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Post-Abuse Vulnerabilities

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Abuse as "Normal"

People abused as children often grow up thinking that abuse is normal behavior that everyone experiences and "par for the course." This warped perspective makes abuse victims vulnerable to perpetuating the cycle of abuse as they grow older. Those previously abused people who get involved in romantic relationships as adults may find themselves attracted to people who will abuse them. They may even believe that the abusive behaviors their partner periodically acts out are proof of passion and love. Alternatively, abuse victims may have internalized the ethic of abuse and may think that it is a normal and appropriate way to deal with others. Parents who were abused as children may find it easy to rationalize abusing their own children. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is the common refrain here. In effect, being abused as a child tends to set people up to either continue to be abused as adults or to become abusive people themselves and carry on the cycle of violence with new partners and children.

Sub-Clinical Post-Abuse Issues

While some abuse victims develop diagnosable mental health or medical disorders, the majority of abuse survivors will end up with less severe outcomes that might be best described as sub-clinical (e.g., not sufficient to meet criteria for a disorder) post-abuse issues. These issues may include:

  • Difficulty developing or sustaining healthy, long-term intimate relationships
  • Sexual dysfunction or discomfort with sexual intimacy
  • Low self-esteem
  • A tendency towards self-blame.
  • Difficulty expressing anger appropriately; a tendency to have a bad temper
  • A tendency to put everyone else's needs before your own
  • Anxious, panicked, or depressed feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Disordered eating habits
  • Problems with alcohol and/or illicit drugs
  • Promiscuity
  • Troubling memories about past abuse
  • Moments of dissociation (where you mentally "space out" for a while)
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Chronic pain in specific parts of your body
  • Self-inflicted harm, such as cutting or burning yourself
  • Involvement in a relationship as an adult with someone who abuses you
  • Abusing your own children

Though such issues may not qualify for a formal diagnosis, they are still troubling and can make life quite miserable. It is very much worth working with a trained mental health therapist or other counselor to help resolve such issues.

Repressed Memories

A word or two about abuse memories is in order. Many people who remember past abuse are remembering actual events. It is possible to have amnesia for such memories for long periods of time and then to later recall them when you are an adult. However, (and this is a big however), it is also possible to completely manufacture 'false' memories of past abuse that never really happened. False memories of abuse can feel just as real as real memories of abuse. If you accuse someone of abusing you, however, on the basis of a false memory, you might end up doing very real damage to that someone. Innocent lives have been ruined in this manner. False memories can be created through strong suggestion while under hypnosis, so as a general rule, memories of abuse which have been 'recovered' after hypnosis should be somewhat suspect. A good rule to follow here is to not go searching for memories of experiences that you are not sure about. It is better and wiser to simply seek treatment for whatever problems are troubling you than to strain to remember specific details of abuse you may have experienced.