How to Deal with Abusive Relationships

Rinpoche: Once I was translating for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in India, and His Holiness said that if you tolerate such abusive action from anyone, that’s not compassion, and that’s not patience. He gave the example that some people say if someone hits you on the left cheek, you should show them the right cheek. He said that’s not really compassionate action, or a practice of patience. That’s actually very self-centered, ego-centered because you are only caring about yourself. You’re trying to practice tolerance, patience, love, kindness, or whatever you think. But you don’t care about that person’s karma. You don’t care about that person’s path, or helping to transform that person’s negative habits. You’re kind of encouraging that person to engage in more aggression. So in the end, that person’s path is going further and further downward, while yours may be going up and up––because you’re being more tolerant, more patient, and what-have-you. So His Holiness said that’s really ego-centered.

I always think this is the best answer for us. And to add to that, in my view, there’s really no sense of love there. If you really love that person, then you should care for their happiness. And when you encourage this kind of abusive habit, you’re actually making them more and more impatient, more and more unhappy. So in the end that’s not really an expression of love, towards anyone. Therefore, Karmapa said if someone’s trying to hit you, then you should stop them. You should hold that person’s hand.

Q: And if it’s a persistent situation, then you should leave that situation?

Rinpoche: Yes, I think so. Definitely.

Q: Because you don’t want to be a “karmic enabler” of bad karma.

Rinpoche: Yes absolutely. Absolutely. I think there are different ways to go about it. If there is a sense of love between the individuals, then of course you can seek professional help. Then if that doesn’t work, if all of the avenues you try don’t work, then leave. I’m not suggesting leaving on the first impulse. Because it can also be you, in some situations––you never know. I’m not saying this applies in every situation, such as  in really abusive cases. But in the general sense of relationship, we also are involved in our own habits that can perpetuate or attract neurosis. In some cases, our neurosis feeds the other’s. So even if we leave that particular abusive situation, we may just end up in another similar one. So first I would suggest trying some kind of therapeutic professional work to see if it can be sorted out. And if there’s really a persistent problem there, then leave.