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.
That takes a lot of courage and self compassion.
For information see my highly recommended Website, @ www.healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.com/
And on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/HealingFromComplexTraumaAndPTSDAndCPTSD/
~ Lilly Hope Lucario
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