People speak of “abusive relationships” all the time. But they don’t go much into detail about what it all entails, which seems like a valuable thing to do.
So, for starters, we can define “abuse” as intentionally being given the opposite of what you need to be healthy. The needs being nutritious food, clean water, fresh air, warmth, light, and the freedom to express your body’s excess solids, liquids, gases, and energy. And the opposite of these can be anything from being given toxic versions of things, to being prevented from getting them at all.
Being given fire when you indicate that you are thirsty is abuse. Being given water when you indicate that you need warmth is abuse. But giving someone fire and water is not, in and of itself, abusive, as there must be clear intent to give you the opposite of what you need, for it to be abuse.
The primary cause of abusive relationships can stem from someone either being ill in some way, and thus not being healthy enough to care for others effectively, or from someone simply not having the right information about how to care for others effectively. Someone might have an excess of fire in their belly, and thus be harmful to those who are thirsty, or someone simply might not know that others are thirsty and instead think that some toasty fire is just what they need to warm them up.
People who’ve been raised in abusive environments who go on to abuse others on a regular basis usually have both of these elements – illness and lack of information – while many doctors and other health professionals in the medical industry, for example, generally are just lacking information when they give drugs and other treatments that end up harming their patients.
Another detail about abuse that isn’t so commonly spoken of is that one doesn’t necessarily need to “get out of an abusive relationship”. And that’s not just because “get out of an abusive relationship”, quite literally isn’t in the list of things humans do need, it’s also because there are other solutions that often can work even better at eliminating or at least reducing the abuse to a safe enough level. (For example, being called a “poopiehead” is quite safe, while also satisfying the definition of abuse, of being intentionally given the opposite of your needs. So one could say that some abuse is perfectly reasonable and harmless.)
Looking at the causes of abuse – illness and/or lack of information – we can see that these other solutions, aside from leaving the relationship, are helping the other person heal by taking care of them (rather than expecting them to take care of us) by helping them get their needs met, and/or giving them more information about the specifics of what taking care of us looks like.
Obviously, if we ourselves aren’t reasonably healthy, we’re not going to be able to take care of others, so leaving the relationship, temporarily, to get what we need elsewhere, might be the best option. But when we are healthy enough, we can return to the relationship to invest our extra resources into making the relationship healthy by offering what the other person needs to be healthy, and by clarifying what these basic needs for health are – food, water, air, warmth, light, and freedom of expression.
Sometimes, a relationship will be seen as mutually abusive, and both parties will have both of the primary causes (illness and lack of information). In this kind of extreme case, it will take much more of an investment of resources to heal. Many relationships won’t seem worth investing such an exceptional amount of resources in, but some, clearly, are very much worth it – usually close family members, such as parents, children, and spouses. So having this practical, specific list of needs is extremely handy for healing the most valuable relationships you have, if they have, in the past, involved any kind of abuse.