First off, I know many people who were abused and neglected as children who went on to live healthy, happy lives. Sometimes they received the right type of help and the right type of support but sometimes they got there under their own steam and had to travel through some bumps along the way. This post is about child abuse and not healing and not getting the right support and what that looks like as an adult because child abuse may end when you’re no longer a child if you get away but the damage created can continue on for years and look like other things.
So I know this lady, she doesn’t live around here but we have a mutual friend so we have chatted a lot on and off over the years.
So this lady returned to her violent abusive husband recently. Or I should say let him return to the family home. Trigger warning on the rest of this paragraph. He beats her, burns her, rapes her, sends his friends to rape her, breaks any objects that she holds dear and confines her to the house. He prevented her from renewing her licence and forced her to quit her job. He tells her it’s her fault. If she was just better at being a respectful and obedient housewife, if she took care of him better, if she took care of the house better, if she was just a better person all around then he would never get angry. He would never hit her or lose his cool. She can’t work, can’t have friends (she has some in secret but not many) and can’t do anything in fact without his explicit permission. To say I’m concerned for her safety would be an understatement.
So the million dollar question, why does she keep letting him back in the home? She had a court order allowing her to stay at the house until she got on her feet, there was a no-contact order (that he didn’t respect) but the police were good about charging him with breaches when she would tell them about it. She had the support of friends, family and neighbours. She got a job right away, was making her own money. For all intents and purposes, on the surface she was free and clear and had made it.
So why did she walk away from that?
When you read all that, it seems like it’s craziness that she would even consider being with this person. But what I’ve learned through my job and the people I’ve met in my life is that if you carry your abuse from your child and teen years with you, wrapped up inside and never have the opportunity to heal from it, it can derail your life in ways you least expect.
This lady has never done any of her own healing. She comes from a life and a background of mental illness in her family, addictions issues and years of abuse in various forms. Abuse goes hand in hand with manipulation of relationships, victim blaming and other typical patterns. In fact, the same patterns you see in domestic violence are often mimicked in child abuse in terms of a trauma bond type of relationship and the push-pull of extremes between today I love you, tomorrow I don’t.
Like many folks, this lady no longer has to fear from the abuse of her growing up years but unfortunately, she is stuck in the cycles of self-blame, shame, not worthy of success (which can create a lot of fear and self-sabotage behaviours), physical illness, anxiety and depression.
People don’t want to be abused by their partners no matter how many times they go back. They don’t want to be hurt, they want to be loved but sometimes things get messy or in the way. If you were told your whole life that the abuse you suffered as a child was your fault and that you deserved it, how easy is it to believe it when an abusive partner in your adult years says the same thing? How hard is it to believe otherwise regardless of what others might say?
How scary would it be to feel like you are being successful and making it on your own when your whole life you’ve been told you aren’t worth it, you can’t do it, you’re not capable, you’re just going to fail anyways. Striking out on your own and doing new things can be scary and anxiety provoking under good conditions. These are not good conditions.
What if you’ve spent your life stuffing everything into the far back recesses of your brain in order to make it go away and then suddenly, you’re alone with all the time in the world to do nothing but think. No distractions. Suddenly all those thoughts and nightmares and shadows start creeping out into your mind where you don’t have other scary and big things to overshadow them, to force them into submission. Because you can only stuff things into a closet for so long before eventually the door pops open and stuff starts to spill out.
So she returns to where she feels she belongs. She accepts the little bits of love and affection thrown her way because she craves that love and wants that acceptance more than anything. She wants to feel like she matters but until she matters to herself first, she will never find it in the arms of someone else.
We look at things in a singular fashion. Domestic violence is seen as an incident between two adults. What we miss sometimes are the pieces that were carried inside from childhood and adolescence and how that is influencing behaviour now.
By the same token, we also misjudge the impact of domestic violence, sexual violence, verbal abuse, addictions and mental illness, physical abuse and neglect can have on our children. We say – they’re resilient, they’ll bounce back; don’t bring it up because we want them to forget about it. But all we’re really doing is helping them stuff it into the closet of their mind and not teaching them how to heal themselves along the way so that they don’t end up stuck in the abusive relationship cycle without any idea of how they got there or how to get out.
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