After Years of Poor Treatment, Immoral People Seem Normal to Me

My devil’s advocate has an easy job

One of the biggest struggles in my life, after decades of being bullied or disregarded or used, is realizing when people I’m close to are totally immoral. I don’t say that in a religious way, but in a very simple way — they’re cruel and selfish.

But I can’t believe this about them. I am constantly told by (decent) friends who haven’t lived for years in horribly imbalanced and poisonous relationships that some of the people I love are bad and don’t care about me (or anyone else or themselves), that they are like gang bosses who recruit orphan children, or Darth Vader. That they grandstand and show off, and then accuse me of grandstanding and showing off. Encourage me to take up their bad habits so they have company, and then they tell me I have bad habits. Get me by the jugular until I cry, and then call me a baby.

Am I crazy, or is this person really attacking me?

This has been the story of my life. So many people, oh so many, criticize me when I admit this.

“You make bad choices. Stand up for yourself. Stop living in the past. You’re codependent. A doormat. Thin skinned. Negative.” Etc.

I don’t disagree with them about the bad choices point, and I work hard now to think and listen to my instincts before I react or trust or love. It has reduced my hardship enormously.

But what they don’t understand is that, often, I am blind to these people’s defects. My brain is so used to rationalizing cruelty or just a passive lack of empathy that those behaviors are normal to me. I was in two relationships for such a long time that rotated back and forth from cruelty to kindness. I was just like the girl in this picture, a rag doll going back and forth at the whims of others. Blamed one minute for their problems, pardoned and loved the next, and given, in many cases, what I needed. I adapted back and forth and back and forth. I didn’t choose to, it wasn’t conscious. I learned to be the devil’s advocate, against myself. I couldn’t get away. Other people meet cruelty and are able to spot it and reject it, because it’s foreign and hostile and they don’t need anything from its actors. It wasn’t foreign to me. I needed them. I loved them. I still love them.

The effect of this treatment and of the self-doubt and self-hatred that resulted was like that of a reckless driver on a car. It ruined the car much quicker than the car was designed to last. And when I fell apart, people told me I had a disorder. It felt exactly the same as how the bullies treated me. Like being punched in the face and then told I am too sensitive when I cry.

This is heavy stuff. But it’s progress to have the insight, at least, that the process is happening. Even if I still have to text my friend every week and ask her if it’s all my fault.