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After abuse, is reconciliation possible?

RihannChris Brown

Rihanna, Chris Brown

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Updated: November 18, 2012 6:15AM

In 2009, singer Rihanna’s life was turned upside when her then-boyfriend — R&B star Chris Brown — physically assaulted her. The pictures from the night were shocking, and they told of a brutal session of abuse.

The story made headlines across the world, and many breathed a sigh of relief when Rihanna broke ties with Brown and moved on with her life.

However, recently there have been rumors that a makeup might be in the works. In an exclusive televised interview with Oprah, Rihanna declared that she and Brown still love each other and that they now are close friends. She also called Brown the “love of her life,” lamenting that people now view him as a monster for “that mistake.”

Not long after, word came that Brown split from girlfriend Karrueche Tran after posting an apparently drunken video on YouTube. In that video he confessed to being in love with another, leading fans to the obvious conclusion that he was referring to Rihanna. Before long many media outlets were reporting that Brown and Rihanna were spotted kissing in New York City hot spot Griffin.

The purported rekindled romance gives many people — myself included — pause. Here’s why:

† Rihanna has a history of abuse. In her interview with Oprah, Rihanna said she grew up watching her father beat her mother. Even if a child only witnesses abuse and does not feel the fists firsthand, she still is vividly experiencing the abuse and it still is shaping who she is as a person and as a woman.

When children see abuse in their parents’ marriage, it impacts the way they think of love as well as their level of self-respect. It tells kids that it’s OK to hit people, even people you love, and that pain and romance go hand-in-hand. It creates a dangerous cocktail in the brain in which any attention — even negative attention and abuse — is associated with love and it also shoots off a wave of adrenaline that can at times feel exciting and even addicting.

† Rihanna’s own family can’t seem to get it right. Recently, Rihanna’s father told In Touch magazine that he loves Chris Brown: “He’s got so much charisma. And he’s always had so much respect for me. That’s what I love about him. He’s always shown me respect.”

It seems like an oddly gushing (not to mention, selfish) vote of confidence for the young man who put his daughter in the hospital, and it’s easy to see how Rihanna might struggle with feelings of self-worth in the wake of such a response. Dad’s validating her abuser and touting how respectful Brown is, and in doing so, completely minimizing the pain his little girl suffered.

† Rihanna isn’t focusing on her own needs. In her interview with Oprah, Rihanna said, “I truly love him, so the main thing for me is that he is at peace. I’m not at peace if he’s a little unhappy or he’s still lonely.”

It’s a romantic sentiment, but it seems as though Rihanna is still only focusing on how this “mistake” harmed Chris Brown, rather than how it deeply affected her.

Forgiveness always is possible, but you can’t truly forgive someone and move on if you don’t first realize how wrong the abuse was. Nor can you ever truly find a worthwhile and loving partner if you don’t first realize how much love and respect you actually deserve.

The good news is that Brown did attend anger management classes following his sentencing in the attack on Rihanna. These therapeutic classes can definitely help. If abusers really do the work, then it is possible for them to change and grow. However, it is crucial that they learn from their triggers, find new ways to process their emotions, as well as identify the reasons behind their anger.

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