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Dealing with a victim of past abuse

Use tact when speaking with a victim of abuse.
Use tact when speaking with a victim of abuse.
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Many of us have been the victim of major traumatic events or abuse in our lives. It's difficult for people who've not experienced this devastating way of life to relate to a victim. They don't realize the pain they inflict with what may seem like a harmless joke or comment. Dealing with a victim who's been traumatized or abused is very different than dealing with a person who has led a rocky but mostly normal life. Here's how to deal with a victim of abuse, based on my own personal experience.

It may seem like a joke to you, but....

When someone close hits me with a mild, joking insult, it brings back memories of the overwhelming abuse suffered in the past. I land right back in abuse land as the victim. I come out fighting. A person who's been forced into dealing and submitting to the whims of an abuser over a period of years is extremely vulnerable and defensive. When confronted they will often turn into someone unrecognizable. Being faced with memories of the abuse they have suffered brings the pain they have buried to the surface.

Digging up bad reactions:

One way that a victim shields themselves from chronic and repeated abuse is by simply pushing those memories to the back of the mind where they will no longer be hurt by the past. Another way a victim may be dealing with the horrendous torture, is to block the memories out altogether. There are for instance entire rooms or time periods that I have no conscious knowledge of, simply because my mind's defense mechanism has blocked memories to the point where only my subconscious mind is dealing with them.

Rubbing salt in the wound:

When dealing with a victim who has suffered this type of abuse it is important to be gentle. Negative comments and criticisms, no matter how minuscule, can be too much to handle. The victim has a psyche in a delicate state due to years of being put down and belittled, through years of being a victim of physical and mental abuse. The smallest thing signals their brain to get ready for dealing with the threat of returning to their former state of abuse and powerlessness.

An innocent comment can cause a negative reaction.

I've been happily enjoying my present with no thought of ever dealing with the pain of abuse again. Today someone close to me tried to "gently correct" an error in statistics made in all innocence. Since that error had much to do with abuse suffered in my past, my reaction was not curling up into a ball, as in my past life of abuse, but with claws flying to keep the abuse at bay.

Defensiveness is learned.

A victim of serious abuse has often reached a "no more" type of threshold. They simply have developed a policy of dealing with all threats and insults to their character by reacting as if under attack. This should not be perceived as a personal insult, but rather, for what it is, a defense mechanism learned after many years of being put "in their place".

Placing blame is no solution.

It's not fair to accuse a victim of abuse of bringing it on themselves or tell them they have only themselves to blame for the abuse they have suffered. Even if the victim has made a bad decision which landed them in the situation, it is not their fault. It is the fault of the abuser, not the abused. They did not ask for abuse. This person is a victim of an individual with a devious mind who knew full well how to entrap them and inflict the abuse. Dealing in manipulation is what they do.

We learn what we live.

Many abuse victims will fall into a trap of blaming themselves for the abuse they have suffered. I, myself, fell into this trap on many occasions until I talked with a professional. He explained to me that this is the victim's way of reinforcing what they have been taught by dealing with abuse, that they are at fault for everything. A victim may sometimes make bad decisions which place them in harms way, but the abuser is the one who takes advantage of that and perpetrates that abuse. Therefore the abuser is the one who is truly to blame.

This article was previously published by this author on a now closed Yahoo property.

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