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Mental Health

Understanding and Resolving The Cycle Of Abuse

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Do you find yourself returning to the same abusive relationships time and again or choosing abusive partners over and over?  Do you find yourself returning to your parents all the time seeking advice, guidance, validation, or support, only to be continually disappointed? You likely have poor self-esteem and you are likely quite emotionally vulnerable.  Here’s why and what you can do.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is an outcome of being valued by our parents when we were growing up.  Our self-esteem is actually rooted as far back as our parents’ mate selection.  Hopefully, our parents chose each other believing each possessed the appropriate emotional maturity and practical skills necessary to rear a child.  Beyond that, being valued by our parents is demonstrated by reasonable prenatal care, planning for childbirth, postnatal care, and the ongoing efforts to meet our needs in a caring and loving environment.  As we are consistently and reasonably loved and cared for, we develop a sense of security and value in ourselves.

In the absence of our parents’ emotional investment in us and/or their lack of appropriate care, or worse, our exposure to neglect, abuse, or harm, we may have an incomplete sense of security, value, and worth. In view of an incomplete sense of security, value, and worth, we are insecure and may inadvertently spend considerable time and energies seeking the validation and sense of worthiness we never received.

Further and without a sense of worthiness, we may come to accept relationships and circumstances that unfortunately only contribute to greater worthlessness.  In the face of this greater worthlessness, we may continue to engage in more self-defeating attempts at validation from those incapable of reasonably meeting our needs.  Thus, a conundrum is created in that the more we try to meet our needs through persons less capable of providing for our needs, the more harm befalls us.

The person who has unmet needs to be reasonably valued from before childhood and on may have impaired judgment when it comes to their own mate selection and sources of validation.  These persons require support to endure their insecurity as they learn to set boundaries, discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable partners, and learn to meet their own needs.

By way of example, lack of being valued or validation creates a thirst to quench the dry well of insecurity.

Imagine a woman setting out across the desert with no water. Eventually, she is overcome by the sun’s heat and an increasing thirst. With her clothes in tatters, she pulls herself through the sand looking for an oasis.  In the distance are palm fronds which provides hope to her.  After almost dying of thirst, the spring of hope induces a desire to drag herself to the oasis.

Now at the oasis, she comes across a small shallow pool of liquid. Without thinking and with a need to quickly quench the driving thirst, she submerges her head into the shallow pool and sucks back the liquid. With the thirst barely quenched she can finally taste the liquid from which she seeks relief. At that moment she realizes she is drinking camel urine.

While camel urine may briefly sustain the thirst-quenched person in the desert, it hardly provides for lifelong sustenance. The point of this story, hopefully, will show understandably how vulnerability can lead to self-defeating solutions.

The strategy to overcome these circumstances is to seek new supports typically from agencies or professional persons trained to help people sustain themselves in an emotional drought whilst they learn to take care of themselves and fill their own reservoir in the company of other nurturing individuals who take legitimate interest in others for the sake of the other’s well-being.

If this article rings true for you and you wish to change the direction of your life and circumstance, seek counseling.  You may find that that counseling is best delivered through agencies or individuals who are trained and have a working knowledge in helping people who have been subject to abuse or neglect.

Given a history of abuse where you may not have been appropriately nourished, there are few things as satisfying as learning to nourish yourself to then make more reasonable choices for love and affiliation with other people who themselves are truly caring.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW is a Canadian Social Worker in private practice and a Social Work Helper Contributor. From his 65 episodes of the hit show Newlywed/Nearly Dead, to over 300 columns as the parenting expert of a major metropolitan newspaper, to more than 250 media appearances, to his book, Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

          
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