Once you've been terrorized in an abusive relationship, as I was, forgetting those feelings - stark terror, heart-pounding fight or flight, helplessness - is out of the question. And forevermore, there are triggers, red flags, personality traits you keenly watch for in every human interaction, to make sure you never, ever fall victim again.
Watching extreme House Republicans terrorize the nation in recent weeks has brought it all back.
These are the guys who would gleefully jerk the covers off you in the middle of the night while you're sleeping - because they can. They're the guys who would stand in a doorway, barring your exit, fist raised - because they know they have the upper hand. They're the guys who would break your grandmother's precious china, knowing how much it means to you - because causing you pain makes them feel powerful.
They're the guys who throw plates and slam doors and kick the dog and call you vile names and don't care if your kids are present or your mother's in the next room or you're on the telephone with your boss.
These are the same guys who would make a scene in public, knock you against the wall for being "too friendly" to the mailman, accuse you of sneaking out to meet a lover when in fact you're dragging two small kids with you to the grocery store because he refused to keep them home (as if you'd trust him to watch them anyway).
These are the same guys who make irrational demands and punish you when you can't meet them. These are the guys who are useless and impotent in life and blame you for their failures. These are the guys who can't play by the any set of rules but expect you to play by theirs.
These are the guys whose "look what you made me do" strategy has been elevated to an art form. These are the guys who believe you have to earn their kindness. These are the guys who practice the art of "reward and punishment," with the "reward" being only freedom from fear. These are the guys who will work against their own best interests simply to harm you.
Watching House Republicans turn this nation on its head in recent weeks, with their irrational demands and unattainable goals and megalomaniac glee in the power they believe themselves to wield, has been an uncomfortable reminder of the years I spent locked in a prison of cruelty with a person who I once believed, wanted to believe, had my best interests at heart.
One can view this as a harsh assessment, but in light of the classic abusive personality, these Republicans have demonstrated nearly every character flaw: Control, entitlement, denial of responsibility for their own actions, the blame game, self-righteousness for unreasonable expectations, and, of course, a careless attitude about harm inflicted on others.
This Republican government shutdown and upcoming debt ceiling hostage-taking has highlighted as little else could the disturbed nature of the extreme right-wing personalities we are dealing with. While they may curtail their natural abusive tendencies at home, or in the public realm, they've found an ideal outlet in which to unleash their inner rage, their insecurity, and their fear of being discovered to be far, far lesser people than the public image they hope to project. Holding the government - and the American people - hostage, being in a position to terrorize millions of people at once, meets their need for power, control and self-aggrandizement.
To effectively disable an abusive person, you have to remove yourself from his control - which is what President Obama and Harry Reid are doing so beautifully. Although the rage of a thwarted abuser will likely increase in the short run (as we're currently seeing), in the long run he'll realize he's lost - and while potentially more dangerous in this mindset, he's also significantly less powerful.
An old domestic violence parable perfectly describes the impossibility of pleasing an abuser: An abusive man asks his wife to cook him eggs, one scrambled, one fried. She does as he asks, and when she places the plate in front of him, he hits her in the face. "I did exactly what you asked," she cries, "So why did you hit me?" He said, "You scrambled the wrong egg."
It would behoove President Obama to remember that, when it comes to dealing with abusive personalities such as the Republicans we're seeing now, and have been subjected to since his election, it's impossible for him to negotiate with, please or appease them: In their minds, he will always, always scramble the wrong egg.