The Heart of the Abuser
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues,’ say ‘I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.’”
Many don’t realize, but October was Domestic Violence Awareness month. Those words usually cause us to think about horrific images of physical abuse, black eyes, swollen faces, tears, etc. We also tend to think about these big, bad men that inflict dreadful physical pain on their significant others. However, it’s important that we remember that domestic violence happens in many households. It occurs in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and by both men and women across all racial groups and socioeconomic status. It’s also imperative that we understand that all domestic violence is not physical. Verbal and emotional abuse can be just as emotionally damaging, if not worse. With that being said, many abusers have no clue that they are imposing abuse on a daily basis. They’re simply enacting poor coping strategies and negative interactional cycles to tolerate anger that has been modeled for them during their upbringing. As a society, we oftentimes demonize abusers for their behaviors, while failing to acknowledge that they’ve been victimized, as well, but during a time when they were too young and powerless to defend themselves.
Whether the abuse that the child suffered was physical or other less visible forms of abuse such as parental neglect, parental indifference to the child’s needs, humiliation, or purposeful belittling, it left the child feeling scarred. These experiences are intensely painful for children because children often blame themselves for their parent’s bad behaviors, rather than think that there is something defective about their abusive parents. This toxic childhood alters neural responses to stress, creating hyperarousal to threat, and making it more difficult for that activation to cease. Abusers feel anxious when faced with a lack of control, and they respond with impulsivity and desperation. This is further exemplified when abusers have been taught or have reason to believe that they should control their household and their partner needs to submit. When feeling out of control and powerless, an abuser will often become overwhelmed by anger because the brain is telling the person that they are that helpless child again, and so they start to psychologically flail, and at times, become physical. During many other daily, less intense interactions, abusers insult, isolate, intimidate, coerce, threaten, and evoke fear in their significant others. Once the abuser has harmed their significant other, they employ their defenses to accountability, such as minimizing, justifying, denying, and blaming.
As a society of human beings, it becomes easy to vilify abusers for their impulsive aggression and psychologically damaging behaviors. And this is definitely not intended to excuse or negate their harmful behaviors. However, the more that we can empathize to remember that abusers are human beings and understand that abusers are frequently survivors of abuse and/or trauma, the less shame they’ll feel so that they can better acknowledge their internal struggles. Abusers need to seek support for their troublesome behaviors to treat the vulnerable child hiding inside. Group classes and psychotherapy offer a unique opportunity for abusers to be self-reflective to better understand and control their behaviors. Survivors of abuse and trauma, whether children or adults, need to recognize that they are not damaged or broken, but rather on a path towards healing and rediscovering themselves so that they can become more loving partners, parents, and human beings.
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Tags: Domestic Violence, Relationships, Anger, Domestic Abuse, Bay Area, Depression, Loneliness, Self-esteem, Anxiety, Codependency, October, Domestic Violence Awareness