Personal and political: Breaking the cycle of abuse

Breaking all of our cycles of abuse is the very definition of “the personal is political.”

Abuse is an unconscious pattern, not an intentionally chosen plan. Obviously, there are exceptions. But from what I’ve seen and read, it seems like most of the people who get involved in abusive dynamics – as perpetrators, victims, or both – were abused or observed abuse at some impressionable point in their past.* Abuse is simply the way things have always been done – and that’s hard to question.

In the public sphere, abusive policies and cultural biases sustain themselves just as cyclically. Racism is a personal and institutional tendency to re-create the abuses of the past rather than changing the way things have always been done. So is the war on women, rape culture, and slut shaming. So are transphobia, homophobia, and any number of other systemic injustices to numerous to list.

To break these cycles of abuse we have to apply the same approaches that we take to fixing problems of cyclical abuse in families: we have to be aware that there is a problem, and we have to recognize that this is not the way things have to be. We have to practice mindfulness, self-awareness, self-soothing, intentionality, compassion, and an acceptance that we cannot change the past. We have to harness our anger and use it for productive action.

My feminism is all about breaking these cycles. It starts with that first awakening, because once you start seeing these kinds of problems, you can’t help but notice them at every level. The more we practice opening our eyes to abuses – personal and systemic – the more likely we’ll be to recognize them and stand up for a better way of life for everyone.

“Keep hatred from the mighty, and the mighty from the small.” – Stevie Wonder

*Not an excuse. We’re all accountable for the impact of our actions on ourselves and others. Breaking the cycle is everyone’s responsibility.

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