down, like what I had didn’t meet her standards. I still think I’m justified in considering that rude, rather than it being a matter of my insecurity. I think if I’d had two carat cubic zirconias she would have been impressed because I doubt she knows how much even “tiny” diamonds cost.

The extent of what she called my bullying toward her was saying stuff like if her husband had a problem with her spending so much, it probably felt disrespectful to him that she wasn’t doing much about it. And that it was rude to him that she bought herself a different wedding ring because the one he chose wasn’t good enough for her.

The real issue was that she was continuing to call me names when she got mad, just like the kids at school did when I was young. It wasn’t about what she had or how she grew up or that I was refusing to get over middle school jealousy. It was that her bullying me with the name calling was reliving middle school for me. It didn’t matter what she was bullying me about, it was that she was bullying me at all.

But what I wonder is why did I put up with it from her for so long? We had cycles like this what felt like frequently to me. At first, it happened maybe once a year. But she got worse as time went on and she went off on me like that every 4 months or so near the end. Once should have been enough and I should not have gone back for more after the first time.

We’d try to make up, then a few months later, she was back again with the name-calling whenever she got mad. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and that was very stressful. She said I thought our friendship was stressful because I chose to feel insecure around her and should just stop. But no, I felt our friendship was stressful because I never knew when she’d go off on me again.

She said we didn’t just grow apart. But I grew apart from her and there’s no rule that says two people have to mutually grow apart. I was finally done with the cycles of her calling me her “hetero life mate” when she was happy with me and turning around weeks later with the name calling.

I was tired of doing unreciprocated nice things for her, like singing her happy birthday when she was sad that no one else did, or enlisting my husband to save all her data when her computer crashed (which would’ve cost a minimum $250 if she had taken it to Best Buy Geek Squad; I later looked it up.) He didn’t even like her but was willing to help because she was my friend.

She couldn’t even send a thank you card to him because she claimed she didn’t have my address, despite having been to my house a few times and having sent me mail. It’s like she had no appreciation for the value of what he did for her. My husband and oldest kid fix people’s computers pretty regularly and usually get at least a card or a nominal gift card out of it, just because people understand how many hours of work go into it and how valuable it is to them to retrieve data that would otherwise be lost forever. I felt like she never truly appreciated anything.

She never did anything for me. She said she didn’t know what I liked and I’m generally pretty anti-materialistic, so she was afraid to get me gifts. For one thing, that’s bullshit. If you’ve been friends with someone for nearly 20 years, you should know what they like. She just wasn’t paying attention. For another thing, neither of the two examples I gave of things I did for her cost a dime. Bringing me a plate of box mix brownies would’ve made me feel more cared for than doing nothing at all.

Why did I put up with it for so long, when no one else in adulthood had ever treated me that way?

I think it was a combination of low self-esteem on my part and continually being shocked by her behavior. I didn’t feel like I deserved better. And I always figured that she’d eventually outgrow the name calling.

I also knew she didn’t have a lot of close friends that she could keep around for long and I felt bad for her. I also have never had a lot of close friends because I’m an introvert and have social anxiety rooted in the pretty intense childhood bullying I experienced. It’s hard for me to trust people.

My husband once said something that was like a lightbulb realization, even though at the time I didn’t do anything about it. He said I was reliving my childhood bullying and every time we’d be friends again, I thought the cycle of bullying was finally over. I was trying to fix what happened to me as a child by continually repeating it and hoping it would turn out differently.

When I walked away, it was because I finally believed I deserved better. I didn’t need to wait anymore for the apology that would never come. I finally understood that she wasn’t going to stop behaving that way. So now I just have to heal the part of myself that still misses the times when things were good.

3 Comments

  1. Not tired of it, glad you’re processing the toxic friendship and you know you didn’t deserve it. Really reminds me of the emotionally abusive friend who’d call me names, tear into me, tried to break my partner and me up using lies etc.

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    1. Thank you for listening. I’m sorry you’ve dealt with it too. Nobody deserves to be treated that way! I think when you become used to accepting abuse (as your family sounds to me as well) it makes it harder to get away from it in others. 😦

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      1. I agree, we get used to abuse and have to learn what’s healthy and what it isn’t. And it’s tough to walk away even when you know a relationship is abusive

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