DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND CHILDHOOD ABUSE CONSEQUENCES
LOYALTY OR STUCK IN RELATIONSHIP AND/OR IN LIFE?
As a survivor of domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse, and as a life coach, I understand that certain traits I have were most likely caused by the abusive situations and perpetrators. Two of these traits are loyalty (often misplaced) and an unwillingness to take risks (even calculated ones) due to inertia. Even after leaving the violent situations with the perpetrators, this inertia or immobilization kept me in other situations longer than was beneficial for me.
Articles and books have been written about these subjects. Judith Herman’s book, “Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror” is a classic; and, I highly recommend it.
Bessel A. van der Kolk in “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” covers many of the issues with attachment as well as loyalty to the abuser. He writes on page 133,
“Children are also programmed to be fundamentally loyal to their caretakers, even if they are abused by them. Terror increases the need for attachment, even if the source of comfort is also the source of terror.”
After my healing process began, I found myself staying in situations for longer than was good for me or others. Whether this was due to loyalty or lack of confidence in my own ability to make decisions, there was an inertia within me even though I knew that someone or some job or some place was not beneficial (or that the benefits were outweighed by the deficits).
Even though I understand most of the root causes and the aftermath – fear, the programming from the original perpetrators that I would never amount to anything more than a whore, the fact that I tried to escape the abuse of my childhood and was punished even more than before, senseless loyalty to the family of origin that used, abused, and tortured me, remained for too long. Secrets (the secrets of the abuse, the human trafficking, and the clergy abuse) were of utmost important. How my family of origin looked to the outside world was paramount. Even though we were poor, we had to look and act educated and normal. These performances of normalcy were definitely worth more than I, the child, was.
The senseless loyalty to the boyfriend/husband who accused me over and over of not being on “his” side no matter what I said or did seems foolish now. Yet, presently, I understand it more thoroughly than ever; and, I know it was none of my fault.
When is loyalty appropriate? I was the type of person who had long-term friendships (and still lean in that direction). The two longest friendships from my childhood and young adult years were mutually beneficial for a long time. Eventually, both friendships ended. One relationship ended when I told her of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my family of origin. She recommended I forgive my family and forget it because the abuse occurred a long time ago. I was still in the beginning of my healing process. This was not advice neither heeded nor appreciated.
The second long-term friendship ended when I revealed the abuse that my former husband had perpetrated against me (after I was found as a protective parent). In both these friendships, I wonder if they each think they would have seen signs of the abuse. Do they now realize how easy it is to hide (domestic violence and childhood sexual) abuse from friends and family? Does one friend remember how good I looked during my pregnancy with Megan? I looked so well that her husband commented how I looked radiant during those months? Does she realize the wellness I suddenly portrayed was because I was not abused during my pregnancy? Tom M. wanted a child more than his desire to abuse/torture me during this period of gestation. I had miscarriages previously (maybe due to continued abuse or to chance).
Although I knew the first friendship was not as valid anymore, I stayed in it for years until it naturally broke apart due to the exposure of the abuse I had suffered from Tom M. and my family of origin. Why did I not walk away from that friendship sooner? Habit? Loyalty? Or was I just stuck in inertia?
Knowing and understanding your past can be a foundation to changing your reactions. Realizing I was a psychological captive during the decades of abuse and torture helped me to understand why I stayed and to lessen the shame of my reactions and inaction.
Even being free from the abusers, I stay too long ….
I stayed too long or sometimes stay too long – as a guest in someone’s home – as a friend in a friendship that is not fulfilling – in a job situation –
My mother stayed in a job for the financial security. During that era, workers did stay in the same job for decades. My mother hated the job and lived in fear of losing it … sounds similar to what a child feels living with an abusive parent … you hate the parent and yet fear losing that parent, that person who you want so much to love you … the person you remain so loyal to that the secret of the abuse and torture get buried within the deep recesses of your brain and heart …
My sister told me the only way to escape the abuse in my childhood was to get married. Financial security is quite important to her also. Well, I stayed in the (domestic violence, abuse, and torture) relationship with Tom M. for decades. Yes, I had financial security. That much was a given. Was it worth the cost? No. Of course it was not worth the cost. I did not see that then. I did not realize that I was worth more than a situation which afforded me financial security. I did not know that my personal worth was more important than any house, car, medical insurance, fancy food, and more.
When I needed to start my life over without my daughter, Megan, in 2010, I stayed at someone’s home in return for house-sitting and cleaning. Another family member in this person’s life unexpectedly entered into the household situation. She was dealing with alcohol issues. It was a secure situation in that I had a roof over my head, food, television, and niceties – yet, I chose to leave that situation because I knew my sobriety was in jeopardy, as well as my life. I had made a vow to myself early on that I would rather kill myself than drink alcohol again. The suicidal brainwashing that Tom M instilled was still quite strong in my head during that time. (The therapy and the non-invasive neurofeedback solution would not occur until a few years later.) Instead of staying in a situation where I might drink alcohol again (after being sober for almost eight years), I took a huge risk. I moved to another state knowing I would probably end up in a homeless shelter. Fortunately I was in the shelter for only two nights. A coworker of a person I knew offered to house me for free as I looked for employment. I was able to “risk” the security I had in order to keep my sobriety. It was a priority.
Since that time period, I have learned to trust myself more and more. The decisions I make may not always be the best in hindsight; but, I accept that I do my best each day. That is good enough.
What motivates you?
What rationalizations or true explanations do you state to yourself for acting or not?
Some of the ideas that went through my head and still do sometimes are —
It’s not so bad. It could be worse. Other people have it worse.
Grass is greener on the other side. It won’t be any better elsewhere.
I’ll be alone.
New circumstances …. Ooh, risky.
There’s nothing to lose. Might as well …
As a life coach, I am available to help you sort through some of these questions and thoughts. It is your life. How do you want to spend the time you have on this earth? What is truly important to you in your heart? I understand the weight behind those words and how hard it is to act or to choose not to act. Make a conscious choice ….
One evening this week, I was stung by a wasp in my bedroom. I had just walked into the room, sat down, and pow – stung by a small living creature that I did not even know was in my room! One of the first things that entered my mind was how life brings changes (even minute ones) when you least expect it. Many human beings in America plan years in advance for their lives and how they would like their lives to be. Quite often, the unexpected happens (illness, job loss …) and people have to adapt.
As Walt Whitman wrote, “The future is no more uncertain than the present.”
Are you stuck …. Immobilized … unhappy … low level discontented ….
Feel free to connect with me …. As a life coach, I am here for you. I will listen. I will hear.
You have a voice … an inner voice … that is guiding you …
This week, please take time to listen to your inner voice …………….
As the weather begins to change … notice if there are yearnings within you … what do you want to change …
As always, take gentle care of yourself!