Thursday, January 13, 2011

Understanding Vulnerability to Abuse

Graph credit:
"From the target’s point of view, the relationship becomes a vicious circle of bonding, anxiety, fear, relief, sex and further bonding. The longer it goes on, the harder it is for the target to escape." ~ Donna Anderson
If you've ever questioned why abusive relationships are harder to get over than healthy ones, then Donna Anderson's latest article "Getting Over that Amazing 'Chemistry'" may offer some insightful consolation. Since everyone's situation differs, not all the arguments she expresses need apply.

Dear Donna,

I'm aware my experience differs vastly from yours.  Although I can relate in principle to your life story, I didn't have to deal with an extreme sociopath as you did, but rather a subtle and covert abuser. To be honest, I don't know which of the two is more baffling. My ex-partner seemed decent, caring and committed on the outside, but underneath she was self-absorbed, suspicious, hypervigilant, exploitative and hostile. This discrepancy led me on my journaling journey to make sense of this sweetness/cruelty remix or else go insane. This crazy-making dynamic is aptly depicted above in the visual graphic -- as you know... what counsellors call, "Cycles of Abuse".

The Article:

What resonated with me was your accurate description of traumatic childhood experiences as a way of priming the target so that abuse feels normal. You refer to this fatal dynamic as traumatic bonding. You also mention love-bombing tactics that abusers use so that when a target is favored, the sun shines, but when he or she falls out of grace, the Ice Age begins.

These cycles of abuse often pushed me into a tormenting role similar to Shakespeare’s Hamlet [minus the sublime poetry, royal intrigue, strewn corpses and tragic bloody ending]. After each “Explosion” I’d put on an antic disposition for days not wanting to eat nor take care of myself. I breathed a peculiar kind of calm because I didn't have to walk on eggshells as I usually did. I’d go for long walks alone; I'd interact with strangers on the street; I’d get a small suitcase and carefully pack some clothes, important documents and other essentials, as if to prepare for a quick getaway; I'd sit near my daughter's bed at night and cry as if to mourne that symbolic exile...

Getting back to the article, you leave your readers with some helpful homework: You finish by saying that healing and restoration involve exploring the root of our past and how that background may be connected in making us vulnerable to abusive relationships. This is painstaking work, especially if fear, obligation and guilt [FOG] are clouding our vision.  As the Christian theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard asserted: “[T]he truth is not so quick on its feet.” -- meaning if we want to reach out for truth, we need to work at it diligently, unashamedly and tenaciously.

Thanks Donna for your life commitment to helping others,
~ Reflector


Anonymous said...

I've spent most of my life in the cycle of abuse. My father did it to my mother, my ex-husbands did it to me, and their children.

I packed my suitcase many times, and left many times. I didn't have much support, because of a strong Catholic background. I finally had to go it alone, and with the help of books and the Internet, I was finally able to break the cycle in my own life.

I can so relate to the FOG.


Reflector said...

Hi Anon,

Abuse is generational like a microchip programming a software, or maybe a virus.

Isn't sad that where one would expect the most support [the Church] one receives sometimes the least. My experience mirrors yours in that way. People choose to place the institution of marriage before the individual therefore condemning the target to a life sentence.

That's why it's important to have allies, Anon. We cannot expect much from the outside world. It's not that people don't care, they just haven't lived it, so they don't know what to say perhaps. Others are false friends who pretend to care, but by their track record you know you cannot rely upon them. Others are just plain indifferent.

Allies are important for another reason. Should we ever establish a healthy relationship with someone new, it's important to no view that person as our therapist or they will grow weary of that role. Most of the burden of the traumatic past needs to be worked out by ourselves or with those who have crossed a similar path.