Rice, Peterson, and the cycle of abuse
Recently, many people were astounded when former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer, defended her husband’s physical abuse of her. Social media users asked how she could defend her abuser. For the answer, I ask you to consider the other NFL abuse case currently getting exposure: the child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson.
These two examples show us the cycle of abuse, a potential cause and effect on display for us all.
Children in healthy homes are taught boundaries: physical, emotional, and sexual. Having healthy boundaries means that you know and can safely say when someone has crossed a line. These boundaries we develop as kids protect us and promote healthy relationships.
Some people, however, have a lot of trouble setting boundaries. This difficulty usually comes from child abuse. Abuse can range from slight emotional manipulation to severe sexual and physical abuse. To our mind, any abuse, no matter how big or small, is an insult to our personal dignity. This insult to dignity is why adults who were abused as kids lack the ability to set appropriate boundaries. In childhood, not having boundaries was their defense since most abused children know that if you try to do anything to resist the abuse, you just get hurt more. So setting aside any resistance means less hurt. This continues into adulthood.
So child abuse, such as Adrian Peterson is accused of, could lead a young boy to grow up into a young adult who only knows how to tolerate abuse, just as Janay Palmer has been publicly shamed for doing. In fact, she even tried to deflect blame about the public outrage to the media rather than her husband.
If we’re unable to stand in and say “he has crossed a line” for a young boy who can’t for himself, it makes no sense to criticize an abused adult for doing what they feel they need to do to survive. I have no idea if Janay Palmer was abused prior to what has been in the news. But it is clear that a person who would defend someone who knocked her out has a skewed sense of boundaries.
For everyone who has suffered abuse and has no ability to set boundaries, it’s not too late. With counseling and guidance, it’s possible to learn that you are not worthless and that boundaries are built out of love and respect.
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