“The woman who has been to hell and back is not easy to love. [She’ll] push you away. She will test you […] [She is a] pendulum that will forever swing between fear of suffocation and fear of abandonment.” Kathy Parker
I was introduced to Parker’s post by a woman who’d just been abandoned by a man I was once involved with. Like me, he’d left her and drawn her back in repeatedly. Like me, she thought it was because she had been to hell and back. She had swung between fear of abandonment and suffocation. She was too scarred to attract unyielding love.
She doesn’t think that anymore, and nor do I. The push-pull of the man we’d both loved had played itself out before her and before me. He’d repeatedly left every woman he’d ever loved. As for him… well, he’d never been to hell so even his story lent no credence to Parker’s writing. He was one of those people who’d lived an impossibly easy life, complete with parental kindness, career success, and no history of trauma to speak of.
It’s not always the damaged who test, push, and punish, but I hate Parker’s post most for being a piece of apologia for toxicity: She suggests that it’s okay to treat a loved one like a human yo-yo if you have a dark enough history.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve played the part of the traumatised woman who’s mistreated her partner on the basis of her history. That doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t mean I deserve excuses that feed on others’ sympathy. There’s never an excuse for collateral damage.
Back when I was getting treatment for my own fucked-up life, my therapist said something that changed my worldview utterly: a lot of people had lived my history and never become as destructive and selfish as I had. A lot of people had become as destructive and selfish as I had without having suffered a hint of trauma.
In one devastating blow, all my excuses fell from the sky above me and scattered all over the floor. Nothing would ever fix them. I would have to take responsibility for my toxicity from then on, and thank god for that because I’m a much better person than I was in those days. Perfect? Nope. Not even close. Cured of my fear of abandonment? Not a fuck. Sporting a new and glossy self-esteem? I’m afraid not. These days I’m just a flawed person who doesn’t use excuses to escape the consequences of my behaviour.
Do I need extra patience and empathy because of my past? Sometimes, but a tearful flashback is a world away from abusing someone and then feeling entitled to insta-forgiveness when I’ve no intention of changing. If I ever treat a partner the way Parker’s post espouses, I dearly hope he won’t take on the weight of my consequences, no matter how much I was hurting at the time.