I recently came across Kafka’s letter to his abusive and narcissistic father on Maria Popova’s treasure trove, Brainpickings. Kafka writes:
I cannot recall your ever having abused me directly and in downright abusive terms. Nor was that necessary; you had so many other methods, and besides, in talk at home and particularly at business the words of abuse went flying around me in such swarms, as they were flung at other people’s heads, that as a little boy I was sometimes almost stunned and had no reason not to apply them to myself too, for the people you were abusing were certainly no worse than I was and you were certainly not more displeased with them than with me.
Kafka shines the light on the impact abusive people can have on those around them. I remember reading on Gretchen Rubin’s blog many years ago how she was always wary of a person at work after she saw him abuse someone who had made a mistake. He was always very nice to her, but she (wisely) couldn’t shake off her feelings of distrust. His, and Kafka’s father’s, abusiveness spilled into the air that people breathed, and they couldn’t breathe properly.