“Death by one thousand cuts” is described as, a form of torture and human execution which was utilized in China (between 900 to 1905). It entailed the strategic cutting (described as slicing) of the tortured toward a lingering and pending death. I recently heard this phrase in reference to the loss of relationship caused by the slow whittling away of the speaker’s sense of self and safety in that relationship. It was a painful and heartbreaking story to hear and one which, sadly, myself and some of you may relate to.
While I won’t share another’s story, this seemed a poignant description of the process of losing oneself in a relationship to another’s wants or needs. A relationship in which the other “partner” engaged in serial boundary crossing and appeared to have no real investment in partnership. Or, the investment may have been (or is) at a minimum self-serving. At the extreme (as in the ancient technique) the other may have utilized intentional efforts to harm. Most serial boundary violators work very hard to build a narrative in which they had no other choice but to cross multiple boundaries. They in essence see themselves as “the” victim.
Sometimes it seems the only result (after such a profound loss of self) is a well of painful questions, a deep desire to understand, and a genuine need (that can only be understood in time) to resurrect one’s sense of self and safety. In truth (and dependent on many factors’ including one’s specific experience, self-concept, ability to cope and perspective build, length of time the relationship lasted, and frequency of assaults to sense of self and safety) this may take a very long time. It most certainly will be a very individual and needed process.
Often one has been so vested in making the other satisfied or making him or her happy, they have not seen the harm that has come to them. This can be a painful reality once it has surfaced and can generally only begin once distance from the relationship has occurred.
The questions that seem to be asked most often include, how could my person do this to me? Did they stop loving me and why? Am I worthy of being loved? Why didn’t I see? Why don’t they care what they have done to me or how I am doing? Did I ever mean anything to them? And many more.
The questions that might serve one better, on their path to recovery, is asking what is wrong with the other person? What allowed them to inflict the “one thousand cuts”? Do they lack empathy? Are they personality disordered? Is narcissism or sociopathy part of the psychological make-up? One mistake is feasible, but a repeated willingness to harm implies a deeper-rooted issue that extends far beyond selfishness.
There are many possibilities, and in truth a person (any person) will only cross a boundary if they are willing to cross it. There was nothing the speaker, you, or I did to make that happen. The willingness to harm by proxy or intention (when knowingly engaging is untrustworthy behavior) rests squarely on the offenders’ shoulders. It is his or hers to hold. They may not (hold it) but you don’t have too either.
While relational dynamics exists, it is not the reason one crosses boundaries. And, while both people have learning to do; the change in behavior needed by a serial boundary crosser must be done by them. You can only ask them to stop and set your own boundaries. You can’t make them, and you most certainly cannot do this for them.
But, the speaker, you, and I can do our work. The result, of engaging in this work, can be a better understanding of self. Understanding what caused you not to see will be an important part of this process. For those that did see and stayed (or are currently staying) it will be important to understand what kept you or keeps you there? What is the need underneath this for you? Is codependency at the root and, if so, there is a roadmap to recovery.
The truth is, we all want to matter (especially to the person we chose). This innate longing is a research based human need. Having a sense of belonging makes navigating the larger world more manageable. When it has been shaken the world seems less kind and more challenging.
What I hope will become very clear is it takes willingness to see the mistreatment, it takes courage to leave or to begin the process of leaving, and it takes determination to find or rebuild yourself. But you can. You owe it to you. You are worth this journey in finding and rebuilding. It will take time. There will be tears, anger, grief, sadness and much more. But it will move, and in time you will see the person you are without the pain of what you have endured. You will see you, full of strength, and truth.
As always, I appreciate you and welcome (and look forward to) your thoughts and insights. I do want to add that if you or someone you love is in the midst of managing a serial offender, it takes time to know what to do and it takes a great deal of strength to navigate this on a day-to-day basis. Encourage them to seek support (or seek support) and, most of all, be gentle and patient with them or you. It is not easy to uproot a life and move away from what you believed was possible.
My deepest care and respect to each of you.
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Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
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Photo: Image found on Pixabay
Behary, Wendy and Young, Jeffery. 2013. Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self Absorbed. New Harbinger Publications.
Bernstein, Albert. 2012. Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry. McGraw – Hill.
Priebe, Heidi. 2016. This is Me Letting Go. (Audio Book). Create Space Independent Publisher.
Stout Martha. 2006. The Sociopath Next Door. The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. Broadway Books.