Self-Interest in Abusive Relationships

August 11, 2011 Kellie Jo Holly

If you are a verbal abuse sufferer, your abuser tells you how selfish you are on a regular basis. You listen to your abuser's opinion on this matter with bated breath, waiting to hear how you are acting selfishly so you can stop doing it...right now! The backwards thing about it is that you martyred yourself for the relationship by sacrificing so many of your own "selfish" desires that you are now creating a confined, tiny life full of limitless impossibilities.

Abuse Sufferers Self-Limit

You are the epitome of self-sacrificing; your friends and coworkers - if you're lucky enough to still enjoy those relationships - think you're a wonderful, giving person. Many of them would bend over backwards for you (if you asked, but you won't because that would appear selfish). Is it better to limit your possibilities in life by not sharing it with anyone? By martyring yourself for an abusive relationship built on lies your partner tells about you to you?

God helps those who help themselves. God helps those who make self-serving decisions from time to time in order to rise up above the evilness of abuse and allow their own soul to shine brightly. If you won't follow your bliss, a.k.a. your gifts, talents and abilities, then you are doubting God's faith in you and placing the evilness spewed from mankind's lips above goodness. Martyrs don't always prove a point. Sometimes they just wither up and die silently and unnoticed.dead-quiet-martyr

When Selfishness Isn't Selfish

Abuse sufferers mistake selfishness with self-interest. When you make a selfish decision, you do not care a lick about how it affects another person and tend to blame the other person when they speak out against your decision. When you make a decision in your self-interest, you understand that your decision may or may not affect another person and you are willing to address their concerns respectfully without allowing the other to alter your good-for-you decision.

If it is in your self-interest to attend a domestic violence group that helps you cope with your abusive relationship, then do not allow yourself to believe your abuser when s/he whines about how selfish you are for leaving him (or her) to fend for themselves at dinner time on Tuesday evenings. Your abuser is a grown person and highly capable of feeding themselves.

If it is in your self-interest to attend classes to further your career or talent, then do not be dissuaded by the temper tantrum of a jealous mate. If the shoe were on the other foot, I'll bet you would support your mate's desire to better themselves.

When your abuser spits venom about your "selfish" decision, you can choose to hear them out, then say something like, "I understand that you feel I am making a poor decision. Only time will tell if you are right or not. Only by trying this will I know for myself."

That's all you need to say, and you've heard all you need to hear about that. It probably will not be all the abuser wants to say about it, but you know the drill: abusers will try to wear you down by repeating ad nauseum their own thoughts on the matter. However, you've made a decision in your self-interest, and you can also decide if you want to pay attention or stick around for their abusive commentaries.

Self-Interest Is Not The Easy Way Out

Please don't mistake my simple explanation on how to deal with this abuse as lack of understanding for just how difficult it will be to do. Your abuser's disgust with you making your own decision will play out in several ways:

  • Sulking, the quiet treatment
  • Raging, in your face to the point of thinking you'll be physically injured (when this happens, leave temporarily at least!)
  • Sweet concern for your failing character and attempts to lovingly persuade you to see how horrible you've become
  • Conversations lasting hours that spin in circles as they attempt to dissuade you
  • Contrived emotions running the gamut from anger/hostility to sadness/crying and begging
  • Snide comments in public and private
  • "Jokes" in front of others or just to you
  • Name-calling
  • Telling you what you deserve to have happen to you for making your decision or simply being who you are
  • A break in the abuse as they appear to have made peace with your decision (don't be fooled...)
  • Fill in your abuser's unique way of attempting to control you here...

Making a decision in your own self-interest is asking for trouble - make no mistake about it! But remember: doing things that you feel are good for you and believing the outcome for your choice will benefit you in the long run is the only way to break free from abuse. Have the courage to be you and only good things will result despite the punishment your abuser attempts to inflict.

More on Selfishness and Self-Interest

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2011, August 11). Self-Interest in Abusive Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Holly
June, 14 2012 at 8:29 pm

Fred, I totally remember how "selfish" I was to him. It amazed me that he could blast me for being "selfish" and then turn around and do the exact thing I'd wanted to do! He was never selfish. Ha.
Next time she says "I'll sit here all alone" just say, "Okay" and walk out the door. She'll be in shock. :) Be ready with your boundaries in place when you come home 'cause she's gonna want to give you an earful! LOL! No, really, laugh at her nonsense. <3 Take care!

June, 14 2012 at 7:40 pm

I can totally relate to this piece. I do some things for myself, but more often than not, I don't do things so as to not rock the boat. I don't go out with friends (if I even had any anymore) or myself to do something so as not to hear how selfish I am. I also hear that I should "go out and have fun with your friends. I 'll sit here all alone."
I got roasted for looking into volunteering someplace when they called and left a message at the house. If I had so much free time, I should do stuff for her I was told. I was just being selfish and wanted to do what I wanted to do. Yet, every time we do anything, it's what she wants to do.
If I'm selfish, that makes two of us.

June, 12 2012 at 4:47 am

@Steve - It is quite Ironic but I tried to address any similar complaints my x may have had e.g. that I don't listen to him / asking his needs / allow him to communicate etc in order to create/grow and maintain a healthy marriage by actually asking him - what would you like me to do for you, what is your fav ....? how was your day? etc but my husband wanted a quiet submissive "non-questioning" "mind-reading" wife hence instead of responding with a gentle response or starting a conversation he would get irritated and answer with "Nothing"/"I Don't Know" etc, or be angry or simply give me the quiet treatment i.e. by ignoring me or pretending not to hear. That is when I knew something was wrong with him/our marriage later I realised it was his method of control/abuse.

August, 11 2011 at 7:10 am

As usuual, you are right on the bullseye for exposing this sickening dysfunction. Kellie. you are so right. She tells me I am selfish. She asks me why I hurt her by not doing what she demands. She proclaims I am broken since I do not see things how she does. I am a terrible communicator and I do not listen to her directions.
I fumble to fall in line, I follow to keep peace. All the while feeling empty and not me. I start expressing my views and wishes only to be yelled at or asked what is wrong with me, or accused of being insensitive to her needs. Yet never asked about my needs.
I have to break this. I have to be me. Like you said, that is the only time good things will come my way. I need to help myself. Something tells me she will be JUST FINE sooner than I ever think.....
scared of trying to be me in my marriage?

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