25 June 2021

Going beyond sorry: taking accountability for using abuse

Has a partner ever said they were scared of your behaviour ?

Has your behaviour in relationships ever been questioned by someone or named as not ok?

Do you find yourself making most of the decisions in your relationship?

These are just a few examples of signs that you might be using abusive behaviours against your partner/s. Abusive behaviours are not limited to physical violence. When one person uses deliberate and ongoing actions to gain control over their partner or partners, this is abuse.

To change your behaviour, and keep those around you  safe, there are some steps you’ll need to take, starting with: take a deep breath and take responsibility for your actions, be accountable for your behaviours, acknowledge and face shame, and show you are sorry by making change. Doing this makes changing behaviours much more possible.

Shame and accountability

Shame can often manifest as thinking or feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’. Facing shame takes an enormous amount of courage. It means facing insecurities, sitting with uncomfortable feelings, and challenging the parts of you that felt it was ok to use abusive behaviours in the first place.

You may have felt shame after using  controlling and abusive behaviours. Maybe you apologised, tried to make it up somehow or made promises that it would never happen again. But most likely the pattern of behaviour has returned. Shame feels awful, and on its own, long term and meaningful change isn’t often possible. This pattern of honeymoon, abuse, remorse, honeymoon is known as the cycle of violence, and it’s one that is familiar to people who have experienced abuse.

It can be confronting to really think about the way that you’ve treated your partner/s. It’s often easier to blame your partner, stress, your mental health or drugs and alcohol. But placing the blame away from yourself sets up an environment where you’re likely to use abusive behaviours again. Abuse is always a choice and it’s important to confront the questions “what does my behaviour say about me? why am I doing these things?”

Think back to the times that you have used controlling and abusive behaviours, you may be able to see what your true ‘intent’ was in that moment. For example, maybe you wanted your partner to stop doing something, for them to stop talking, or to spend more time with you.

To move away from justifications and blame, you need to take full accountability for your actions. That means actually being honest about your intent and naming your behaviour that was not ok.

Saying Sorry

It is important to recognise that no one has to accept an apology, or ‘forget’ about what has happened. This is hard but an important part of showing respect for others, their needs and choices after experiencing abusive behaviours.  Taking responsibility shows respect for yourself, too.

An apology without actions is just words, and the most important part of any apology is what happens next. Saying sorry should inform your actions towards stepping out of the pattern of abusive behaviours you have been using, and making a commitment towards change.

You may have said sorry to the person you’ve hurt before. Some questions to consider when making meaningful apologies are:

 Am I taking accountability for my behaviour and its impact in my apology?

Am I going to pair this apology with action towards change?

Will I respect the persons response even if it is not the outcome I want?

Face shame and accountability by apologising for the choice you made to use abuse, without giving an excuse.

For some people who have been hurt, an apology can be incredibly powerful. They may choose to accept the apology, or they may not. They may choose to stay in the relationship, or they may not.  It’s important not to expect, and definitely not demand, that the other person accept your apology or pair that with an ongoing relationship.  It can be difficult, but respecting their decision and boundaries is essential.

The rest of the journey

Accountability, acknowledging shame, saying sorry and showing you are through action is just the beginning of the process to change. Changing abusive behaviour means examining and altering deeply held beliefs around what it means to exist in a healthy relationship with other people by treating them as an equal, worthy of dignity and respect. It also involves learning new ways to manage your emotions, skills in healthy communication, and understanding and respecting other’s boundaries.

Change on this level can take time, and can be a challenging process. To support the process of self-reflection and accountability, you may look to a positive support network of people who you trust and who can assist in holding you accountable for your behaviour while keeping your partner/s safe.  You can also reach out for therapeutic assistance from a professional to change your behaviour as well.  Ultimately YOU are responsible for your behaviour.

If you live in NSW, ACON runs a group program, Proud Partners, for LGBTQ+ people using controlling or unhealthy behaviours in a relationship. For more information or to be notified about the next time this group takes place, email healthyrelationships@acon.org.au.




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