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.