Should You Mind Your Own Business if You Suspect Someone is Being Abused?
So many interpersonal catastrophes that end in harm or tragedy are foreseeable. But not always to the people involved. Human beings whose modus operandi is to hurt other people signal it. They leave a field of red flags, but unfortunately, society trains us out of giving them the weight they deserve. That romantic partner who will eventually beat the tar out of his girlfriend or wife, or maybe even kill her, wasn’t being old-fashioned and sweet when he ordered her meals for her or showered her with gifts that anyone who’d taken the time to get to know her would know she had no interest in. He was being controlling. The “kindness” was the red flag. A certain kind of person is very good at convincing the people they are harming or intend to harm to trust them. Even after their targets get wise to the manipulation, they still can’t spot the gravity of the danger sometimes.
Some people have no limits. I think that’s hard for most of us to grasp. Empathy and compassion are what prevents most us from harming others. Especially with premeditation involved. Invigilation and fear of being caught, punished, and shamed is the only thing that’s stopping some people. Remove the threat of consequences, and they’ll do absolutely anything. It’s one of the reasons criminal justice is so difficult to get right. A teenager whose brain isn’t fully developed who violently assaults someone during a heated argument isn’t as dangerous as that man ordering food his girlfriend doesn’t like and sending her flowers she’s allergic to. Anger management and counseling can help the young man. The “nice guy” likely has a personality disorder.
It’s not my business.
I shouldn’t interfere.
These beliefs form part of the shield abusive people construct to protect themselves. It works, in part, because it’s true. Interfering may make the abuser escalate. Sea lioning in to make yourself the hero isn’t helpful. When abusers realize their true selves might be revealed, that’s when they’re the most dangerous. Also, absent visible bruises and a complaint from the victim, it can be difficult to be sure if someone is being physically abused. Things get even stickier if the abuse is purely emotional and psychological. How do you frame “I think they’re a mean phony” or “I don’t like the way he talks to her” or the always frustrating “Something is off about them” in a way that expresses any urgency? I think that’s the biggest challenge: communicating what is wrong, but more importantly why it’s wrong. Most people lack the context.
The longer I live, the more convinced I am that there needs to be mandatory instruction in schools on spotting and dealing with manipulative people and their tactics. We should teach children from a young age what personal boundaries are and why they should be respected. If we all had the language to discuss these matters with more precision, I think it would help a lot of people. It would also help to stop exerting pressure on people to develop and maintain relationships with people they’re viscerally uncomfortable around. People’s own intuition — that’s the biggest red flag that society collectively suppresses with outdated norms.
Should you mind your own business? That’s an important question. How should you go about not minding your own business? How do you talk responsibly about the other people’s business you’re not minding? These are even more important considerations when you’re trying to figure out how to help someone you think may be being abused. It’s often unclear how to proceed, and I’m not sure what the right answers are, but I think these are matters we all need to put more thought into. It’s nearly always best to do things quietly after research and learning about resources first, I think.