As I discussed in Cycle of Child Abuse Trauma—Part 1, the cycle begins with the “Original Setup.” This post, however, talks about this cycle in terms of adult survivors.
Original Setup: No one has ever addressed this old baggage with the survivor. The survivor believes his/her situation is unique. He/she believes that very few families abuse their children. They have no way of knowing, however, that 80% of perpetrators are the children’s own parents, so they believe everyone else is normal. They, like I did, don’t believe that the world is like what they grew up in. They have no idea, though, how much they have been conditioned by their family and abusers to be the scapegoat and keep quiet. They haven’t developed healthy self-management skills and get into risky behaviors because deep down they still believe that they caused the abuse, but they are too shameful to tell anyone.
Emotional Blackmail: Now the second piece of this kicks in which is “emotional blackmail,” when for whatever reason—a divorce, the birth of a child, or other stressor, all these painful memories start surfacing. Survivors try to reach out for help, probably for the very first time, and what do they encounter from other people? The same old messages they got from their abusers: “Keep it to yourself.” “Don’t tell anyone, it will be a bad reflection on your family.” Guilt questions: “Why didn’t you tell someone?” Shaming statements like: “That happened a long time ago. Get over it.” In other words, “Stop whining.”
Learned Helplessness: And that leads to the next part of the cycle which is “learned helplessness.” Survivors can’t believe this is happening all over again. They reach out, they try to be vulnerable, and they get the same identical messages they got from their abusers not knowing they are being conditioned unconsciously the exact same way with learned helplessness. Now they still believe that nobody cares, nobody is listening, they believe they can’t help themselves, so what do they do? The same thing they learned as a child.
Stress-Response Cycle: “I have to turn it inward to soothe myself.” They use the stress-response cycle which means sex, drugs, alcohol, food, self-mutilation, and when the pain gets too deep, they have thoughts of suicide. Unless they can get help in therapy or other supportive measures, this behavior will continue for the rest of their life. If you are never shown anything different, you will probably continue behaving in the same way.
I hope these two posts on the Cycle of Trauma will help survivors understand what they are dealing with as well as those who care about them.