A common myth about abusive relationships says that people who abuse their partners were victims of childhood abuse themselves, and they’re simply perpetuating a cycle they were trapped in at a young age. However, this is something that research just doesn’t bear out. It’s true that many abusers will claim to have been victims of abuse, either by parents or by previous partners, but once they are told they will be hooked up to a lie detector test, those claims suddenly dissipate. Abusers know how to hook people’s sympathy. But what we have found is that abusers are much likely than average to have seen their father figures abuse their mother figures. And an even stronger connection comes with abuse survivors. People who are abused by their partners as adults are much more likely to have been abused as children.
To me, this makes perfect sense. Most of us, in one way or another, attempt to relive our childhood experiences with our adult partners. And when we’re talking about negative experiences, the draw is much stronger. We think, somewhere deep in our subconscious, that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time we can get the person to accept us or love us, and now maybe we can heal.
I saw this in my own experiences. What really finally really woke me up to the reality of my experience was that I would hear my abuser say, almost verbatim, the exact things my own (not abusive but certainly extremely unavailable) father would say to me in childhood.
“I don’t need to know anything about you. Are you clothed? Fed? Then I’ve done my job.”
“I don’t need to know anything about you. Did you pay the rent this month? Good. Then I’ve got what I need.”
Hearing that was the moment I snapped to attention and realized what I was doing. That was the moment I decided to seek therapy and make sure that come hell or high water, I was not living that life anymore.
But think about it. It wasn’t the violence, the terror, the years of paranoia. It wasn’t the persistent insults, accusations, and theft. It was the realization that I wouldn’t be able to heal my childhood pain. The realization that it wouldn’t turn out differently this time. That no matter what I did, this man wouldn’t love me in a way that felt like love. I couldn’t make myself small enough, good enough, giving enough for him to be willing to see me. My Chiron wounds would just keep gaping. My childhood trauma would find no resolution here.
And his? Well, he was very much a textbook case. He wasn’t abused, but his mother was. And to a truly harrowing degree. I like to think that maybe I did help him with that. Because when I finally escaped, when I finally stood up and said, “No. Never again.”? Well, that was things turning out a little differently than they did for his mother. That cycle ended with me. I can only hope it ended with him as well.
How have you seen childhood experiences play out in adult relationships?