Why do Survivors of abuse revictimize themselves?

Often, in my work with Survivors of Domestic Violence, I hear  stories about how they are re-victimized or they try to be.  Sometimes I have even heard from their current partners (who are not abusive) who say, “She keeps poking at me.  Trying to start a fight and wanting me to hit her! Why? I have never hit a woman!” This got me thinking as to why some Survivors do this, more to the point why have I done it?

When you live in an abusive relationship you live in a constant world of chaos.  You “walk on egg shells” wondering when will the next explosion be? Your whole world revolves around your abuser.  You cater to his (or her) needs.  All simply because you want to keep the beast happy and not suffer more abuse.  The abuse does happen though, you never know when and over time this constant chaos attacks your self worth.  You start to believe your abuser when he (or she) says that you deserve the abuse.  That they wouldn’t have to treat you this way if you just behaved better.  You never give up trying to please them and your  internal compass is gauged by their behaviour.   You lose yourself.

At one time I lost myself. I married a man who abused me physically, sexually, financially, verbally and emotionally.  I lived in a world where I was paralyzed by fear. Every decision I made had my abuser in mind. Would this upset him? Will he yell at me (or worse)? I did not make decisions based on my own wants and needs.  They were based on what kept him happy.  That was how I survived.

After 15 years of abuse I finally broke free and separated from husband.  I was over the moon! I no longer lived with daily abuse.  I was free!  In time I started to date again and eventually became engaged to a wonderful man.  A man who would never intentionally hurt me. A man whom I felt safe with. We have a good relationship.  We are equal partners and neither of us try to have control over the other like in an abusive relationship.  So then why have I felt the need to create a situation where he might abuse me? Why would I want to go back there?  This question puzzled me for quite awhile.  Let me tell you what I realized.

I realized that I created situations with an unconscious desire to be abused.  I did this because one, deep down my low self esteem had me believing that abuse is what I deserve.  Two abuse was familiar.  I knew how to exist in the chaos of abuse.  After 15 years of abuse I no longer knew h0w to gauge my day to day life without abuse happening.  Here’s an example.

When I started dating my now fiancé we planned a birthday party for me.  Well more like he did with my kids.  I was excited, but a little nervous.  I had not had a nice birthday celebration (without abuse) in years.  “Did I deserve one?” was my internal question.  I woke the morning of my birthday to my house decorated with balloons and streamers.  Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me and I even had breakfast in bed! It was a lovely morning.  Then my fiancé and I went out for lunch.  Now that was not as fun.  I basically chewed him out the whole time and every little thing that he said to calm me down made me even more angry.  After lunch we were driving to an appointment and I kept poking at him, pushing for a fight.  At one point I even jumped out of our car (at a red light) and walked to my appointment in a furry crying my eyes out.  Now you are probably wondering what my problem was. I know my fiancé was and to be honest so was I.  I did not understand what was going on inside of me.  This started to happen every holiday and birthday.  Then it started to happen on normal days. I would pick at him until we fought.  Guess what, once he yelled back I felt calm. What???? Yes I felt calm.

Chaos, fighting, abuse, whatever you want to call it is what I knew for 15 years.  It is what I thought I deserved so when he finally yelled back I felt calm because suddenly I was in a familiar world again.  I understood this world and I could function in it. Crazy uh? That is re-victimization and something so many Survivors do to themselves.  It’s not that we really want to be hurt again, but it is what we know and until we have a stronger self esteem it is what we think we are worthy of.  For me the holidays and birthdays were a huge trigger because my ex always abused me worse on those days.  So to have a birthday where balloons were hung for me and I was given breakfast in bed was, well it was completely foreign to me and it scared the hell out of me.

In time, as I healed,  I recognized the  unhealthy pattern and I started to re-victimize myself less.  It helps that my fiancé also recognizes when I am trying to re-victimize myself  and we name it.  I now know that I do not deserve to be abused.  I do deserve balloons on my birthday and so much more!! I am also learning to trust an abuse free life.

Recovery from abuse is a journey full of bumps and yes there are victories. Times where you heal and move forward.  If you recognize the re-victimization pattern in yourself or someone you love name it.  Acknowledge what is happening.  Talk it through with someone you trust. Change can happen once we see what needs to be done.

Peace,

Janet

 

 

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Intimacy after rape. How do you go on?

***Trigger Warning***

Intimacy after rape, let me tell you it is not easy. I was raped at least once a week in the last nine months of my marriage.  For my ex it was his one last attempt to regain control over me.  We had been caught in an abusive marriage for over a decade.  At the time the rapes started I was “waking up.” I was seeing him for who he was, an abusive man who enjoyed hurting me. I was going to counselling and learning that I did not deserve this abuse, that I deserved a life free of abuse and I was starting to stand up to him. When he started to verbally abuse me I asked him firmly to stop talking to me that way.  I was calling him on his abuse and was standing up to him.  I was getting stronger and he did not like that.  An abusive relationship is all about one person (my ex) wanting power and control over another person (me) and for a very long time he had that control.  My world revolved around him and his moods.  I tailored my behaviour in hopes that I would not rock the boat and wake the monster in him.  I walked on eggshells and our kids did too. He had gained his power through fear and intimidation.

Then one day, as I said before, I “woke up.” I could no longer swallow the abuse. I could no longer deny what was happening to myself or my children.  As I said earlier I started to see a counsellor and I learned about the abuse cycle.  I started to unisolate myself (he, like most abusers had isolated me from family and friends to be able to control me better), I went out with friends and started to have outside interests, interests that did not involve him. I no longer let my life revolve around him.  Now let me just say I was careful.  I was still living with this man and I knew what he was capable of if pushed too far.  He could see though that he was losing control of me and it drove him mad.  He yelled more often, screamed at me that he would Never Stop Abusing Me, criticized my friends and outside interests all in an attempt to deter me from having  a life away from him and his control.  It didn’t work. I kept rebuilding myself.

Then the unthinkable happened. From January 2010 to September 2010 my husband came into my room (we were sleeping in separate rooms) and he exerted all of his power over me, stripping me of my power, and he raped me over and over.

At the time I felt nothing.  I couldn’t let myself feel anything. I still lived with this man, a man I had tried kicking out, but he kept coming back and now he had  suddenly upped  the danger level in our house.  I simply existed. I was numb.

We did end up separating and I started to live a life free of abuse. Eventually I dated again. Yes I did date after being raped.  I started to date a man that I had dated in high school. He was my first love and I was very happy that we were back together.  I felt safe with him. Intimacy was easy.  I, despite what I had gone through, felt no fear.  I was honestly surprised by that, but did not question it.

Unfortunately as time passed intimacy became harder.  I started to have panic attacks when we were close, fear would run through my body and I would freeze.  Let me state that my boyfriend never hurt me when we were intimate.  My reactions were not due to something he had done. My reactions were trauma reactions. I was getting stronger in my day to day life so my unconscious self decided it was time to deal with the trauma memories.  You see my cells, my nervous system, my muscles and layers of my brain all held memories of the trauma. Per Wikipedia;

Traumatic experiences include natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis; violent events such as kidnapping, terrorist attacks, war, domestic abuse and rape.[1] Traumatic memories are naturally stressful in nature and emotionally overwhelm people’s existing coping mechanisms.[2] When simple objects such as a photograph, or events such as a birthday party, bring traumatic memories to mind people often try to bar the unwanted experience from their minds so as to proceed with life, with varying degrees of success. The frequency of these reminders diminish over time for most people. There are strong individual differences in the rate at which the adjustment occurs.[3] For some the number of intrusive memories diminish rapidly as the person adjusts to the situation, whereas for others intrusive memories may continue for decades with significant interference to their mental, physical and social well being.

Ok so I was trying to proceed with life, but the trauma memories were getting in the way.  As a result I had to do more counselling and I have learned new coping skills.  My boyfriend and I will often just cuddle with no pressure of anything more.  It’s not always easy for him or I, but we do our best to be patient and understanding of each others feelings. There are days where I skirt affection all together.  When the fear takes over, I feel like I am screaming from the inside and any kind of touching stresses me out.  We try to talk through those days and reassure my whole being that I am safe. It’s not an easy journey actually some days it really sucks, but I am glad we love each other enough to get through it together. One step at a time.

If you have been raped practise these acts of self care;

-Be gentle with yourself. You may be recovering from physical injuries plus mentally and emotionally you have been hurt. It takes time to heal.

-Reach out to loved ones, friends or family for support.

-You may notice that your appetite has diminished due to stress.  Eat small, frequent nutritional meals. Try to avoid large amounts of sugar or caffeine.

-Get outside. Feel the sunshine, breath in the fresh air, get out for a walk.

-Keep a journal about your thoughts and feelings.

-You may have trouble sleeping and feel extra jumpy.  These are normal reactions to trauma.  If these symptoms last longer than a month please see your doctor for extra support.

-There are many forms of counselling to help with trauma. Your local Sexual Assault Centre can offer extra support or your family doctor can refer you to a therapist.

-Check out RAINN’s website rainn.org for helpful information.

-Please know you are not alone, you did NOTHING wrong and you did NOT deserve this happening.

 

 

 

 

Let me tell you what it is like to live with PTSD.

PTSD came into my life in 2011.  My youngest daughter was referred to a child Psychiatrist.  She was wetting her bed, peeing in hampers and garbage cans, having panic attacks, sucking on her hair and more and more disappearing into a world I did not understand.  She was 5 years old.

As a concerned parent I sat in that Psychiatrists office hoping this Doctor  would shed some light on what was happening to my little girl. That she would tell me how I could help her.  I nervously told her about what had been happening at home.  You see my husband, and my girls father, had been abusing us. Just six months prior we had left him.  I thought that maybe her actions were just a reaction to what we had been through and she just needed a child therapist.  The doctor told me that I was right, this was a reaction to what my daughter had gone through, that she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from all of the trauma she had endured.

“What?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, “Isn’t this something only soldiers get?” “How could my 5 year old daughter have this?”

The Psychiatrist proceeded to explain to me that PTSD is a common diagnosis in abused children.  She explained that we naturally have a fight or flight instinct in us when we sense danger.  Naturally we will freeze, extra blood and adrenaline will pump to our extremities preparing for us to either fight or flee the situation.  This is normal.  Sometimes though a person goes through something so traumatic, usually life threatening that causes your brain to be stuck in this mode. This causes symptoms like;

Hypervigilance

Nightmares/terrors

Bedwetting (in children)

Panic attacks

Flashbacks

High Startle Response

Triggers

Avoidance (of the place where the trauma happened or similar situations)

Anxiety

I left that doctors office clinging to my little girl. Wanting to protect her from the hell going on in her mind.

Six months later I was diagnosed with the same.

So what is it like to live with PTSD?

Well it is never dull.  Our whole being lives on high alert.  I am often woken in the night by my mind, wide awake, not able to sleep.  I learned that this is because my brain is worried that danger will strike at any moment so I need to be awake and alert.  When I do sleep it is a restless sleep due to night terrors. 24/7 my brain is trying to understand what happened to me, it is trying to process the trauma.  My dreams are where a lot of that happens. I also have  days where I cannot fall asleep.  The adrenaline is running through my body preparing me to fight or flee keeping me wide awake. PTSD can be very debilitating.

I am tired.

I have dark circles under my eyes.

I often struggle to focus, as does my daughter, because my brain wants to be prepared for danger. It is not worried about the daily tasks I am trying to achieve or the homework my daughter is trying to finish.

We do have good days.  We laugh and life feels safe again, but then someone may say something, or we may smell his cologne on a passer by or be making a meal where we were abused right after and we spiral back. Back to the past where we are getting hurt again. More than once I have suddenly broken into overpowering sobs. Fearing for my life when really there is no one there wanting to hurt me. It’s a sick cycle.

I quickly learned that management of your symptoms is key with PTSD.  We both learned relaxation exercises to calm our racing hearts. We learned grounding exercises to stay in the present. We take medication to help us sleep, to ease anxiety, to fight nightmares and help with focusing. We do therapy. Lots of it. We have learned, mostly, what our triggers are and we avoid them. Triggers are things in our day to day that remind us of the trauma. We tell our loved ones what they are so that they can possibly avoid doing them, but it’s not fool proof. There are still outside events, like a movie at school or a van that drives by looking like his, that causes a panic attack. So we balance.

We balance the good days with the bad. We love ourselves extra more. We ask for understanding from others. We seek out support, receive it and in turn support others. PTSD can make you feel so alone, so different from those around you, you think hiding away is the best way to go. Let me tell you that it isn’t. So we go out for that walk, meet that friend for coffee, tell ourselves 50 times a day that we are safe and make our way through another day.

We survived the trauma.

It’s  been the hardest fight of my life, but I promise with God’s help we WILL survive the recovery.

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It’s more like a shuffle

Tonight I was doing laundry after making supper. My kids were busy doing homework and I quietly reflected on today. I thought, “Ya know today was a good day”. And it was. It was a normal day with normal tasks like cooking meals, sorting recycling, playing with my cats, I even got some writing in. Kids had good days at school.

I am quick to treasure those days. I know that tomorrow could be completely different. I could have terrible night terrors tonight and wake in a groggy fog tomorrow. One of my daughters may suffer a panic attack or there may be an email home that someone is struggling to focus at school or worse yet had a trauma reaction to something and ended up visiting the school counsellor. It could be one of those days or it could not.

We never know. So we take one step forward and sometimes two steps back and we shuffle through our day to day life.

Trauma does that to a person. Your life is no longer a straight line. It’s one full of jagged lines, circles and curves. In time you learn this is how your life is and you take each day as it comes.

You shuffle and that’s a – ok in my books.

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About Janet B

Survivor Mentor Supervisor at Verbal Abuse Journals https://www.verbalabusejournals.com.verbalabusejournals.com
We offer free support via email to people who are in or have just left an abusive relationship. Please visit our website to sign up for a Mentor.

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