I'm Done Dancing the Dance of Shame

How I Truly Became an Abuser

One does not become an "abuser" by abuse alone. As a stigma, its meaning goes beyond having overstepped boundaries and harmed someone. An abuser is not someone who've been abusive, but who is defined by it. Abuse is not what they've done, it's what they are. So calling someone an abuser is not only a claim about something they did, but also about what they are, what they think, what they feel in relation to it. An abuser is someone who has no real respect for the suffering he caused, or no compassion for their victim. They have no shame for their actions, or not enough, or for the wrong reasons. Thus we know they will abuse again, because either they actively want to abuse, or they are ready to do it to achieve their goals, or they don't care enough for not to.

When I became an abuser in the eyes of my community, I tried at first to escape this monstrous position I was put into. I tried my best to signal that I really felt guilty, that my shame and devastation were sincere. I tried to convince that I did care, that I valued the feelings of the people I hurt. I tried to convince that I was ready to do whatever was needed for my victim to heal from what I was horrified to have done, not because I wanted to get this out of my plate, but because I hated that I brought this kind of suffering to the world. I did my best to display the performance of shame.

I danced the Dance of Shame for everyone. In public and in private. For friends, ennemies, and the yet undecided. For family members, lovers, colleagues and strangers. I started to dance the day I learned the story of my victim and how I was involved in it, and I was still dancing a year and a half later. That was not an insincere performance. My feelings were real. But it was not freeform: I wanted – no, I needed – my feelings to be received by a defiant, and at times quite hostile, audience. And since I was considered an unreliable narrator of my own feelings, I had to try to abide by their expectations about what shame, guilt and remorse look like. I was the one dancing, but the tune wasn't mine, and the jury was quick on the buzzer. One misstep, one word instead of another, and the communication was over with advise to go to therapy.

I was told to be manipulative because I didn't tell everything. I was told taking too much space because I tried to tell everything. I was told disrepectful because I used slang. I was told condescendant and cold because I didn't. I was too centered on my emotions, or too disconected from them. I was fawning too much or not enough...