Why Did I Watch the Abuse?

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Last night I was thinking about my history of abuse and how I grew up seeing so much of it. As far as physical abuse goes, I did endure some growing up, but it was much more common for me to see someone else physically abused in my family. There was a “scapegoat” in our family who seemed to be the target of much of the worst of the abuse.

Thinking back, I remember how when this abuse would happen, I would scuttle into the corner or hide in a nearby alcove, but I never tried to actually leave the room. Common sense would seem to dictate that when violence is happening, you would want to get as far away from it as you can, but I didn’t even try.

I questioned myself last night why this was so. I came up with several possibilities. First, perhaps I was afraid to leave the room because I thought it would draw further attention to me. My main goal when violence would erupt was to try to become invisible. Sometimes the rage would boil over and the physical and verbal abuse would extend to me if I happened to get caught in the crossfire, so I naturally tried to fade into the shadows. Sometimes, early on, I would try to distract and please the abuser in hopes of calming them down, but that never really worked.

Another reason I think I stayed to watch was because deep down I feared for the safety of the scapegoat and I wanted to make sure they didn’t die. There may have been some morbid curiosity tossed in there too, the way that human nature makes us crane our necks to see what happened when driving by a car crash.

Lastly, I think I stayed and risked my own safety because I felt responsible for trying to make peace after the explosion. I hated to see the division in my family and the anger and pain created by these confrontations. After the worst of it was over, I would often go to the victim and try to comfort them, and then I would even go to the abuser and try to comfort them. I would try to mend the rift between them, although obviously looking back with adult eyes, I see the utter futility of my efforts and sometimes feel anger that I felt responsible to hold the family together in the first place, as I was so little at the time (elementary school age).

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PTSD and After Effects of Abusive Relationships

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A couple nights ago I was feeling so confused and conflicted inside that I started to feel a little bit claustrophobic. Some of you may not understand that feeling if you’ve never had it yourself, but it is something I have experienced more than once when the emotional and rational parts of my brain just can’t seem to find common ground. It is even worse when the emotional parts of your brain are telling you different things at the same time too.

Part of my brain might be telling me that someone does care about me because they buy me stuff (they are so generous!) and make such a fuss over me whenever I see them. While another part of my brain is reminding me of the times they fucked me over and left me to cry alone. From what I understand, this is a common thing experienced by those who have been victims of abuse. There is a real trauma bond that is created between abuser and abused, which makes it so very hard to see the abuser for what they really are and to be able to keep your wits about you when they suddenly do something nice or swear yet again that they’ve “changed”.

I know I have complex PTSD and a buttload of cognitive dissonance going on in this weary head of mine. I know that the healing process is long, and realistically, never-ending in some ways. I know that none of it was my fault, even though I still struggle with feelings of guilt, insecurity, and inadequacy. I know that I have made wide and sweeping relationship changes I had to make for my own welfare, but I still find myself feeling sorrow for what could or should have been.

I am often confused and desperate to understand what is beyond understanding. And I guess I have to make peace with that. I really have no other choice.