Informational Article: Why Survivors Miss Abuse

Survivors of abuse and IPV may miss it after it ends or crave acts of sexual violence. Those of us who may miss aspects of our abuse often feel like we wanted the abuse, deserved it or will only ever be abused.

But we never deserved to be abused, we never wanted it, there are complex and overlapping neurological, social and psychological reasons we can feel this way.

Reasons Why We May Miss Abuse

1) Traumatized Central Nervous Systems

Our brains get into patterns and will continue to act on them. The brains of trauma survivors will continue in a state of being traumatized after abuse, especially after complex trauma. Because our brain and nervous system are in a state of still being in trauma will replay the abuse over and over again. So it’s not so much as wanting to be abused, but our minds and bodies are actually still in a state of trauma. This plays a role in continuously being in abusive situations.

Attachment trauma, which childhood trauma (younger the age the more extreme the effects) causes, alters our self-concept and core beliefs. Disorganized, Avoidant & Anxious attachment styles leave us with damaged perceptions of ourself on a base neurological and spiritual level. These core self-perceptions of damage or needing others to be whole or being flawed. Because of this dysregulation and neurological disruptions it can make abusive relationships seem more healthy and play into the other reasons discussed below. 

Our communication skills and interactions with others are shaped by our neurological development and physiological responses. Trauma alters the structures in our brain that understand and relate to others in the very size of the sections of our brains. If we struggle on a neurological level to relate to others it does change how we can form any relationships. Not directly related to wanting to be an abusive relationship again, but is important to note. 

2) It’s All We Know

This plays into the first in the nervous system activation, however, I think is a more conscious aspect and I believe applies more to childhood trauma whereas the first applies across the board to traumatic experiences. When we’re abused at a young age it can be the only thing we know. We become used to an environment of abuse and trauma when we get to a place where we’re no longer sounded by abuse it’s foreign. If we have an abusive and/or unstable family of origin then we never lived without trauma. Our whole selves were built around abuse, when we leave this place our whole world seems off-kilter. So it makes sense to go to what feels normal, or might even seem more “safe” then the unknown of a situation where abuse isn’t happening anymore. 

This can also show in our misunderstanding of what love looks like. If “love” from our family, close friends or adults meant to care for us like abuse then we might be wanting that form of broken “love” still. 

Our communication skills are also disrupted making forming healthy relationships so hard and therefore unhealthy and abusive situations are easier to handle as they act the way we were taught people do. It’s so much easier to be in these painful relationships. 

3) Trauma Bonding/Addictive Arousal

Trauma bonding is a psychological phenomenon where the abuser uses patterns of extreme actions (Molestation, rape or graphic exposure), followed by a very loving action and sometimes a grace period in-between. This is often in extreme succession where sexual assaults are concerns

This pattern causes a high uptick in stress hormones, a severe often prolong sympathetic nervous system engagement followed by a reaction of parasympathetic response and then bonding hormones like oxytocin. The high-stress state also makes the bonding feel more powerful because of the hormone cascades.

These extreme levels of neurological activity, central nervous system activation and hormones related to this can make these relationships feel really intense and make the interactions feel more powerful. It can even feel mildly addictive.

Because of this, we can crave relationships of this intensity. Even if it hurt, and we know it hurt, other situations can feel like a letdown. We can crave these emotions, it feels like an emotional high. 

Missing these extreme feelings is normal. 

4) It’s What We Think We Deserve

This connects very heavily with point 2. We might believe we deserve to be abused, we might feel like we’re bad and therefore deserve to be hurt, we’re only good for sex or that the abuse is the kind of love we deserve. Believing we deserve to be hurt and need to be abused is so common. 

Our experiences of shame are tied up in many cultural ideas about sexual violence, sexuality and gender and can add this feeling that because of how the culture sees our experiences and ourselves can be so hard. So we can really feel 

Our abusers also often tell us we deserve these things, that we are broken, we are flawed, we will only ever be loved by them, that abuse is love, that we are only good for sex, our worth is tied to our sexuality, that we have to be abused for being bad, or that abuse is a reward for being good. And so much more. Being groomed, psychologically and emotionally abused just makes us think we deserve, need to be, or want to be hurt. 

Reasons That Don’t Make Us Miss Abuse

1) We want To replay Our Abuse to “Understand” or “Make sense” of The Trauma

These are two common reasons people flippantly explain why traumatized people are in similar situations to their abuse or engage in similarly traumatizing experiences. Neuropsychology has shown it’s not trying to make sense of the trauma in the actions. We do often as “why” but when we want the situation it’s for the above reasons, and heavily on the neuropsychological patterns of behaviour trauma shapes in us, we’re not replaying it or searching it out because it offers us some sense or really control it it’s built into our programming so to speak. 

2) We Liked The Trauma, It Wasn’t Abusive or We Deserved It

This is not true, never true. Even if you had a physiological reaction or, loved the abuser. We never deserve to be hurt and it doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong or abusive behaviour 

We can heal, and we can find healthy and non-abusive relationships, familial, platonic and romantic. Integrating trauma, healing our core beliefs and healing attachment can get us to a place where we no longer feel like we need to return to our abusers or abusive situations.

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