“Nobody deserves to be abused.” When and why that sentence is not helpful.

Georgia NeSmith
3 min readFeb 20, 2020
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

“Nobody deserves to be abused.”

A psychiatric nurse taking down information on me for admission to the psychiatric wing of a hospital said that to me. It’s not the first time people have said it, thinking they were being supportive. But it isn’t supportive at all.

It’s often used by people who’ve never had the experience of being abused themselves [to their knowledge], but who are trying, quite ineffectively, to demonstrate empathy. Let’s take a look at that. What is the real content and why would it not feel supportive and empathetic?

Well, first of all, the person seeking empathy has not indicated she thinks she deserved to be abused. It would be an appropriate response if she had. But otherwise it does not reflect in any sort of connection to the content of what the person seeking empathy expressed.

Secondly, the content of the sentence suggests that the individual may have behaved badly, may be someone whom others would not like, or would dislike intensely, or even hate. The speaker is implying: no matter how bad you may have been as a child, you didn’t deserve to be abused.

Think about that. “I don’t care how badly you behaved as a child, you didn’t deserve to be abused.” Well, at least that acknowledges the person by using second person as the subject rather than the generic “nobody.”

What the person seeking empathy needs to hear is: “I am so sorry that you had to experience that pain. I understand it was horrific, and that it would deeply affect you throughout your life.”

“Nobody deserves to be abused” also is a generalized statement that doesn’t even acknowledge the individual nor the experience of the person seeking empathy. It doesn’t refer in any way to the expressions of pain the person has just presented.

It doesn’t say: “no child should have to experience what you experienced. Your parents were supposed to protect you, not hurt you, and I am so sorry that you had to go through that.”

Note the “you,” which directs the statement specifically at the individual who has experienced the abuse and is seeking empathy.

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Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.