When you come from an abusive childhood, that can create a lot of dysfunction in your life, but in particular in your relationships. Today, I want to discuss some of the ways that dysfunction plays out. Recognizing the dysfunctional behaviors may be painful at first, but it will help you by showing where you need healing. That is valuable knowledge!
Many abused children struggle with having relationships with any genuine intimacy. Even with those they are closest to, they aren’t comfortable sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings. desires & dreams. They may listen to the innermost thoughts, feelings, desires & dreams of those they love, but they still won’t share their own. They also may change the subject or deny any negative feelings they have if questioned because they are terrified of being this vulnerable with anyone. This behavior comes from having a parent or two who ignored, mocked or rejected their emotional feelings. When the most important person in your life who is supposed to love you unconditionally ignores, mocks or rejects something about you, it’s only natural to be afraid other people will do the same. It takes time, prayer & good, loving, safe people in your life to overcome this behavior. It also helps to remember that any parent who would do this to their own child clearly was the problem, not the child!
Many abused children have an intense fear of abandonment. When a child grows up with parents whose behavior was inconsistent & unpredictable, they become afraid they would be abandoned at any moment. They also assume other people are the same way as their parent. This fear manifests as a person being clingy with the people in their life, even to the level of being co-dependent. It also can manifest as being controlling of others with whom they are in a relationship. My mother was like this. Her parents divorced when she was very young, & her mother was a narcissist who kept her from her father. I believe that left her with a deep fear of abandonment that manifested as being very controlling of my father & I. Conquering this fear of abandonment isn’t easy but it is possible. The more a person heals & becomes more functional, the healthier their self esteem becomes naturally. As a result, a part of that is a person becomes more willing to end toxic relationships even if that means they are lonely for a season. They also begin to attract healthier people who won’t hurt or abandon them, which helps to heal that fear of abandonment.
When parents show their children that their love is conditional, based on the child’s behavior & accomplishments, those children become people pleasers. Children in this situation assume that unconditional love doesn’t exist, & to be loved, they must earn love. It’s as if it doesn’t occur to them that the other person in the relationship should earn love though – only they must be the one to earn love. Unlearning people pleasing behavior is TOUGH! I’ve been there. I did find that the more I healed, the less prone to it I was. I’ve also found that slowing down & asking yourself why you are saying “yes” when you want to say no, or volunteering to do something you want no parts of to be helpful.
Most abused children have dysfunctional relationships with abusers. Friends, coworkers & even romantic interests often use & abuse these children until they reach a point in their lives where they start to focus on their own healing. Possibly the most difficult part of breaking this pattern of behavior is to stop beating yourself up for getting involved with such toxic people, in particular, if you married one of them. Just remember, you did the best you could with what you knew at that time. If you didn’t know to do better, how could you expect yourself to do better? That would make as much sense as expecting a toddler to know how to replace a car’s engine!
If you find yourself in these situations I have described, it’s ok! There is hope for you! Focus on your healing, & the healthier you get, the healthier your relationships naturally will get as well. I have found God to be vital to my healing. Psalm 23:4 says that God walks with us through “the valley of the shadow of death” & I firmly believe that to be true! He will be there for you during the hard, painful times of healing as He was with me. You’re not alone. Lean on Him & let Him help you to heal!
2 responses to “How Surviving An Abusive Childhood Manifests In Relationships”
Cynthia, sad but pertinent post. The president of a foundation that helps orphan kids among other things, told me once the data supports that a domestically abused child has a higher propensity to marry an abusive spouse and be an abuser himself (or herself) than someone not exposed to such. This has stuck with me to this day. Keith
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It’s the truth unfortunately. From what I have seen, most marry abusers but some do turn into abusers. Neither situation is good. Just goes to prove the profound effect childhood has on people.