At least when a family member is in a cult or mired in drug addiction, there’s a way out. There’s a system, a destination, a socially acceptable process for rescuing them from themselves. It’s called an intervention.
No such option exists for people, especially men like my cousin, who knowingly and wilfully choose to remain in an exploitative, abusive relationship.
It puts their loving family in an impossible situation. We want to help but we’re told that meddling in their relationship is co-dependent and counterproductive while removing them bodily from the abuse, against their will, is illegal. Kidnaping, in fact.
So after everything has been said, the tears have been shed, the offers have been rejected and the pleading is over, all that is left is to set boundaries.
Boundaries to keep yourself in check. So you don’t do something rash, something desperate, something loving but illegal. Boundaries that you already know will be interpreted, warped and twisted by the abuser. ‘See, I told you your family doesn’t care about you. They just want to break us up because they’re jealous. You can’t trust them. They’re liars. I’m the only one you can trust. I’m the only one who loves and cares about you’.
It’s maddening. And all your friends have to offer is the threadbare advice, ‘Set good boundaries’. Easy for them to say.
These well-meaning people don’t know realise how much boundaries hurt those who set them. How easy it is for abusers to use your boundaries against you to hurt those you love.
‘Don’t be co-dependent’, they say. ‘He’s over twenty-one and can get help if he wants it’.
Sure. There’s a shelter for battered husbands under every…bridge.
That’s like telling you to be ‘okay’ as you watch your child, sister, brother, mother return to a cult they once escaped. You want to scream as you watch from afar as the cult sucks them back knowing already that their life within will be ten times worse post-escape than it ever was before. The brainwashing will be stronger, the interrogations harsher, the punishments more vicious.
‘Boundaries’ sounds pretty lame at times like that. Sure, it makes your life simpler. But what about the person you love?
They have boundaries now too, built for them by their abuser. High boundaries. Unassailable boundaries. Boundaries that will prevent them from ever escaping again.
And so you wait. Day after day, month after month, year after year. Holding your boundaries. Respecting their boundaries.
Hoping against hope that the person you love will someday summon the courage to leave…again. For the final time. They did it once. Maybe someday they can muster the courage to do it again.
The first time they escaped, the family rallied to their aid. Unfortunately, they won’t have that help again because they burned off everyone who loves them when they returned, spewing vitriol to those who had helped them leave.
That’s when the boundary walls were built, exactly as the abuser intended.
They say that boundaries are a good thing. I’m not so sure.
Photo by tinou bao