His Intentions Don’t Matter

Rachel Drane
Aug 15 · 4 min read

“He didn’t mean to. He feels terrible. He’s usually so kind. He promised he would never do it again.”

These are only some of the excuses we give for abusers. The rationalizations we make in order to live another day with this person still in our life.

One of the hardest facts of abuse is that it’s often committed by those closest to us. Hence its efficacy. Because, in order to inflict real damage, these people need to hold a certain level of significance in our lives. Some rando on the street shouting insults at us isn’t the same as if it were a parent or partner. This significance holds emotions, attachments, and affections in its grasp.

And so when there’s a sudden blip. A sudden remark or act or argument. We recite our prayer:

He didn’t mean to. He feels terrible. He’s usually so kind. He promised he would never do it again.

…and try to forgive — to forgive and move on. Because we are understanding and caring people. Because we love this person. Because we’re not even convinced this person was in the wrong.

But then there’s another blip. And another. And…

On and on this cycle goes. And as we’re taken along for the ride, we reassure ourselves that they’re really good people… deep down. They never mean to hurt us.

However, we keep getting hurt. And THAT’S what matters.

So how do you reconcile being habitually wounded by someone while at the same time believing it wasn’t intentional? That they ultimately mean well?

As I do for most things, I turn to pop culture for wisdom. Specifically, BoJack Horseman.

BoJack Horseman — Netflix

If you haven’t seen the show, it’s set in a version of Hollywoo(d) where not all the humans are… Humans. That is, anthropomorphized animals live amongst people. While that doesn’t factor too much into the grand theme of the show, it does allow for some amazing sight gags.

Even setting aside these punny, slightly irrelevant elements that never cease to tickle, it’s a great show. It does something that most TV — even live action — struggles to do: It addresses complicated and difficult issues head-on and doesn’t shy from the ugly. In fact, it kinda leans into the ugly. The ugly of mental illness, addiction, adult relationships, and most certainly trauma.

I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could from a cartoon — other than Schoolhouse Rock. I’ve found that moments and lessons from Bojack Horseman have stuck to my ribs. And have actually helped me extract myself from several abusive situations.

Two in particular.

#1 There’s no “deep down”

BoJack: Well, do you think I’m a good person… deep down?

Diane: That’s the thing. I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down.’ I kinda think that all you are is just the things that you do.

Most of us see ourselves as Good, right? Like, even the worst fucking people out there must think that their actions are generally called for. Sure, maybe the ends have to justify the means in some cases, but ultimately we’re moving through our respective worlds thinking we’re going about it the right way.

Sometimes, we might allow limitations to impact these intentions. We might mean well but end up falling short because — I mean — we’re only human, right?! There’s only so much we can do with what we’ve been given. We’re trying.

But I guess what I’m trying to say here is — and let me invoke some more pop culture here when I say — do or do not, asshole.

While a person’s intentions behind their actions aren’t absolutely nothing, they’re not far off.

Intentions have the potential to help direct our actions. To guide our decisions. But ultimately it’s the actions themselves that count.

I’ve always wanted to believe the best in people. That they will rise to the occasion. That they will stop disappointing. That they will change. As a kid, I would make excuses for the people cutting my mom off on the highway. Maybe they didn’t see us. Maybe they aren’t feeling well and had to get home.

This way of thinking has enabled me to be in several abusive situations, now. Sometimes it’s good to give people the benefit of the doubt. But you shouldn’t be doing it constantly.

2. Be Better

Todd: You can’t keep doing this! You can’t keep doing shitty things and then feel bad about yourself like that makes it okay! You need to be better!

It’s totally human to feel shitty after you’ve done something shitty to another person. Congratulations — you’re not a psychopath!

The point of the game, however, is to not be shitty to other people in the first place. There’s never complete absolution in you feeling remorse. That doesn’t magically wipe the slate clean and heal the affected.

Just because you sat and cried and said how bad you felt doesn’t mean that your actions didn’t cause real harm. And feeling bad does not entitle you to forgiveness. And even if you eventually do receive forgiveness, that doesn’t make what you did okay. That doesn’t mean you should expect the wronged to forget.

Forgiveness simply means that the person you wronged is not allowing it to negatively affect them anymore. Is letting it go. You have to work on forgiving yourself and getting your shit in order.

This might sound pessimistic, but I don’t think these two standards of living are too radical. The people we hold in our lives — those we love — we want to keep them there. We crave stability. We crave control. We crave connection.

I get it. It’s easier to make excuses for these people than it is to cut them out of our lives. But, if you find yourself repeating some like the prayer…

He didn’t mean to. He feels terrible. He’s usually so kind. He promised he would never do it again.

You need to drop his ass.

Rachel Drane

Written by

Host of Putting Out With Rachel podcast. Depression/Eating Disorder/Abuse Survivor. Goober. Myers-Briggs is PBNJ. She/Her 🤓

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