Cycles of Abuse

My starting point in therapy was a close friend who had been sexually abused as a child.  Her story touched me and I found myself hearing her story and offering support.  Before long, I had met a number of others so abused. It seemed I had an affinity, and I had started supporting so many people who needed to be heard, it seemed my shoulders were made to be cried on.  Eventually, I decided I would be of best help if I took things seriously and took formal training,  I had already encountered formal therapy due to some unresolved issues of my own, and found it immensely helpful.

Naturally, though my training had a general basis at first, I favoured a psychosexual route and made Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse a specialty, discovering that the process generally takes about three years taking a person from victim status, through to survivor, and eventually to thrive.  We can never take the memories away, but we can help in the coping process.

Pain & Trauma are distinct in this respect:  If you hit your thumb with a hammer, you feel pain.  Once the thumb has healed, you may remember the pain, but the memory does not summon the pain anew.   Trauma is a memory that hurts as if it was happening now, and because the pain is not entirely physical, it cannot be treated by ordinary pain killing methods.  Many abused people disassociate so that they are absent from the event that causes the trauma.  These people are not spared trauma, they enter trauma behaviours by triggers.  The triggers can be a phrase, the tone of somebody’s voice, a piece of music etc.  At the trigger the disassociation can begin again, or panic attack & hysteria.  The very defence mechanism that once tried to protect them becomes part of the abuse like ripples from then to now.

When someone is victimised and the victimisation is traumatic, they wear the victim status like a target.  Hence rape victims find themselves preyed upon in series.  The victim has to systematically learn not to blame themselves – the blame ownership is a major characteristic of the victim status.  Without therapy, that victim status may persist for many years giving a life without trust, ruining past and future relationships.  In some it can flip over, the abused becoming the abuser because the view of relationships is warped by a need for control & power.  We talk of cycles of abuse because many, though not all, abusers were themselves abused, but had no treatment to allow them their life back.

I have written here mainly about sexual abuse, but it isn’t the only abuse.  Lives are distorted or completely ruined by physical or emotional abuse,  Once again, these things exist in cycles.  No treatment is easy, but the cycle of abuse has to be stopped by the brave victim facing his or her trauma & obtaining help to adjust and not repeat the cycle by finding that they are compelled to repeat the abusive victimisations.

In this, we avoid the blame game if reconciliation is possible, favouring the taking of responsibility as a measure towards healing.  Often though, the abuser is no longer accessible, or willing to come to terms, and the victim needs to place responsibility back where it belongs in order to feel free of the victimising behaviours.

Prisons currently have few programs allowing the abuser to come to terms with their responsibility and recognise the cycle of abuse in terms of their own earlier victimisation.  Where these programs have been implemented they have been very successful, with low recidivism & repeat rates.  The programs consist of long days of therapy & accounting – as much as ten hours every day.  Few prisoners put themselves forward for these programs or last the course.  It is no soft alternative.

Ultimately, we recognise that not everything can be cured yet.  As I mentioned above, some abusers were not victims, were not  subject to these cycles of abuse, and are not eligible for the therapy programs mentioned.  It is my belief that nothing is incurable, we simply have not yet found the methodology for every condition yet.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Cycles of Abuse

  1. Angel of Death

    Much more interesting than most articles in The BPS Psychologist magazine!

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