“Victim or victor. For emotional manipulators, these are the only states of existence. You’ll almost never hear them say, ‘I was wrong. Thank you for helping me see that,’ or ‘I see what you’re saying, but I have a different point of view.’ If they lose an argument or if a discussion doesn’t go in their favor, they’ll accuse you of mistreatment, bullying, or disrespect. But if they win the argument or the discussion goes in their favor, they’ll shout victory and walk away feeling smug in self-satisfaction, as if they knew all along that they were superior.”
I used to wonder why so many of us end up in the Hellfire, even as the truth was right in front of us and we were literally being called to Paradise by the Creator Himself. But I don’t wonder anymore. Today I know it’s because most of us are more addicted to the self-deception that feeds our egos than to the self-correction that feeds our souls.
In this toxic need to harm our souls, we are more committed to a relationship of self-abuse than to a relationship of self-honesty.
In working with women (and men) in spiritual crisis—those on the verge of leaving Islam or those who have already left—I find two types: those who want a rope to help pull them out of the abyss, and those who want a rope to help hang themselves in a spiritual death.
The difference between these two is simple: The former is dedicated to the painful path of self-honesty, and the latter is dedicated to the intoxicating path of self-deception.
Death By Self-Deception
“…Yet they only deceive themselves but perceive it not” (Al-Baqarah, 2:9)
Self-deception is that abusive relationship that so many of us have with our own hearts. In our obsessive need to feed the narrative that we are good and sincere—even when trampling upon the rights of others or when arrogantly disobeying our Lord—we are willing to destroy our own souls, and the life of anyone who tells us we are wrong.
In this fake victimhood, we lash out at friends and loved ones who care for us and call us to spiritual health. And if we don’t seek healing, we ultimately lash out at God Himself.
Those addicted to self-deception imagine they are seeking healing when they reach out for help. But the only rope they grapple for is the one that guarantees their spiritual death.
As terrifying as their addiction to self-destruction is, they didn’t become this way overnight. They became this way by living like so many of us do every day—seeing friends and loved ones (and ultimately the self) as having only two roles in our lives: to stoke our ego, and to help us lie to ourselves when we are wrong.
Abusers Are Fake Victims
What nearly all abusers have in common is that they are fake victims. They justify their oppression of others by pointing to some wrong done to them, even if the “crime” is merely that someone hurt their pride—or that someone didn’t “properly” recognize their imagined superiority on earth.
Without emotional healing and honest self-correction, these abusers become addicted to the abuse itself. This addiction worsens until they get visceral satisfaction from watching their victims suffer, whether from the vicious crimes of their hands or from the vicious crimes of their tongue. These vicious attacks are incited most when a victim gathers the strength to stand up to the abuser and say, “You are wrong” or when a victim takes deliberate steps to leave the abusive relationship.
The same reality exists for our relationships of self-abuse with the soul. When we are entrapped in spiritual self-abuse, we become most incensed when we are reminded that we are wrong and need to self-correct. In these moments, we feel either indignant or accosted. When we feel indignant, we begin to irrationally justify our sins, and when we feel accosted, we begin to irrationally lash out at whoever reminds us that we are in sin.
In this way, we become fake victims to our own hearts and souls. Consequently, we self-justify the oppression against our souls then lash out at anyone who wants to save us from ourselves.
In abusive relationships, what is terrifying is that victims themselves can become addicted to the abuse. Without emotional healing and necessary life changes, victims become unable to function in any relationship except one that causes them physical or emotional harm. In this, both abuser and victim become trapped in a cycle of self-deception and self-destruction in which they “need” each other to survive.
Here is where the term “fatal attraction” is quite apt. You have two people trapped in an abusive relationship due to their “need” to inflict and suffer harm respectively. And without proper emotional healing, the victim ultimately becomes the abuser, and so the cycle of abuse continues.
But this cycle of toxic obsession is not limited to our relationships with others. It extends to our relationships with ourselves. So many of us are walking around addicted to self-abuse of the soul, a disease of the heart that is manifested most obviously in our addiction to self-deception.
The Heart’s Cycle of Abuse
The heart that is abused by self-deception accepts only two narratives of existence: victor or victim. The “victor” narrative is fueled by our ego and pride and makes us feel superior and justified even when we harm others, violate agreements and trusts, and disobey our Lord. The “victim” narrative is also fueled by our ego and pride, but it is incited most when friends or loved ones attempt to remove the veil of self-deception from our hearts, telling us in no uncertainty of terms, “You are wrong.”
But instead of correcting ourselves, we become indignant and claim that we’ve been wronged. In this classic case of self-deception, we fixate on the words or voice tone of our friend or loved one, claiming that a “real” friend or loved one wouldn’t say these things to us. In this way, we play victim even as we are clearly the wrongdoer—and ironically, in our claims of victimhood, we often resort to yelling and hurling insults at our friend or loved one as we claim that they spoke to us in a disrespectful way.
To the sick heart addicted to self-abuse, being told, “You are wrong” is always disrespectful.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Her latest novel His Other Wife is now a short film.
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