The other day, I came across this beautiful sentence: “Don’t let anybody make you cruel.” It made me think back to all the abusive people I’ve encountered, and how often I’ve wanted to retaliate against their stubbornness with obstinacy of my own.
I recently ended an emotionally abusive romantic relationship. Every conversation I had with my ex made me feel deep discomfort, if not acute mental pain, because of the ways he chose to gaslight, insult, and manipulate me.
Every time he tried to beat me down – which was often – I ached to fight back with nastiness. I wanted to insult his character, grind each of his many failures into his awareness, and warp his psyche in a way he would never forget. I wanted him to wake up in a cold sweat every night, drenched in regret for the multitudes of manipulative tactics he had purposefully used to hurt me. I wanted him to know he was a rotten person, but more than anything, I wanted to rejoice in his pain.
And yet, on the few occasions when I actually gave into these impulses, I always walked away feeling worse for it. I felt I had crumpled morally by meeting him at his level of abuse. Not only did his words cut me, but the vitriolic words I spat at him in return cut me even deeper.
I began to consider the trade offs of showing him kindness instead of anger when he tried to undermine me. What would I personally be gaining by being considerate in an argument? Bragging rights because I didn’t sink to his level of cruelty?
Yes, I realized. That’s exactly what I gain: the ability to honestly tell myself that I didn’t let him make me cruel.
I try to take the high road whenever vengeful thoughts start creeping up on me, and show kindness, or at least patience, when I’m met with abuse. When I choose not to rage at the people who hurt me, my perception of myself as a kind person stays intact. Ultimately, that’s what I take away from an argument. At the end of the day, I won’t remember who won the fight (and with abusive people, there are never any winners). All that I’ll carry with me is the integrity of my actions and the knowledge that even if he doesn’t deserve to be treated fairly, I deserve the satisfaction of knowing I played fair.