5 Effects of Living with Abuse

Abuse means we have to “deal with” things we were never meant to deal with.

Abuse is an event(s) with lingering consequences. That is what the question, “I said I was sorry, why are you still upset?” misses. Abuse is an event more like a house fire than a cigarette burn. A burn produces initial pain, but heals with little more than scar. A house fire has more far reaching consequences.

 

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Three: UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

“Abuse doesn’t end when the abuse stops (p. 157).” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

Abuse is an event(s) with lingering consequences. That is what the question, “I said I was sorry, why are you still upset?” misses. Abuse is an event more like a house fire than a cigarette burn. A burn produces initial pain, but heals with little more than scar. A house fire has more far reaching consequences.

“Children who witness the abuse often experience their mother’s powerlessness and humiliation. Many lose their childhood innocence because their sense of security has been violated and they feel dramatically unsafe. Children often develop anxiety in anticipation of the next attack, blame themselves for the abuse, and fear abandonment – especially if they should fail to keep the violence secret. They are left isolated and frightened as they carry the weight of shame, responsibility, guilt, and anger (p. 62).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

This section examines five effects of an abusive relationship. These impacts may overlap with addictive relationships.

1. PHYSICAL PAIN

The most tangible effect of abuse may be – if the injuries are not life threatening – the least impactful. That is not to downplay physical pain. It’s just that bruises heal and broken bones mend. It’s obvious when they’re present and they illicit sympathy from others. The other effects we will discuss do not provide these courtesies.

What forms of physical pain have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

How does it feel to write these events and injuries on paper? This question leads us to the next effect.

2. EMOTIONAL PAIN

Abuse means we have to “deal with” things we were never meant to deal with. Healthy coping strategies were never meant to have to process the violent betrayal of a trusted love one. The result is that our emotions can be all over the place; for reasons that are, at least initially, not very clear to us.

“Destructive relationships make it extremely difficult to think calmly, clearly, and truthfully, especially when we feel frightened, intimidated, or deceived (p. 53).” Leslie Vernick in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship

 

    1. Fear – When our safety is in question, it is natural to be afraid. When we’re not sure what will jeopardize our safety, it is natural to be afraid for no reason (at least that the immediate situation would call for). The result is that fear migrates from a response to danger to a persistent emotional state.
    2. Guilt – From the time we were young, it has been natural to reason backwards from “if I’m being punished” then “I have done something wrong.” Punishment meant guilt. Our emotions habituate to this correlation. However, in abuse, this correlation is no longer accurate, but it may be dangerous to point this out. Guilt over being abused is false-guilt.
    3. Shame / Embarrassment – When guilt changes from a response to “what I’ve done” to a sense of “who I am” it has become shame. Our sense of embarrassment and shame is one way we can take undue responsibility for someone else’s behavior. We pay the social price for the sin committed against us.
    4. Anger – Abuse is wrong. Anger over abuse is right. Displaying that anger towards our abuser can be dangerous. But that doesn’t make the anger evaporates. So the anger often begins to leak into relationships that are safe and spill onto the people with whom we do feel safe.
    5. Sense of “Going Crazy” – What happens when your “at home” world doesn’t play by consistent rules and your “outside home” world goes on as if nothing is happening? You feel crazy. Imagine driving when the traffic lights and signs lost all pattern and meaning. Now imagine you look around and the other drivers seem calm. You would feel crazy. That’s life as part of an abusive relationship.
    6. Despair – For a while, you think “things will get better.” You’re not sure when or how, but it’s hard to imagine things will always be like this. At some point that optimism fades, and it is crushing. That is often what prompts people to look for a study like this. While the pain of despair is excruciating, the prompt to begin to respond to the dysfunction differently can be a blessing.

“One of the most important things to know about the impact of abuse is that these mood swings and dysfunctions are a natural and normal way of dealing with trauma. Unfortunately, many people look at these symptoms and think that the problem lies with the victim, when in fact these responses to trauma are perfectly normal (p. 71).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

What forms of emotional pain have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

3. RELATIONAL CONFUSION

Imagine playing a sport where you were forced to play by the rules and your opponent was not. Now imagine that rules that you were forced to play by were frequently subject to change and came with stiff penalties. That is life in an abusive relationship. It is confusing, because it is both unfair and ever-changing.

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