Musings on abuse as a learned behaviour

Possibly one of my greatest fears is that I too am an abusive person. That if I have a child I will subject them to the same things that I was subjected to.

Recently I came across the theory that abuse is a learned behaviour, not a genetic one. Which makes me wonder, can I unlearn the behaviour? Is knowledge enough to break this cycle.

I think one of the things that compounds the cycle of abuse is the culture of silence, we do not like to talk or hear about unpleasant things that happen to people like us. And so, we don’t speak out about violence. We keep the secret…Out of shame, out of fear, out of a whole host of reasons…We know that we cannot untell.

My abuse is a lot less secret than it was two years ago, but if 20 people know about it, it is a lot.

Obviously, at the moment, my circumstances about speaking out of changed. I now have the double taboo. Society does not allow us to speak ill of mothers. And it frowns on speaking ill of the dead. So speaking ill of your dead mother is one of the things that is just not done.

But my mom’s death does not simply erase the past. Nor does it change it. As I grow, and learn more, I can gain a different and compassionate outlook on what happened to my mom and how she almost had no conscious choice in what she did to me. By that I mean she did not set out to abuse me, and in many ways was incapable of overcoming the pattern that she learned as a child.

I don’t condone her abuse. I don’t know if I forgive her yet. But I can look on her actions towards me with compassion. I don’t ever think I will ever achieve complete understanding…I think the scars were inflicted when I was too young and vulnerable. In many ways, it is surprising that the learned response to hurt over-rode the biological imperative to protect.


6 thoughts on “Musings on abuse as a learned behaviour

  1. “…it is surprising that the learned response to hurt over-rode the biological imperative to protect.”

    Do you think it has to do with some sense of control, as raising a child could be seen as trying to control its behaviour and consequently, its future as a ‘Human Being To Be Proud Of’?
    And could abuse therefore become the overriding imperative in an attempt to control, as that was the learned behaviour for dealing with control issues after all?

    I have experienced that your fear to abuse is a true and real fear, and in a way according to your own words, so have you…
    But as you haven’t had a chance yet, to find out for yourself if this is how you would react when it comes down to handling a situation with your own child, you won’t know the extend of your attempts to control your child and your ‘learned behaviour’.
    But in a way, you have already given yourself the answer:

    “…she almost had no conscious choice in what she did to me…she did not set out to abuse me, and in many ways was incapable of overcoming the pattern that she learned as a child.”

    This too is what you have learned as a child, so you would have to exert yourself to change, by breaking this destructive cycle once and for all.
    By finding other ways to deal with stress, difficult situations and gaining different skills to raise a child, beforehand.

    Don’t rely on your own good will and intentions… it creeps in… unawares… almost automatically, like a little program running on standby in the back of your head… it will be too late when activated: the damage will already have been done, you can’t take it back or make it disappear anymore… you have already taught your child… losing it ones is too much already.

    Don’t perpetuate the cycle… please… find help…

    PS. Please, excuse my need to emphasise, as I do not mean to pressure you or tell you how to act/live in any way, but am just trying to convey the importance of understanding what seems to be the inevitable in most cases, when the possibilities of perpetuating abuse is not addressed seriously enough by the abused individual…
    I am not saying you will not take this serious enough, just trying to point out that it is an issue to be taken very seriously, before you have your child… most seem to underestimate this, until it is too late.
    You most likely can not do this without the right kind of help… most can’t…

    Again, I apologise for my candour…

    • I don’t think that my mom had me in an attempt to control my behaviour. I think she did genuinely want both me and my sister. I think having me as a second child probably frightened her, and I think she worried about repeating the pattern with my older sister, where my sister would be forced into the mothering role and have a greater responsibility for me.

      Henri, thanks for your candour and advice but you do not need to worry. There is no way I will try to raise a child without the assistance of a professional, because I do think that the abusive behavior is likely an unconscious thing which creeps in un-noticed.

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply your mother had you and your sister to control you, but that the sense of needing to control, whilst raising a child, is stronger than and overrides the sense to protect, as abusive behaviour mostly manifest itself for that purpose, if that is the action the now-abuser (your mum) was taught when she grew up to gain control over her and her behaviour…

        I am glad you understand that just the fact of awareness or understanding the cycle or vocalising your experiences and pain is most likely not enough to not repeat the learned behaviour and wish you all the strength and endurance you need to overcome this pattern and hope you’ll succeed 😀

        Blessings to you and your (future) family _/\_

  2. I truly believe that your knowledge of the cycle and your understanding of what you and your mother both went through, will over-ride the cycle.

    You have talked about what happened to you, consciously feared you would do the same to your children and have faced your difficulties. By no means are you over them, or perhaps ever will be, but you’re aware of them and have vocalised them.

    Most of the abusive families and generations that I’ve heard about have started and continued through the act of remaining silent. It’s the act of keeping it ‘bottled-up’ (to turn a horrible phrase) that renders us capable to harm…especially the ones we love.

    There is no such rage and uncontrollable emotion as the rage that comes from keeping pain hidden and remaining quiet.

    You don’t have that. You’ve talked. You’ve hurt. You’ve been honest with yourself and others. Be it to twenty people, or to one.

    The fact that you fear you will perpetuate the cycle,* renders you incapable of doing so.

    *I wanted to write ‘in my opinion,’ but apparently that’s obsolete 😉

    • I hope so Sez, but I am not going to trust it to awareness alone. I also agree with your observation about silence and repetition going hand in hand.

      But on the whole “in my opinion” point, I am not convinced that it is obsolete, especially when so many comments make reference to facts. Does the inclusion of the phrase make the comment more or less ambiguous 🙂

  3. I agree, in fact, I think it was the only part of that article I disagreed with. If i remember, correctly.

    I agree with you seeing someone, I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing. I have always gone for the idea of psychoanalysis, rather than drugs, or just chatting to those you know. I tried the ‘drugs’ recently (prescribed happy pills) and, if I hadn’t looked hideous whilst in slumber, I’d seriously have resembled Sleeping Beauty. I almost never woke up. Not good. Chat to people, chat to professionals, but don’t assume you don’t have the strength to stop the cycle. I know you. You do.

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