When a human being is abused by another, the most important thing we lose is our sense of trust. As abuse victims, we decide we can no longer trust some (or all) of these:
• A parent or both parents
• A relative or all relatives
• All men or all women
• Teachers, priests, ministers, Boy Scout leaders, etc.
• Our peers – the mean kids or the mean colleagues
• Lovers or spouses
• Our own children
• Civil authorities like police and judges
• God, religion or other belief systems
But most of all: ourselves.
Abuse victims stop trusting themselves, even if it appears on the outside that they ONLY trust themselves. You may have heard women say, “I guess I have a ‘broken picker’” to explain away the destructive, deadbeat or abusive men they’ve let into their lives or whom they consistently find attractive. Perhaps you’ve met someone who is embittered about religion or relationships and cites example after example of all the times they’ve been done wrong.
These people are abuse victims. The minute we are abused is the minute we start to seek psychological shelter, a way to avoid similar pain in the future. The typical way is to make a rule about “All….are bad/dangerous/risky.” Then, that decision acts as a beacon, ironically attracting more of that type into your life.
It’s human nature to do all we can to avoid pain and gain pleasure. You are programmed to avoid being hurt and abused…unless your picker has been so badly damaged it doesn’t help you anymore to choose situations that are likely to NOT cause you pain.
I observe that anyone who has suffered a core loss of trust has had their “picker” damaged, whether the damage has been perpetrated by a parent (“Authority figures don’t protect me; I am on my own here; I can’t trust anyone to take care of me.”) or a love relationship (“All women cheat” or “I always pick men who hit me.”); or a religious figure (“God didn’t protect me” or “The church lied to me.”) The good news: There are ways to “fix your picker.”
If you’re one of the majority of people who has been damaged by someone breaking their implicit contract with you, you’ve been abused. Abuse victims suffer from the effects of a lack of trust, no matter what kind of abuse they endured.
The outcomes include a permanent sense of isolation; depression; addiction; over-achieving; under-achieving; continually messed up relationships; becoming bad parents and/or bad partners; continual job loss or career failure; and most of all, an abiding sense that something is deeply wrong inside themselves.
The First Step in Healing
When a close friend suggested I am an “abuse victim” I immediately claimed I am not! I had medical proof my hymen was still intact two weeks before my wedding, and no one had touched me inappropriately. But as I mulled over the “abuse victim symptoms” that cropped up in several areas of my life, I began to come to the horrible realization that yes, I AM an abuse victim! (Just not a childhood sexual abuse one.)
And that changed everything. Not in the “woe is me” way, but in the incredible amount of compassion I felt for myself and for everyone else who has suffered any kind of abuse in their own life. That’s the secret: To feel compassion for yourself again. To start to recognize what you’ve endured and to see where you’re paying the price in your life, and then decide to do something about it.
If you don’t know you have a problem, you can’t fix it.
Wiggle the word “abuse” around in your head. What unconscious drive led you to read this blog post if you claim you are not an abuse victim? As horrible as it is to admit, there’s a surprising relief in recognizing that you were abused, too. (Even if it wasn’t in the revolting sexual abuse/incest sort of way.)
Think of an incident in your life that you recall as maybe abusive. If your immediate tendency is to downplay it, excuse it, justify it or ignore it, then it definitely was abuse.
And No, everybody hasn’t been abused.
Recognizing you’ve been an abuse victim yourself allows you to start finding ways to heal as surely if you found out you have a disease. You’d immediately ask, “What can be done to cure this disease?” and presumably start treatment.
The disease you have is the abuse(s) you’ve suffered. Among the symptoms is an inability to trust yourself and/or others. The first step in healing is to admit to ourselves that we are real abuse victims and to look around for the cure, or to begin with, relief from the worst of the symptoms. You may never get 100% ‘cured’, but you can go a long way toward healing if you summon the courage to begin the journey.
Why does this work? Because taking care of yourself in such simple yet powerful way – stating that you want your heart and mind to be healthy – is a nurturing kind of self-care that begins to build the first fragile strand of self-trust. It will trigger you into looking for remedies, ways to begin getting emotionally and physically healthier. And that choice is the beginning of healing.