Understanding and Resolving
The Cycle Of Abuse
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Do you find yourself returning to the same abusive relationships time and again
or choosing abusive partners over and over? Do you find yourself returning to
your parents all the time seeking advice, guidance, validation or support, only
to be continually disappointed? You likely have poor self-esteem and you are
likely quite emotionally vulnerable. Here's why and what you can do.
Self-esteem is an outcome of being valued by our parents when we were growing
up. Our self-esteem is actually rooted as far back as our parents’ mate
selection. Hopefully, our parents chose each other believing each possessed
the appropriate emotional maturity and practical skills necessary to rear a
child. Beyond that, our being valued by our parents is demonstrated by reasonable
prenatal care, planning for childbirth, postnatal care and the ongoing efforts
to meet our needs in a caring and loving environment. As we are consistently
and reasonably loved and cared for, we develop a sense of security and value
In the absence of our parents’ emotional investment in us and/or their
lack of appropriate care, or worse, our exposure to neglect, abuse, or harm,
we may have an incomplete sense of security, value and worth. In view of an
incomplete sense of security, value and worth, we are insecure and may inadvertently
spend considerable time and energies seeking the validation and sense of worthiness
we never received. Further and without a sense of worthiness we may come to
accept relationships and circumstances that unfortunately only contribute to
greater worthlessness. In the face of this greater worthlessness we yet may
engage in more self-defeating attempts at validation from those incapable of
reasonably meeting our needs. Thus, a conundrum is created in that the more
we try to meet our needs through persons less capable of providing for our needs,
the more harm befalls us.
The person who has unmet needs to be reasonably valued from before childhood
and on, may have impaired judgment when it comes to their own mate selection
and sources of validation. These persons require support to endure their insecurity
as they learn to set boundaries, discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable
partners, and learn to meet their own needs.
By way of example, lack of being valued or validation creates a thirst to quench
the dry well of insecurity.
Imagine a woman setting out across the desert with no water. Eventually she
is overcome by the sun's heat and an increasing thirst. With her clothes in
tatters she pulls herself through the sand looking for an oasis. In the distance
are palm fronds. This gives hope to her, now almost dying of thirst and from
that hope springs a desire to drag herself to the oasis. Now at the oasis she
comes across a small shallow pool of liquid. Without thinking and with a need
to quickly quench the driving thirst, she submerges her head into the shallow
pool and sucks back the liquid. With the thirst barely quenched she can finally
taste the liquid from which she seeks relief. At that moment she realizes she
is drinking camel urine.
While camel urine may briefly sustain the thirst-quenched person in the desert,
it hardly provides for lifelong sustenance. With this story, hopefully it is
understandable how vulnerability can lead to self-defeating solutions.
The strategy to overcome these circumstances is to seek new supports typically
from agencies or professional persons trained to help people sustain themselves
in an emotional drought whilst they learn to take care of themselves and fill
their own reservoir in the company of other nurturing individuals who take legitimate
interest in others for the sake of the other's well-being.