Author: Michael Strelcheck
It’s a difficult thing to understand why a person would hurt or abuse the ones they love.
I know from experience, being physically disciplined as a young child, that being victimized by a loved one (my father) is an emotionally traumatic experience. Although I felt that my father loved me, I couldn’t understand what I saw (and felt) in his angry behaviors towards me. It was as if he was two different persons, one a warm and caring man and the other a mean and angry monster. As much as I wanted to love my father, I grew up both fearing him and hating him for what I believed he did to me.
My confusion over the feelings for my father haunted me throughout childhood and adolescence, until college where I was finally overwhelmed with a sense of grief, due to the loss of love I felt. So deep was the pain that it compelled me to take up the study of psychology to find some answers. Through time, and the understanding I gained, my emotional scares began to heal, helping me to eventually find peace.
It’s important to say that none of the reasons I’m about to suggest justifies an individual’s abuse of another, but I’ve found that it’s through the understanding of what is motivating abusive behavior that individuals in such relationships can start to heal.
ABUSE IS DRIVEN BY EMOTIONAL PAIN
An abuser acts out due to pain! When the personal pain of an abuser becomes so great they can no longer tolerate it, they lose their rational perspective and become “unthinking.” At that point the abusing person instinctively lashes out in order to relieve the emotional pain they are experiencing. This instinctive reaction is known as transference; in other words, they dump their feelings on another (to find relief). Hence, an individual’s abusive action is motivated, not by logic or a practical reason, but by a desperate need to release the hurt they are feeling because they can no longer stand it.
The physical act of abuse is an explosive release of pain that attempts to transfer hurt to another!
It’s a very strange thing that a person who is in emotional pain attempts to transfer it to those who are closed to them. There are some important reasons as to why this happens:
Loved ones are usually the most available
Loved ones can stimulate deep emotional feelings in an abuser
Loved ones are the safest persons to transfer pain to because they are the most likely to accept it!
The first reason is fairly obvious. Whomever an abusive person lives with is a consistently available target for transference. Loved ones can attempt to be less available to an abusive person, especially when they are stirred up emotionally, but that doesn’t provide any long term relief or healing.
The second reason is a condition which cuts to the very heart of personal relationships. Family is where individuals experience their most intimate relations and this positive potential often unconsciously leads to a negative reaction.
Emotional intimacy allows an individual deeper access to another’s protected feelings. For example, a person with abusive tendencies attempts to hide the feelings that generate that behavior, such as resentment, anger, or jealousy, since those feelings are unattractive to others. Little does the person realize that the hot emotions they are repressing burn them from the inside out, increasing their inner pain! Consequently, the person’s suppression of these ugly feelings (rather than dealing with them directly), “slow cooks” them, trapping them in the emotional self until a time when someone reaches their heart and forges a connection with it. The remarkable thing about a heart connection is that it provides access to all of a person’s feelings (the positive and negative) which, inadvertently, can stimulate the release of a person’s repressed feelings, which then usually follows the path of the heart connection back to their loved one.
The last reason is difficult to understand because it seems so self-destructive. After all, isn’t it from a loved one that a person gets their emotional support? Yet, an abusive person unconsciously targets loved ones because they will accept the abuse (and not abandon the abuser). On the other hand, if an abuser dumps their emotional pain on another (who isn’t intimately connected to them), there’s a good chance they won’t accept it, reflecting the hurt back, or worse, simply walking away in disgust, deserting the abuser.
The reason why a loved one accepts abuse has an easy answer. . . it is because they love the abuser and they want to help them; whereas others (who don’t intimately love them) don’t feel an emotional investment and won’t put up with being attacked.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Improving relationships that are abusive begins when the parties involved realize that they are emotionally “hurting,” deep inside. Surprisingly, this acknowledgment helps to bring individuals together, strengthening them to confront their inner pain.
The destructive emotions, held inside, that fuel violent behaviors are often difficult to confront (and own) because individuals are instinctively fearful of them. If these feelings were acknowledged (as our own), there is a belief that they would tear us apart; and that is why it is human nature to try to get rid of them through transference. As the old adage states, “You can’t control what you can’t confront!”
If the parties in an abusive relationship can realize and “constructively” share their painful feelings, the force that drives the negative behaviors can be greatly reduced. What I mean by “constructively” is for the parties to reveal the emotions that are causing them pain without hurling (or blaming) another for them. This exercise helps to vent repressed feelings “safely” so that healing can start.
Read more in Part 2 of WHY DO PEOPLE ABUSE THE ONES THEY LOVE?