Psychological Abuse, Domestic Violence and the Belief System

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physical abuse“What did you do to make “him” do that? What did you do to cause that reaction?” This is such a lame thing to ask someone because it immediately places blame on the victim.

I am guilty of saying similar things to my own kids when they were small.  I cringe with horror at the memory of it today. I know exactly what I communicated… that the bully was only defending themselves. I was inferring that the one who was complaining or reporting an offence must have done something to deserve it in the first place.  (This is psychological abuse)

I can comfort myself that usually I said this to two of my kids who were fighting with each other at the time and that I was trying to get to the bottom of it. I was trying to find out what really happened from the beginning.  Although it is bad enough to say this to a child who is having some sort of sibling rivalry crisis; “he stole my tractor” ~ “she hit me with her toy duck” and the adult is really just trying to get to the bottom of who really started it, it is a whole other story and a whole other accusation when you say this to a child who comes home from school with a black eye. This statement implies that the victim is really to blame for the abuse.

And this is only the beginning of the damage that statement causes.

I can’t begin to tell you how many grown women have told me that when they told their mothers that their husbands were hitting them, that this same expression was the mother’s response! “What did you do to provoke that reaction from him? What DID YOU DO to deserve it?” (this is psychological abuse)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Like I could have done something to deserve getting hit? Like there is really something a person could do to deserve getting beaten? There is NOTHING that someone can DO that would deserve to be given a beating from another person.

Think about what happens in the belief system over time. Think about how these questions posed to a child could have a long term effect. What started off as a process of determining the truth, (in the case of myself with my kids although in many cases this is purely about placing the blame in the wrong place in order to confuse and undermine emotional health) becomes the process of training the victim to question what they did to cause bad things to happen to them and contributes to the destruction of  self esteem.

When I was about 19, I worked with a woman who was getting knocked around by her boyfriend.  We were all trying to convince her to leave him. Domestic violence is a chargeable offence!  One day she came into work with a swollen eye. We were all saying “Okay that’s it ~ you have to get out!” and she said that this time it really was her fault. She explained that she hadn’t put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher before running it. I was dumbfounded. But my point in telling you this story is that she believed that she deserved it.  She believed that she had provoked the physical abuse.  And here is what I have learned; she didn’t get to that point of believing that she deserved to be beaten by her boyfriend by having been treated properly her whole entire life.  She may not have come from a home where there was domestic violence or physical abuse, but somewhere along the way she HAD learned that her value was less than it really was. Somehow, she learned to accept less then acceptable treatment and somehow or somewhere along the way, she thought she even deserved it. She justified someone hitting her for forgetting to put a few dishes in the dishwasher.  Somehow she was brainwashed to think that this was part of a loving relationship and that this was “normal” ~ that her action caused his reaction.

People at work said some strange stuff about this situation.  They were angry with her. No one understood her reasons for not leaving. No one realized that her acceptance of this kind of domestic violence and physical abuse was part of her damaged self esteem. And her self esteem didn’t end up that low when she met that guy.  It happened way before that.

People said things like “and they are not even married” as if being married would have somehow made the domestic violence and the beatings less offensive or more acceptable. People told her that if she wasn’t going to leave him, that they didn’t want to hear her whine about it anymore.  And to my way of understanding now, that was just one more rejection that she had to accept. That if she didn’t do what they said, she would lose the tiny bit of support that she had with her co-workers. As though really, ultimately, the situation that she was living in was really her own fault. And what these people are saying is another aspect of psychological abuse.

When adults ask children “what did you do first that “caused that reaction” they communicate that no one gets bullied unless the receiver of the mistreatment (the child) did something to cause it. When a child is held accountable for everything that happens to them that child will begin to accept that they are doing “something” to deserve the treatment. After a while, we become so accustomed to looking for what we might have done to “cause” the abusive treatment that we take over the questioning and ask ourselves those questions.  “What did I do to cause that reaction? What did I do that made him so angry? What did I do (or not do) that put him in such a bad mood? What did I do (or not do) that caused him to cheat on me? ” And without realizing it, as children we try harder to please, and we accept the blame because we have no choice and at the same time we get “brainwashed” into believing that we really are the cause of all our own problems. When you grow up being treated that way, and learning to try harder and harder, after a while it isn’t so hard to find the answer to the question “what did I do to cause that”.

The answer was that “I didn’t put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher before I ran it”.  The answer for me was that I had a crush on the man who came in my room and I must have somehow giving him permission to come into my room.  The answer was that I was not enough of a woman to keep my boyfriend from sleeping with other woman. The answer was that my mother didn’t love me because I was such a disappointment and that I just didn’t deserve anything better. The answer was that my husband was angry because I didn’t realize what he really wanted for supper.  And those answers are no less of a lie then my co-workers answer about the dishwasher.

I realize today that my co-worker really was powerless because her belief system was so cemented in self blame.  (And so was I) That because of whatever her belief system was at the time, she really didn’t know she had a choice. (And neither did I) She really didn’t realize that he didn’t love her, that beating someone does not come from love. (And I didn’t know what love was either) That living in the chaos and unpredictability of domestic violence (or emotional abuse) has nothing to do with love.

We live in a world where statements and questions like this one are readily accepted, but think about why that is. (Because we are so used to them from such a young age) That doesn’t mean that they are fair questions though. That doesn’t mean that they any less damaging or manipulative.  It doesn’t mean that there is an actual ANSWER to questions like that or that I did actually do something to cause the reaction! I spent half my life trying to answer these kinds of questions. WHAT did I do to cause……? I found so much freedom in realizing that I didn’t “CAUSE” or deserve any of it.

Please share your thoughts;

Darlene Ouimet

75 response to "Psychological Abuse, Domestic Violence and the Belief System"

  1. By: Christian B. Posted: 21st August 2016

    I just came across your page and I have to say it’s uplifting. Its hard to get out of that thinking and even though I know these things it still hard to truthfully absorb the reality that it’s not your fault. I have a loving boyfriend and a sister that keep me from drowning when I can’t help myself anymore. I’m a hard worker because my mom treated me like a slave. And if anything happened to me it had to be instigated by me. I was quiet and tried to never wrong anyone. I’m doing so I bottled up everything. I still am not doing everything healthily. But it’s just hard to rewire your brain after nearly twenty years of physical and mental abuse while also trying to protect my sister and in some ways succeeding and failing at the same time. My I my consolation is that even now both my sisters and father are proud of how far I have come in trying to be on my own. I just wish my mother was my mom again. But I can’t find a healthy way to keep contact with her. She doesn’t understand just how badly my view of myself is skewwed. I still can’t say I’m pretty as I am. I can’t find my way through my mental block. I don’t know how but I’m trying and I guess that’s something. Its not that I don’t understand what was wrong and that I didn’t cause all of my problems, I’m a really logical person and I know I’m not alone and what not blah blah. Its harder when I’ve never been good at asking for help even when it’s almost too late. Right now my only purpose is to be here for my little sister and so far it’s been saving me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 21st August 2016

      Hi Christian
      I am really glad that you found this site. 🙂
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Rudi Posted: 11th July 2016

    Wow, I came across this FB page kinda by accident but wow feel like I was meant to find it. Been through a lot of things in my life too starting from childhood, through my many failed grown up relationships. Currently in a relationship I think I may need to just get out of but have been struggling with the “did I do something wrong, maybe I should try harder”. Not sure what to do or how to process it all right now.

    But reading your posts and many of the comments that follow has been enlightening.

  3. By: Sandy Posted: 10th July 2016

    When I told my Mom that my husband hit me her reply was “What did you do to make him that angry? ” When I told her I had been isolating myself in depression because I caught him cheating on me, she said “Oh I knew one of yous were going to do this. How shameful and embarassing!” No, she didn’t mean him she meant me. This is how I was given advice through life, basically take it and shut up. Yet she loves me? My head spins with horror.

  4. By: Krissy Posted: 20th June 2012

    Thanks so much for confirming that. So do you think that there’s any truth in the statement that an abuser needs a partner to abuse, and if the victim didn’t have something that the abuser couldn’t cling to, she (or he) wouldn’t have found herself in that position, so she should work through that. I guess we all have our vulnerabilities.

    It’s just hard to sometimes separate the reality that our belief systems do make us vulnerable to abuse from the kind of statements that make out like victims carry a certain percentage (a small one, they claim!) of responsibility for being the other half of the abusive relationship.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th June 2012

      Krissy
      The bottom line question is where did it all start? Everyone wants to do this 50/50 thing. The victim should take as much responsibility as the abuser ~ no wonder so many people are so messed up. While it is true that an abuser can’t abuse someone who isn’t there to abuse, suggesting that the victim leaves causes even more controversy! It still comes down to the victim sharing responsibility for the abuse so how dare he/she leave! That is the brainwashing that I am fighting against in this site. That is the brainwashing that I fought to undo in my own life and succeeded undoing, and that is what allowed me to emerge out of the darkness and the lies that I lived in for so long!
      Hugs, Darlene

      • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th June 2012

        Hi All
        My new post is finally published: “the fear of good bye if you don’t comply” is about why we are so afraid to stand up to someone else esp. a parent. It all starts somewhere and finding out what that fear really is and where it came from gave me some information about the lie behind it.
        https://emergingfrombroken.com/the-fear-of-good-bye-if-you-dont-comply/
        Hugs, Darlene

        p.s. Krissy this post touches on what we were talking about in this thread about the brainwashing but I hope to expand on this conversation in another post soon.

  5. By: Krissy Posted: 19th June 2012

    Darlene, I am re-visiting some of the old blogs to clear my mind on certain things. I was taken aback by some assertions made by some social advocates of domestic violence victims. While they say they are not blaming the victim and that the victim doesn’t cause the abuse, they are adamant that there is something in the victim that the abuser can latch on to, otherwise the abuser cannot do what he/she wants to do. They want the victims to look at themselves to ask what was in their personality that attracted the abuse.

    I can understand what you (and Patricia, in the previous post) are saying about going beyond the blame stage to taking responsibility for our actions. I also understand what you are saying about jumping “straight into accountability”. That’s exactly what I am afraid will happen among my group of friends if our mentors are making statements like what I said above. It can give the impression that we need to own stuff because there is something wrong with us that causes us to partner with abusive people. Rather, my understanding is that we look at the DAMAGE caused, the beliefs we bought, the lies told, and we overturn them. Is that how you see it?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th June 2012

      Hi Krissy
      I bugs me when I hear stuff like this. (that they are still saying the victims need to look at themselves to question what it is about them that attracted the abuse) When I was in 12 step programs that is exactly what happened to me. While I don’t think the teaching was suggesting that I jump to accountability for what happened to me, that is what happened because of the way it was taught. (by the people!)
      YES to you question “is that how I see it?” ~ The damage must be validated and the beliefs must be changed. The lies need to be exposed (if only to ourselves) and overturned.
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Joan H Posted: 7th February 2012

    Dear Joy P, you have the right to feel whatever you want. 🙂
    And Don’t apologize for what you feel or want to express. Like Darlene writes about
    If you work on validating yourself and loving yourself, you will see that there is nothing wrong with checking up on anyone in this world u want because your protection is #1.
    You sound like a sweet person. I am working on the loving me too cuz I’m worth it

  7. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 13th July 2011

    Darlene, in reading all of your recent blog articles about the lies and beliefs that we are taught in our childhoods with our abusers, you got me to thinking about what comes after we recognise those beliefs for the lies that they are.

    I also thought about how some survivors seem to get stuck in the blaming stage of healing. How do you know if you are stuck or just where you should be. In the beginning of our healing, we need to be aware of the lies and we need to stop blaming ourselves for what was done to us as children.

    We also need to tell our stories in order to let go of the bond of silence that our abusers created. As long as we are all silent about our abuse, the abusers continue to abuse more children. We need to speak out about abuse in order to stop it.

    At the same time, our stories are not who we are. Our stories are about what was done to us. It was not our fault and we are not to blame for the past. At some point in our healing, we have to step forward and take responsibility for our present and future lives.

    We have to accept responsibility for our actions and reactions, otherwise we can easily pass the abuse on to the next generation by doing what was done to us. This is especially true for emotional abuse. We can let our anger turn into weapons of destruction used against innocent people, if we don’t learn to control our own rage. This can be done in the form of explosions of rage when we are triggered. This can be done by the use of sarcasm and gossip.

    As an adult, I am responsibile for my own behavior. This is how I make the conscious decision to not harm another person from my own place of woundedness. Triggers happen for a reason – to show us our woundedness – the areas that we still need to work on to heal so that the abuse stops with us.

    Here is my link to the blog article that I just posted called “Healing From Abuse Means Doing The Work of Healing.” You will find the link here:

    http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/2011/07/healing-from-abuse-means-doing-work-of.html

    Darlene, thanks so much for the posts that you are writing and the survivors that you are helping, including me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th July 2011

      Hi Patricia,
      I found it to be a natural progression of recovery to move out of the (necessary) blame stage. I often refer to it as growing up. (because I never grew up properly before) When I finally faced the past and absolved myself of all blame, I began to find a balance come into my life. Along the way in my healing journey, I became very aware of my own actions and began to see them through the same truth grid that I had been working on seeing the past through. I think a lot of people get stuck in the blame part because they don’t replace the belief system that formed in childhood. That is the tricky part because it takes being aware of the past for longer then most people want to look at it. I also found (based on my own observation working in mental health) that a lot of people (because of childhood conditioning again) jump straight from realizing they were innocent where the abuse was concerned and jumping straight to accountability for what was really reactive abuse. What I mean is that I was totally willing to make amends to my family without ever facing what they did to me. I had reacted to them, I had upset my mother with mean remarks a few times, but it was reactive to what she was still doing to me. I had to let go of that stuff. I don’t need to make amends for trying to protect myself. Where I had to get strong was in realizing the difference. I am hyper aware of my own actions today, as many survivors are, it was in fact HOW we survived, but it took a long time to sort this all out. I think that I get stuck sometimes, but never on blame. It took me years to really place the blame / responsibility where it belonged. This process is very complicated… so I just keep trying to go forward.
      Hugs, and thanks for sharing some very important points.
      Hugs, Darlene

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