Am I Really a Mean Person for Treating Him Like He Treated Me?

Reader’s Question

A few weeks ago, I got out of an emotionally abusive relationship. My ex-boyfriend was a very manipulative person. Actually, by reading your articles, I learned about many of the tactics he’d been using on me that I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Most of the things I said or did were never good enough for this guy. He didn’t much care about my concerns. It was always about him. Whenever I wanted to do something on my own, he would complain that I didn’t make enough time for him. He was extremely jealous, and when I did something that upset him (like going out with my friends or being 10 minutes late for a date), he’d try to get revenge and hurt me in some way. He was very good at playing victim, so in the end I would feel guilty even in situations where I didn’t do anything wrong. I’d always end up giving in to him. He eventually pulled me away from my friends and found other interests of his own, even though he didn’t like me to have mine. He then started making friends with some girls at work, even though he didn’t want me to have any male friends, even those I have been friends for years before I met him.

After a while, I became jealous and started feeling neglected. I think I then started being abusive toward him in some of the same ways he was toward me. In a way, I wanted to pay him back for the things he did to me and to make him feel like I did when he behaved abusively toward me. His reaction to my behavior was oddly very calm. A couple of times he told me that I was being mean to him and he didn’t understand why I was acting like that. But the fact is that I really did feel like a mean person. I actually wanted him to feel pain, and to know how it feels to hurt someone like he hurt me. I have never before had the feeling of wanting to hurt someone else deliberately and didn’t like myself for it.

Now I’m finally out of the relationship, but I’m very worried about the kind of behavior I displayed. I wonder if it’s possible that my boyfriend’s abusive behaviour caused me to feel like I did and act the way I did as some kind of defensive mechanism or if I am really a mean person deep inside who should seek professional help. I have never felt or acted the way I did with this ex-boyfriend and am I’m truly worried about why I did.

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I’d sincerely appreciate any advice.

Psychologist’s Reply

The fact that you’re upset about how you behaved is actually a good sign when it comes to assessing the nature of your character. Regardless of the various “reasons” you might find for what prompted your behavior, make a commitment to yourself that you’ll conduct yourself differently. And, when you find yourself in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your values or treat you with dignity, rather than “playing get-back,” simply sever your ties and resume your search for a person of the right character.

It’s quite likely that you fell into the common trap of trying to teach this person a lesson by making him feel like you felt. This comes from the misguided notion that no one would engage in hurtful behavior unless they’re clueless in some way about what they’re doing and how it affects others. While this can sometimes be true, it’s not always true, and it’s a dangerous assumption to make. Besides, almost no one of basically decent character likes themselves when they behave in uncharacteristic ways just to teach another person a lesson.

So, the ultimate answer to your question is that it makes little difference why you allowed yourself to do what you did. Simply make a commitment not to do such things again and also make a commitment to seek out and establish a relationship only with a person of the level of character you would like to see in yourself.

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