Sunday, June 6, 2010

Abuse: I "didn't know that I didn't know"

We'll get back to the discussion on making the shift from "illness" to "wellness" mindset shortly; in the meantime...

Some of us
"don't know what we don't know".

Personally, over the years when I was asked if I was "abused" I would say shamefully "no" because first - I didn't know what it was like to not be abused, this was my "normal"...

...and second - I'd been trained to believe that somehow it was my fault what the adults in my life had done to me and thus as I grew into adulthood, I repeated this pattern in my relationships not because I was "bad", "defective", "less than" or "ill" - but because it was all I knew.

"didn't know that that I didn't know" that I was living the generational pattern of abuse in my life.

I just thought something was "wrong" with me; that I was "defective" and as I entered the mental health system in 1992, the abuse was ignored and I accepted that I was actually "ill", "diseased" and "defective"; somehow I was "genetically" broken.
That something was "wrong" with me...not that I'd been raised in an environment that left me ill equipped to face the world as an individual.

This article I'm referencing addresses male to female abuse but truth is....these are indicators of men to women, women to men,male to male or female to female, adult to child, perpetrator to victim in any situation, any relationship.

Abuse of any kind is not restricted to "intimate" or "domestic" relationships but can be seen in all societal relationships in various degrees. It doesn't matter what we call it...."dating violence", "domestic violence", "gay or lesbian" violence, "sexual discrimination" in workplaces... all boils down to one thing: a perpetrator needing to validate their existence through the control and oppression of another.

Think globally as in war and prisoner of war camps. Same idea, different people, places and circumstances.

Abuse is often tolerated as "normal" although in truth is an indicator of that struggle of "power and control" and that power imbalance in oppressive relationships and may often precede physical abuse and violation as the victims are "groomed" to tolerate the intolerable.
Knowledge is the beginning of the truth that will set us free.

Often, abuse issues are looked at as if controlling the "abuser" will change things yet we hear over and over how those who were once the victim repeatedly find themselves in abusive relationships and environments.

So while becoming informed and learning how to identify abuse is the beginning - the cycle of abuse doesn't "end" by focussing on the "perpetrators" and we know this because we frequently will leave one abusive relationship and find ourselves in another.

Escaping the pattern of abuse for me began with identifying what it was within myself that attracted me to and was the basis to repeat this pattern in my adult relationships - not by living in that state of hyper-vigelance where I had to be "on guard" to catch the next perpetrator.

As long as I lived my life "on guard" for the next "abuser" I was focussed again on finding my "solution" in something or someone outside of myself instead of concentrating on learning how to no longer be a victim.

This was that "false sense of power" that came from an environment where I learned to "be" good enough or "do" right enough to avoid being hurt or to be "loved" by manipulating situations and circumstances in order to be "accepted" in an environment where being "me" wasn't allowed. (I.E. if I could "spot" the abuse, I could "avoid" it someway or do or say something to make the abuser "love" me...or at least stop hurting me.)

We can't change other people or the choices they make... but we can gain the knowledge that will empower us in our own lives and help us to change things for the next generation.
You can read the article here.

Q: Thoughts?


Anna said...

As a Marriage and Family Therapy student, I really appreciate this post. What happens in systems isn't just about what is going on individuals, its about what is going on in between and amongst them. It's our context and really, truly, we can't know what what don't know. Thanks for being courageous enough to speak up and do so honestly and vulnerably.

Ellen said...

I really identify with 'feeling defective' Susan, and blaming myself. So important to get a good sense of ourselves as healthy and good people, so we don't get drawn into bad situations. This happened to me also - I got into a bad relationship which I should have seen right away was not good, but didn't, do to 'selective blindness' I guess. Luckily now things are quite a bit better for me.

Susan said...

Thanks Anna! I appreciate that you took the time to introduce yourself today. Yes - it's tough to overcome a difficult past when you don't even know what it is that you don't know.....or what the first step is to change it.

Susan said...

Hi Ellen! Yes - this is one of those things that we know something isn't quite right but "I can't put my finger on it"....that feeling of "different" haunted me for a very long time.

I'm glad to hear that things are well for you now, Ellen. And you're so right - it is vital for each of us to grasp and understand that we have an intrinsic value that exists with no justification. So glad you are taking care of you!

Paula said...

I can so much relate to this. I blocked it out completely it never happened. As it never happened I could have any knowledge of it, right? Time arrived where I had to find out who I am as I had so many black holes in my life!!!!

Kristin said...

The feeling of being defective can be perpetrated on us in so many ways. Ignoring our basic goodness seems as commonplace as not acknowledging an acquaintance in the grocery store. We harbor these slights and when added to a lifetime of abuse, it begins to feel right; it begins to feel like what we expect.
That is what I admire about your posts, Susan. You peel away the obvious and show the tender bits that need exposing in order to grow.
So, rather than assuming that what we get is what we deserve, you make the claim that we can change the way were conditioned to respond and demand better.
Bravo, Susan.
xx kris

Susan said...

Hi Paula! Great to see you today!

Yes; once we realize that we have worth and value "just because" it become easier to be willing to look beyond the dark place and begin to make some sense of things and find our own way:)

Susan said...

Thank you Kris....yes; the first step in change is to realize where we are, where we want to be...and the steps I'm going to take to get there.

My personal power truly came into play for me when I was able to look at what was working and not working in my life, who is responsible for what and then embracing that last line of the serenity prayer - having the wisdom to know whats "mine" to change and whats "not mine" to try to influence.

Thanks for your generous comment, Kris...I always appreciate knowing when someone finds their own "nugget" of truth in something!

Suzanne said...

When you are living day to day in a dysfunctional family, you come to feel that this is the norm. We were not the "Waltons". Instead we were a sort of a reverse role "All in the Family". As a result, right up until age 23 I managed to always end up in bad relationships. I came to believe I was "defective" especially after being told by my mother that I was so crazy that no one could ever love me.

I was like a magnet for "bad", never feeling I deserved better. I did have problems and suffered from mental illness. This only served to strengthen my conviction that I deserved nothing better.

Abuse is a cycle passed from one generation to another. The only way to fight it off is through understanding of its source, forgiving for your own sake in order to take your power back, and giving yourself the sort of love you that eluded you and recognizing that love IS there although the message may be horribly distorted by the experiences of others. Accepting this and taking the reins in healing; developing an inner strength that says "I deserve better", "history does NOT have to repeat itself" brings change. In my case I was fortunate enough to have someone come along that showed me that the coin had another side to it and that I had earned it.

Susan said...

Well said, Suzanne:) It's great to hear that you found your way out of that cycle....and into the life of your own choosing!

Good to see you today!