modeling responsibility by owning normal interpersonal sadism


I’m not sure if we have any place posing ourselves as champions for the cause to end interpersonal violence unless we’re taking active steps to see and take ownership of our own anti-social empathy and normal interpersonal sadism*.

*adapted from David Schnarch’s concept of normal marital sadism

Just because there are people who take their sadism and anti-social empathy to extreme levels of habitual harm does not some how make our own “less bad.”

Taking ownership of our own anti-social empathy and normal interpersonal sadism serves many purposes in shifting how we understand and respond to abuse.

Doing this shows others what taking responsibility actually looks like. So much discourse around accountability is self-righteous posturing, using guilt and emotional arguments to cast responsibility onto others for taking what they believe are the necessary steps for addressing abuse and supporting survivors.

(I know because this was me! And I see others do it all the time!)

This is akin to a parent demanding their child keep their room clean without ever teaching them how.

This might even be generous because I would bet money that people’s metaphorical rooms are messy too- that is, people are shouting about what others should do without honestly examining their own unsavory tendencies 👀

Being able to model what taking responsibility looks like and confident ownership of the whole of ourselves – good and bad alike – sets a standard for others.

It sets a standard for those enduring mistreatment to see that personal accountability is not an unreasonable expectation.

And it sets a standard for those who need to take ownership of their own mistreatment of others.

It models that seeing ourselves in a light that exposes things we are ashamed of will not destroy us, and that doing so can be fulfilling, a relief, and bring us into greater alignment with our integrity.

This isn’t to say that showing others we see the abusive things they are doing isn’t useful or effective. To the contrary, it very much is.

But we need to be capable of doing this in ways that effectively meet the goal of the intervention, and a foundational way of doing this is by being able to see, understand. and take responsibility for these things in ourselves.

The more you are able to truly demonstrate your own integrity, the more respect others will have for you and the more likely you are to succeed in others taking you seriously.

Shifting dynamics of abuse requires shifting our benchmark for what is expected of us for healthy behavior.

That will always begin with us, and true transformation of others is not driven by evoking guilt and righteousness in others. It is driven by creating the space for others to step into their full authenticity.