I think idiot compassion interested me because I grew up in an alcoholic household, my father the alcoholic, my mother the explainer.
"He didn't mean it."The setup was that he chose me to be mean to, to delegate as the family scapegoat, as it is known in family systems theory. The scapegoat is the one cast as the only problem in the family: If it wasn't for Jeanne, this would be a happy family. She ruins everything.
"He has a headache today."
My mother's interpretation was that he was "strict" with me, which she said in a wondering way. No, this was not true. He was not at all strict with anyone, including himself, not setting clear rules and enforcing boundaries as a father should. He lashed out at me and demeaned me whenever he noticed me. My mother did this too; when she was ruminating on her simmering anger at him, she would insult me or kick at me. Really. That sweet Sunday school teacher.
I think that however much he disappointed and angered her, she loved her role as "the martyr, always the virgin," as my father put it. Her role was to be kind and protective of her Man. If he had treated her son that way, it would have been a different story, but I was just a girl.
If I complained to my mother about something brutal he said to me, she might say, "His back has been bothering him," her voice assuming a rounded, sacred tone. She was speaking as a ministering angel. She loved that role. When I was sixteen, I did my best to commit suicide.
Here's the thing: it does not matter what motivates someone to harm others - the harm is done. We might need to help that person or lock them up. But to excuse out-of-bounds behavior, to explain it away and let them do it again, that's idiot compassion. You're not helping them, you're not helping the victim, whether that victim is your child or yourself.
It's not uncommon for women to excuse away bad behavior, and not just with their partners. I've watched with some disbelief how people accept and excuse rude behavior from a woman in my (former) social circle because, oh, she's worried about [fill in the blank]. My response to that is my favorite line from the movies: I don't care what she's worried about - she's hurtful. And I don't like to be hurt.
In case you haven't seen "The Fugitive," Tommy Lee Jones is a federal marshal chasing an escaped murderer played by Harrison Ford. In the confrontation above, Ford is trapped in a huge sewer pipe. He turns and tells Jones he is innocent. Jones' response is, I don't care! Because it's not his job to judge innocence. His job is to bring the guy in. And all you men and women who are putting up with partners who are mean to you and your kids, that's not your job, either. That's not what compassion does.