I was in a meeting where a mediator was trying her best to stay impartial to a situation where a large volume of well-documented verbal and emotional abuse had occurred. She was a trained professional, but professionally speaking, she didn’t want to be in a position to take sides on the issue. She offered the worn-out platitude, “Well, there are two sides to every story…” I let it slide the first time she said it, but when she said it again, I stopped her.
“Actually, when it comes to abuse, there are not two sides. There is abuse, and there is the recipient of abuse. The recipient of abuse is not at fault for the actions of the abuser.”
Her jaw dropped a moment, then she nodded slowly. She knew I was right, and in this moment, a light went on. The situation she was mediating was not about two people having a disagreement. It was about a serial abuser attacking someone else who had done nothing to provoke the attack. She couldn’t stay impartial. It was her professional and legal duty to take action.
Too often, victims of abuse exhaust all the channels of communication and mediation only to be told that they must have misunderstood their abuser, or maybe they just need to see the other person’s point of view. The problem with telling a victim of abuse that there are two sides to every story is that it implies they did something wrong for the abuser to treat them that way. It’s too often used as a deflection of the hard truth that the abuser did what they did on purpose, with an intent to harm. People tend to give others the benefit of the doubt sometimes because it’s too painful to accept that some people really are monsters.
People who are not educated about narcissists, psychopaths, and other Cluster B personality disorders don’t understand that conflicts that arise from such people are not misunderstandings. There is nothing that can be said or done to mediate, because the abuser lacks empathy.
When someone reacts in an abusive way, there is no excuse. If a normal person says or does something out of line, they will recognize it, feel true remorse, and offer an apology. A normal person is capable of feeling sorry for someone they hurt. A disordered person will never admit fault, and will double down on their abusive behavior. A disordered person will seek to destroy anyone who challenges them. Their lack of empathy means they are only able to see themselves as victims, never any one else.
So, no, there are not always two sides to every story. There is only truth.
4 thoughts on “No, There Are Not Two Sides”
This is a very helpful post, tx.
You make a very important statement with eloquence and brevity. One point I’d like to make is that while abusers may never FEEL sorry for their actions, they may, in fact, offer apologies when it serves them: so they can appear empathic and/or to put an end to the issue.
Sexual abuse survivors sometimes receive an acknowledgment of their abuse and even an apology, but when they continue to address the abuse and its implications, their abusers and family members frequently treat THEM as the problem. (Hostility, victim-blaming, scapegoating and ostracism are tragically common.)
Thank you for this post. I was in a relationship with a narcissist who was very emotionally abusive. After years I finally tried to vocalize that it wasn’t ok to keep up the abuse. There was an immediate reaction of what you described in the first part and a doubling down of the abuse. It took me 10 more years to find the strength to leave and this person still tries to interject her abuse to me or me via my kids. If just one person is able to find the strength from your blog to stand up for themselves, say no more, and remove themselves from a toxic situation then it is worth it. Thank you.