Throughout my work online and in my own counseling, I’ve considered the issue of abuse survivors reacting back to their abusers, being deemed by many as abuse. It’s not abuse. It’s not ‘mutual abuse’, or whatever other victim blaming terms people want to use.
When being abused, it’s only natural that at some point – the victim may react back. This can be verbally or physically. But this is a defense. This is not abuse. This reaction would not occur, if the victim wasn’t being subjected to abuse.
If baffles me that people do believe that the behaviour of the victim needs to be seen to be ‘perfect’ at all times. The behaviours and actions of victims prior to the abuse, during the abuse and after the abuse, is often scrutinized, criticized and used against the victim in a negative way. It’s often used to blame the victim. It’s often used to shame the victim. It’s often used to minimize the abuse perpetrated by the actual abuser.
Several years ago, after passing out and breaking bones in my hand, I was diagnosed with Vasovagal Syncope caused by extreme distress, due to domestic violence and trauma. Prior to that, I had also been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The vasovagal syncope, caused me to have repeated dizziness, going unconscious and physical injury, as a result. It also causes fatigue, sleep issues and this all exacerbates my PTSD symptoms. It’s something I am still dealing with on a daily basis.
After a lot of hospital tests, to check my heart, my brain, blood flow etc, vasovagal syncope, plus doing a ’tilt-table’ test – where I went unconscious, I was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope/vasovagal syncope. Due to my 18-year history of domestic violence, including psychological abuse, coercive control and sexual abuse, the specialist stated I needed to reduce the stress in my life and be very careful with my dizziness issues, as this could lead to further blackouts and more physical injuries. At that time, however, I was then being further abused by my ex-husband, regarding the domestic violence protection order I sought and enduring post separation abuse – legal abuse and financial abuse, which continues now to this present date. So avoiding stress is difficult.
Unfortunately, my ex doesn’t want his children to have the happiest and healthiest mum possible, he wants them to have a traumatized, unhealthy mum, even though that impacts them. Very typical of toxic abusive domestic violence perpetrators.
During my 20 year marriage to a narcissistic domestic violence perpetrator, I endured sexual abuse and rape. Not of the kind of rape most people think of – the stranger who attacks a woman and violently rapes her. The sexual abuse I endured, was the kind many women don’t even realise is sexual abuse.
Being the survivor of child sexual abuse and sexual abuse as a teenager – I was the perfect target for sexual abuse as an adult. I had no boundaries and no self esteem.
I have been aware for some years now, as to how few people can (or choose not to) discern narcissism, abuse, domestic violence and toxic behaviours.
The Johnny Depp / Amber Heard court case in 2022, however, has even shocked me – as to how few people will discern narcissistic abusers and domestic violence perpetrators and their tactics.
It’s been an eye opener for me, that even some of those who claim to be advocates for domestic violence victims and even domestic violence survivors, are supporting Depp. Something I find extremely alarming.
Every page validates what I already know. Every page validates my insight, knowledge and experience of domestic violence.
Don’s compassion for the victims – who he states are “kind, giving women”, is so important to hear – particularly from a man and a man who is highly educated and experienced in working with perpetrators and victims.
He ‘gets’ it.
He gets the intentional nature of the abuse. He gets it is a choice they make. He gets it’s not ‘subconscious’ behaviour. He gets the intentional grooming process and how they use the same grooming tactics as paedophiles. He gets the psychological abuse that always occurs. He gets that they are ‘con men’. He gets how wrong victim blaming is and he makes it clear – the women targets/victims are not in any way to blame for the abuse.
I also watched this video and you can feel the compassion and gentle nature he has.
It’s always such a relief when my own insight is validated, by those who are experts in the field and have considerable education and experience in the field. Continue reading →
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse – where the perpetrator is twisting the reality of the victim’s situation, to cause them confusion, make them doubt themselves, doubt their perception of what is occurring, make them feel like they are going crazy, wear them down and continue to abuse them.
Gaslighting is very common with psychological abusers. My ex is a psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual and physical abuser. He’s also highly narcissistic and sociopathic.
For a large proportion of our marriage, he sexually abused me. He bullied, harassed, coerced and abused me into unwanted sex. It was very clear to him that I did not want to have sex with him, because he frequently complained and got angry about the lack of sex. He created a terrible situation where my life was made far worse, if I did not give in to his demands. If I stopped him, pushed him off during the sexual assault, he would get very angry. He was relentless. Callous.
He abused me from day one, with continual lies, acting like he cared, manipulation and toxic selfishness. This chronic abuse, resulting in me no longer wanting any sexual contact with him. Which I had every right to not want. No-one is obligated to provide sex, and especially not when they are being abused. And no-one is owed sex, particularly when they are relentlessly abusing that person.
During this sexual abuse, he made me feel like ‘I’ was the problem. How dare I not want sex with him! How dare I refuse him! What a terrible person ‘I’ was. He even acted like he was ‘the victim’, in me not giving him what he wanted. His attitude was that he was given all this great sex at the beginning of our relationship (which was only due to all his lies) and then I ‘took that sex away from him’. So it was all my fault – in his twisted warped mind. He refused to consider his terrible actions and abusive choices had brought on this need in me to keep him away from my body. He never considered that was my right. He never considered he was responsible. He never took accountability. He never considered the coercion and bullying to be wrong. All of these being common traits and behaviours of narcissism and sociopathy.
What was even worse, was he referred to the sexual abuse he coerced me into, that caused me physical and emotional pain and disgust – as ‘making love’. He considers coercing a child sexual abuse survivor – into unwanted sex, manipulating me, plying me with alcohol, bullying me, harassing me relentlessly into rape – as ‘making love’.
It wasn’t making love at all. It was vile heinous abuse. Just because he enjoyed raping me, somehow in his perverted mind – still classified as a form of love. Or at least that’s what he wanted me to believe. He wanted me to know ‘he’ was enjoying it.
And a lot of sex abusers that abuse in relationships, believe the sexual assaults and rape – are ‘love’. Paedophiles also often choose to believe this about the sexual abuse to children.
The mind of a sex offender is a vile, dark place.
Calling rape/sexual abuse ‘making love’ – was gaslighting the ongoing abuse, into something completely different to what the reality actually was. Continue reading →
Complex trauma is ongoing or repeated inter-personal trauma – abuse and neglect – caused by other people. Often this ongoing abuse causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Trust issues are one of the debilitating and life impacting results of enduring complex trauma. It’s very understandable, when you consider the survivor has been subjected to ongoing harm, particularly when from those they were meant to be able to trust, rely on and feel safe with.
This is intensified when the abuse/trauma was endured was in childhood. Not learning how to develop healthy relationships, not having this modelled, causes the survivor to have a deficit of needed skills in adulthood. Knowing how to appropriately trust people, is one of them.
Trust issues can be either not trusting anyone, or trusting too quickly and easily. Both resulting in further issues that are painful to endure. Survivors can swap between these, depending on what is occurring in their life. Often trusting too easily – results in the survivor being hurt more, and then they jump into ‘I’m never trusting anyone again’ mode. All ways of coping. All very understandable.
Not trusting anyone – is a coping and survival instinct. If we don’t trust anyone – we can’t get hurt…. right? But, this understandable way of protecting ourselves – means we don’t have healthy relationships with others. This can lead to a painful sense of aloneness and lack of connection with other people. And connecting to others, is a vital human need.
Trusting people too quickly and too easily often results in the survivor being harmed more. Not knowing how to build trust carefully – causes a greater issue of being in further unhealthy, toxic, abusive relationships.
I see very often in my work as an abuse survivor advocate and writer – complex trauma survivors saying they will “never trust anyone” and I want to gently encourage survivors to know – there is a way to build up trust slowly and carefully – that still protects them and keeps them safe.
My first trauma counsellor, was an amazing and wise woman, who helped me with my trust issues. As a survivor of multiple complex trauma endured from birth – my trust issues were deep.
This is how she explained how to learn to trust in a healthy way and develop safe relationships:
Trust isn’t given, or demanded – it’s earned. Carefully.
There are good people out there, that we can have healthy relationships with. It may feel hard to accept that – but it is true. Figuring out if someone is healthy, is key to forming healthy relationships.
Not everyone is going to abuse us. There are non abusive people out there. No-one is perfect, but there are people who are respectful, caring and want good for others.
You need healthy boundaries on your own behaviours and choices. You have to understand how we interact we others, how we build relationships, including trust – is our own responsibility and we have to learn self control in order to proceed carefully.
You cannot 100% trust anyone. But you can learn who is trustworthy enough.
You build trust – slowly and carefully. Not by jumping ‘all in’. And not by refusing point blank to try to trust someone.
Don’t tell them straight up you have ‘trust issues’. Keep that information to yourself.
Then sit back and discern how this person treats other? Are they kind? Are they interacting in a healthy way? Are their behaviours consistent? If yes, that’s a good start.
If they treat others well, and you’ve gotten to know them a little, give them only a little piece of information about yourself, particularly about your trauma history. Something that’s not too revealing. So instead of revealing nothing, or telling them ‘all’ about your life – you give them a little bit and see how they receive that? How did they handle that? Did they deal with that respectfully?
Once you’ve given them a little bit of information, sit back and watch over time what they do with that. Do they push you too quickly for more information. Do they seem dismissive about it? Did they not offer words of kindness? Do they go and tell others about it? Do they gossip about you regarding what you told them? If yes, to any of those, these are red flags that would suggest this person is not a ‘safe person’.
If they seem to handle this well – after a while – give them a little bit more information and again – see how they respond and react? And continue this.
This gradual way of revealing yourself, is about being careful. It’s about protecting yourself. You do not have to tell them too much. It’s much safer to real yourself slowly.
Someone healthy and respectful will be okay with this gradual process. If they are not okay with it, then this is a red flag and someone who has unhealthy issues and I advise not to proceed with giving anymore revealing information, or any further information about your trauma history.
You also don’t have to be too quick with things like sexual contact with someone, if this is a romantic relationship. If they push you quickly into sexual intimacy – this is not okay if you need to take this slowly, they should respect that. If they are respectful – you can build more trust in them over time.
It’s also worth seeing how quickly they tell you about themselves. If they reveal nothing, or tell you a lot, this is someone with their own issues and we need to figure out why?
Build this relationship in a mutually respectful, careful manner. Discern as you go what seems ‘off’ and take your time in figuring the person out.
Proceed only if this careful process reveals healthy consistent, respectful behaviours.
Enjoy the relationship you have built, based on trust and mutual respect.
Throughout my work as an advocate and writer about complex trauma, there is a recurring and very common issue I see – childhood abuse survivors being traumatised again in adulthood, in further relationships where abuse occurs. I am one of those who have been re-victimised in adulthood.
Childhood complex trauma survivors, have been repeatedly abused and/or neglected in childhood by their primary carers and family. This abuse can include psychological, emotional, sexual, physical abuse and emotional, psychological and physical neglect.
Toxic people target childhood trauma survivors for reasons of exploiting, manipulating, using and abusing them. Toxic people can be those with high levels of narcissistic, sociopathic and psychopathic traits. The traits of all being: a lack of conscience, remorse, guilt, shame, empathy and a toxic sense of entitlement and exploitative motivations.
The following is to highlight 11 reasons why this occurs. Not all will apply to every survivor, but some may. It is important to note, these reasons are not to blame the survivor in any way and are not excuses for the toxic people who target them. Toxic people are 100% responsible for their malicious and exploitative behaviours and motivations and none of the following are about any malicious motivations of the targeted survivor. They are about their vulnerabilities being taken advantage of.
1. Abuse and neglect are the childhood abuse survivor’s ‘normal’. The abuse is not unusual to a child abuse survivor and they often don’t realise the abuse is not normal. They grow in unsafe homes, where being used and abused is all they know. It’s far easier to be in further abusive unsafe relationships later on in life, when you don’t realise the behaviours are not normal, are not justified and not acceptable.
2. When children are not taught to respect themselves, and do not learn how they should be treated – with care, love, safety – they don’t realise this is what they need and deserve as adults. It’s easier to tolerate abuse, when you don’t know you don’t deserve it and you grow to believe you do deserve it.
3. Toxic people literally ‘hone in’ on adults with no awareness of how to be treated well. They sense this in their potential ‘prey’ and they test it out in targets. Once they realise the target is someone who won’t expect to be treated appropriately or respectfully, it’s like winning the jackpot to them and they will continue pursuing the target for a relationship. They often act carefully at the start of the relationship to look better than they are. They con and dupe the target with false promises and declarations of love. It’s all a lie from day one, and they are experts at this manipulation. Childhood abuse survivors often won’t realise some of the red flags in the toxic person’s behaviour, because they are so familiar and used to it, due their childhood.
4. Childhood abuse survivors are often groomed by parents to be ‘people pleasers’ and often this a survival mode that is adaptive in childhood. It is understandable that children will do whatever it takes to reduce the abuse, and try and hope the parent will love them, if they do what is expected. This people pleasing behaviour, often goes on into adulthood and toxic people who are selfish and want to be ‘pleased’ and not have to reciprocate caring about the target, will use this in an exploitative and often callous manner. Not having to provide any actual love or care, is what toxic people want. All they want is to take, take, take. Not having to be concerned with the needs of others, or make any effort to care about other people’s needs, is their aim. People pleasers – fulfil this.
5. Childhood abuse survivors, have unmet emotional childhood needs. They subconsciously and understandably crave this and seek this is adulthood. They want someone to love them, care, show interest in them, provide safety. All normal needs never met as children. These needs don’t just go away. Toxic people are experts at sensing this, and offering this at the beginning of the relationship, with very non-genuine and malicious motivations.
“The devil doesn’t come to you dressed
in a cape and pointy horns,
he comes as everything you ever wanted”
6. Childhood abuse and neglect survivors often don’t learn healthy boundaries in childhood. The abusers continually crossed boundaries and the child believes this is normal. Parents are supposed to teach healthy physical and emotional boundaries, and when this isn’t taught and isn’t modelled, the child doesn’t learn them. The survivor goes on into adulthood with poor capacity to implement healthy boundaries. Toxic people take full advantage of this.
7. Childhood abuse and neglect survivors don’t learn healthy self esteem and healthy self worth. They don’t understand how they should have been treated. They are often told in childhood they deserve the abuse they endured. They often believe this. They go into adulthood believing any further abuse is deserved. Toxic people love this, and take full advantage of this too.
8. Childhood abuse survivors often are unable to stand up for themselves, as they were not allowed to do this and it wasn’t safe to do this, in childhood. Not learning these skills, leaves them disadvantaged to stand up for their rights and needs in adulthood and this is perfect for the toxic person – in order to have a compliant target, who doesn’t resist.
9. Children want to believe their parents and family love them. No matter what abuse they are enduring. They grow to wrongly believe love and abuse can coexist. They can believe abuse, is love. This is very understandable for a child. When this belief system continues on into adulthood, abuse from others can also be wrongly misinterpreted as love. The abuse in some cases cannot be considered wrong, or bad, because the survivor cannot bear to consider their parent chose to abuse them and this was not love. By accepting abuse in adult relationships, the survivor continues to avoid accepting the abuse in the childhood should never have happened. Often they minimize or justify the abuse as a way of coping. Sometimes, this continues all their lives, because avoiding the truth about their childhood is paramount. The fear and emotions have to be avoided, at all costs. For those survivors who do come to understand the ongoing abuse in childhood was not ever okay, it is a painful journey of grieving and intense emotions. Often this is so overwhelming – excuses will be made for the parents and then excuses made for the toxic people who abuse them in adulthood. As a result the abuse continues. Some survivors face the reality that there are no excuses for ongoing abuse to a child or an adult and they choose to end toxic relationships and have strong needed boundaries with toxic family.
“Love and abuse do not coexist.
Love doesn’t hurt”.
~ Lilly Hope Lucario
10. Childhood abuse survivors are less likely to leave an abusive relationship with a toxic person in adulthood. The normalcy of the abuse, the avoidance of facing reality, the fear of being alone, rejected, can keep survivors locked in toxic abusive relationships. Some stay and never leave. Some do leave and need considerable support, as it’s a very difficult journey.
11. Some childhood abuse survivors are empathic and can wrongly believe if they just love the toxic person enough, the toxic person will change. They have a false belief they can change the toxic person and shouldn’t give up on them. Toxic people rarely ever change and this sadly means the empathic survivor’s efforts are abused, exploited and fruitless.
I want to make it clear – there are no malicious motivations in the child abuse survivor’s behaviours explained above. I reiterate to survivors all the time, that there is no shame in being abused. There is no shame in being exploited and conned, by master manipulators. People who haven’t been abused in childhood, also get manipulated and duped. These issues due to childhood abuse, does cause it to be sadly – a common situation.
I also reiterate – the shame and blame lie entirely with the adult who exploits, dupes, cons and manipulates a child abuse survivor, due to their vulnerabilities.
Childhood abuse survivors deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. They deserve love and care. They deserve safety. And they always deserved that, including in their childhood.
It takes a lot of courage to face the issues that have made a survivor vulnerable and compassion and gentle support is needed.
A lot of grieving, learning of healthy boundaries, building self esteem, learning red flags and what a healthy relationship looks like – is how survivors begin to heal.
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At the beginning of my journey to healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – I first learned how to manage symptoms.
There are symptoms common in these trauma-induced disorders including: anxiety, hypervigilance, dissociation, emotional dysregulation, re-experiencing symptoms – flashbacks (visual, somatic, emotional), intrusive memories.
One of the first aims in therapy – is to learn how to manage these symptoms. I know not everyone has access to therapy, so I share what I’ve learned.
The following are skills I developed and still use today:
A tool and coping skills in learning to control breathing, helps reduce anxiety, hypervigilance and helps during times of stress and overwhelm.
Why do deep breathing? Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety due to its physiological effect on the nervous system. And deep breathing activates specific neurons that detect blood pressure. These neurons signal to the vagus nerve that blood pressure is becoming too high, and the vagus nerve in turn responds by lowering your heart rate.
Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.
Relax your body, arms and legs as much as possible.
Big breathe through the nose, for a count of 4.
Hold for a count of 3.
Breathe out through the mouth, exhaling for a count of 3.
When breathing out, try to exhale as much air out of the lungs as possible.
Repeat and continue for a few minutes, or as long as you can.
Try to this as many times a week as possible, and utilise this while in stressful, anxiety activating situations.
Practise and integrate this into your daily life and it will become easier over time.
The more you integrate this, the more you automatically start to control your breathing at times of anxiety, stress and overwhelm.
There are great resources to help with this on YouTube. Phone apps are useful and I personally recommend Smiling Mind.
Grounding is a coping tool and skill for staying present in the current moment, and helps with dissociation, flashbacks and emotion regulation.
Using the 5 senses, we can ‘ground’ ourselves to keep the attention on the here and now. The following list is excellent from Living.well.org.au
Remind yourself of who you are now. Say your name. Say your age now. Say where you are now. Say what you have done today. Say what you will do next.
Take ten breaths, focus your attention on each breath on the way in and on the way out. Say number of the breath to yourself as you exhale.
Splash water on your face.
Sip a cool drink of water.
Hold a cold can or bottle of soft drink in your hands. Feel the coldness, and the wetness on the outside. Note the bubbles and taste as you drink.
As you wake, during the night, remind yourself who you are, and where you are. Tell yourself who you are and where you are. What age are you now? Look around the room and notice familiar objects and name them. Feel the bed your are lying on, the warmth or coldness of the air, and notice any sounds you hear.
Feel the clothes on your body, whether your arms and legs are covered or not, and the sensation of your clothes as you move in them.
If you are with other people, and you feel comfortable with them, concentrate closely on what they are saying and doing, and remind yourself why you are with them.
If you are sitting feel the chair under you and the weight of your body and legs pressing down onto it.
If you are lying down, feel the contact between your head, your body and your legs, as they touch the surface you are lying on. Starting from your head, notice how each past feels, all the way down to your feet, on the soft or hard surface.
Stop and listen. Notice and name what you can hear nearby and in the distance.
Hold a mug of tea in both hands and feel its warmth. Don’t rush drinking it, take small sips and take your time tasting each mouthful.
Look around you, notice what is front of you and to each side, name first large objects and then smaller ones.
Get up, walk around, take your time to notice each step as you take one then another.
Stamp your feet notice the sensation and sound as you connect with the ground.
Clap and rub your hands together, hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands and arms.
Wear an elastic band on your wrist (not tight) and flick it gently, so that you feel it spring back on your wrist as it
If you can, step outside, notice the temperature of the air and how much it is different or similar to where you have just come from.
Notice five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can feel, taste, or smell.
If you have a pet, spend some time with them. Notice what is special and different about them.
Run your hands over something with an interesting texture. Describe it in your mind, as if you have never felt anything like it before.
Get a sultana, a nut, or some seeds. Focus on how it looks, feels and smells. Put it in your mouth and roll it around, noticing how it feels. Chew it slowly and mindfully, before noticing how it feels to swallow.
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