Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Cycle of Abuse's Nasty Little Friends

Like many children who were beaten into submission on almost a daily basis, it's taken me a lifetime to heal from the wounds. I was very aware of the obvious things I had to do to break the cycle and I can proudly say that in my nearly sixty years on this planet, only one man dared to hit me after I left home,  and he only got that one shot. I walked away forever and never looked back.

There's never been any since because that one lapse helped me refine what became an innate sense of who would and would not resort to violence against me. My childhood taught me the signals to look out for and I spent my adult years like an animal who had been shot at by some crazed hunters and would forever recognize the scent when it crossed its path again.

That was almost the easiest part. The inner damage was the hardest to heal and that will be with me for life because those are wounds that are damaged emotional tissue. It's like there's permanent patched rips and tears in that fabric that will never be the same. I've had to learn to live with that, same as anyone learns to live with a handicap.

But before I could make the necessary patches to the damaged fabric, I had to find what else was tugging at it, what else was digging into the weak threads and threatening to pull them apart. And that exploration was and still is, far more painful than some of the beatings I endured because emotional damage is always at the mercy of those who seek to exploit it for their own gains.

The most intense damage is done to our sense of self. There's nothing like daily beatings and humiliation to make you doubt yourself, to make you question your right to even exist. Everything becomes a potential for insecurity to manifest in all of life's little situations. The need to be accepted often overwhelms everything else. It's why so many people go back to or find other abusers; they don't believe they are good enough for anything better.

I fell victim to this a lot. When you grow up in the kind of family I did and you're a sensitive kid, you become very aware of those who judge you, who reject you, who shun you. And it's not even your fault but you take it on. You take the side of the abusive father against the neighbors who condemn all of you for his sins. You pretend to be strong so your classmates who mock you for wearing long-sleeved shirts in the summer won't ever discover you wear them to hire the welts and bruises of the previous night. And you run like a wimpy little lap dog toward anyone, anyone at all, who is the least bit nice to you, no matter their reasons for being nice to you. You don't care. You just want something that is not pain, that is not condemnation, that is not judgment, that is not exclusion.

This need to be accepted makes you willfully blind and those are the wounds that continue to wound long after the scar tissue has formed. The wounds get deeper because insecure people attract those who use them. Insecure people attract those who are selfish, who are looking for numbers to beef up their agendas, their revenges, their paybacks. You end up being used because you believe that is the only way someone will accept you. You end up looking away and pretending not to see someone's bad side because you're too afraid they'll reject you if you speak up and tell them their behavior is bad, or that they are not nice people, or that you don't feel good about the way they treated or continue to treat other human beings.

When you're an abused child, you spend a lot of your adult life pretending you don't see a lot of what you see. But at some point, and I say this with all the hope and optimism I can muster up from the depths of what is still whole in me, it becomes time to walk away from that kind of abuse as well. It may not seem as bad as the beatings, but it is because it destroys your inner sense of right and wrong, the same way as physical abuse does.

At the point in my life where I had to finally confront the abuse I endured as a child, I also had to confront the abuse I endured as an adult. I had to let myself see that those who are not nice people, those who are selfish, those who spend a great deal of their lives trashing and tearing down other human beings are just as destructive to the human psyche as physical abuse is to the human body.

It's like racism or bigotry when you break it down. If you are able to stand up to a racist or bigot and say I will not allow you to trash a people or culture in my presence, then you help move the dialogue away from racism and toward tolerance one person, one conversation at a time.

It's the same with letting people abuse you with their meanness toward others, because that's what it is--abuse. If you let yourself remain silent while a friend or acquaintance says and does awful things about or to someone you share a friendship in common with, then you help perpetuate the meanness, the selfishness, the use and abuse of another human being with your silence. And you become part of the abuse, same as you become part of the racism with your silence.

I think for me that has been the hardest part of recovering from the violent abuse of my childhood. I had to let go of some people in my life that had been there for many years because I realized I didn't like them as people, I was appalled at how they treated others, I was often shocked into silence at the depth of their vengeance, mean gossip, and just flat out selfishness. But I stuck with them because I was too insecure to walk away. I was too insecure to believe other people might actually like me for myself and not for what they could use me for, that I could have friends who were good people and that no, I didn't have to settle for less than that.

So I eventually did walk away when the same people ganged up on yet another person and made him the scapegoat for everything that was wrong in their own lives. This time I didn't just shake my head at the wrongness of it, the sadness of it, the injustice and meanness of it. This time I walked way and at times it's still hard. That old insecurity comes out and I question myself, I question if it's the right thing to do, if it will really make a difference.

But then I realize those are the same questions anyone leaving an abusive relationship asks themselves. And when I measure myself inside, there's a peace which wasn't there before. I have nice people in my life. I made it happen. I saw myself as a person of worth and made it happen. I am strong and at almost 60 years of age, I am finally starting to heal all the wounds, not just the most visible ones.


1 comment:

cat said...

It's sad that one man could do so much damage in your life. Another example of how as humans we can affect each other and the planet.
Isn't it strange how suffering brings wisdom? Just as your working class friends are more aware than those who were raised rich, it seems that, in general, people who have faced trauma go deeper in their thinking.
I suffered throughout most of my childhood and through my young adult life because pretty much everyone in my youth was mean to me about my physical build. This was inside and outside of the family. I can truly relate to the "abuse's nasty little friends" of which you speak. At nearly fifty, I still can't bring myself to actually talk about it.
I do think it made me a deeper person, and perhaps eventually a stronger one. Would I therefore choose to have this happen again, if I could do my life over? Never.

What is it about this world that makes stories interesting only if there's conflict? A goal of mine is to write a fantasy novel for adults that has no violence or threat of violence, a meaningful story about happy people that is interesting. Is it possible?