The parable of the shit-filled twinkie

Should I be bothered that searching images for a "shit-filled twinkie" only returned pictures of regular twinkies?

Once upon a time, there was a fellow who fancied himself quite the pastry chef. He spent many long hours in the kitchen, coming up with countless inventions, but he was so focused on his recipes and his presentation that he rarely if ever tasted his own work.  And, as though his devotion to perfect proportions were not enough, he also seemed to be without olfactory senses.

One day, he came upon an idea to fill a light spongy cake with a rich brown filling. The contrast would be lovely, he thought, and his friends (who all humored him, often to their own detriment) agreed that it would be quite exciting.  He scoured his kitchen to find something that was the exact right color to match his imagined dish, and could find nothing in the cupboards.  He searched the pantry and the refrigerator, the drawers and the shelves, but it wasn’t until he found pile of richly colored pellets behind the cabinets that he settled on his ingredient of choice.

He went to work collecting them and cooking them in a double-boiler, bringing them to exactly the right consistency.  Gently, he squeezed the concoction into the spongy cakes and presented them to his friends, none of whom seemed to have an appetite at that point and took their leave.  He presented them instead to the object of his affection, who not only turned her nose up to them but admonished him for attempting to give her such horrible confections.

Hurt and offended, he was left with his invention all alone, peering at them in anger and sorrow that no one wanted to share his vision.  At last, he tried one for himself, but lacking the ability to smell, he merely found the texture disappointing and the flavor a little off.  Even in that moment, he could not understand why no one wanted them, and he finished the plate with tears in his nose.

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I do not like to say that I am an “abusive relationship survivor” any more than I’d use the word “victim”.  Both words (survivor and victim) denote a kind of permanent damage that I don’t entertain.  Still, it’s a problem that I ponder frequently and every now and again, I come upon an inspiration about it.

One of the markers of an abuse survivor is often a lingering and persistent anger towards the abuser.  This is totally justified in many cases, but it doesn’t do the survivor a lot of good.  Holding on to anger, as the saying goes, is like holding onto a hot coal with the intention of hurling it at someone – in the end, you suffer more damage than they ever could.  But it’s not acceptable to just say “let it go” or “forgive”.  There’s a part of us that needs to understand the mechanisms behind the abuse, especially when it seems that the abuser is confused by our refusal to be a part of it.

Keep in mind that this is not an “across-the-board” description.  People are different, and natural variation is enormous, but for many cases (and you may recognize them for yourself), this could be the case.

The theory that I am playing with in this scenario is that the abuser’s main issue is a combination of poor emotional training and severe lack of self-awareness.  The poor emotional training is obvious in the means of abuse (physical violence, emotional manipulation, etc), but the lack of self-awareness is what prevents the abuser from changing the behavior and fixing problem because they don’t see it as a problem.

This could be as pervasive as not recognizing that the behavior hurts other people or believing that their rationalization for accepting that behavior from others (parents, guardians, teachers, etc) should be universal to everyone else.  If they were raised to “accept the unacceptable”, then your refusal to accept the abuse would be confusing to them – and that creates an additional anger response.

The protocol when you realize that you might be dealing with this situation is to ensure your safety first.  Make sure that you have a safe place to go if things get hairy, whether that’s a relative, a friend, or a shelter.  Address the abuser in a way that is as non-confrontation as possible, non-accusatory as possible, using words like, “When you do this, I feel scared/unvalued/unloved/threatened/etc, and I don’t think you mean to make me feel this way, so could you please…”  The “could you please” applies to the specific scenario.  Is it a drinking problem, is it a stress problem?  What are the triggers?

If they are unwilling to acknowledge that their behavior may have to change, then it’s time to leave.  You may not have to leave for good, but your absence sends a message that you are serious.

So, try to understand it like this.  Someone who is trying to get you to eat a shit-filled twinkie might not know that it’s a shit-filled twinkie, but if they refuse to accept that your experience is that it’s a shit-filled twinkie, then no amount of cajoling and reasoning is going to get that message across.  Your options are either to eat it anyway (and make yourself even sicker) or remove yourself from the possibility of having it foisted upon you.

Sometimes – and more often than you might expect – pointing out the nature of the twinkie can work.  It’s up to you to assess in your own situation if you think that bringing the problem to light will help.  Sometimes it could make it worse – but you’d already know that.  Do your best and accept that what you’re going through is not necessarily “your fault” – some people just can’t smell shit.

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