Previous emotional trauma can shape the way a person reacts to stress. Many times, those that act abusive towards others have grown up in a situation where the only examples around them were of people reacting with abusive behavior. Sometimes, the victims become abusive due to a survival instinct, kind of a “pick on others or get picked on yourself”, sort of deal.
On occasion, it occurs that the abuser does not actually want to cause harm to someone but knows no other way of reacting in the situation. Their defense is to lash out. If they feel uncomfortable or stressed, they explode as they cannot handle the tension they feel in an appropriate manner. Despite their reasons for behaving in this fashion, abuse is never okay. Somewhere inside they are aware of this and it can eat them up. But again, they do not know HOW to be any different. So they carry on with what they have known. I mean, it has worked for them so far, hasn’t it? They are still here and no one dares pick on them. But many of them do feel remorseful when they see the harm they have caused (if they can see it).
For those that are able to see this and do feel remorseful, it IS possible that they can change their behavior and reaction patterns. Awareness and desire to change are very powerful things. Only these are needed to start someone on a better path.
If you are noticing yourself reacting defensively or aggressively in an abusive way, hurting others with your behavior when you feel stressed or uncomfortable, you are not alone. Many others are in the same boat. You may be thinking, “How can I change? This is all that I have ever known”. It may seem like just wanting to change is not enough, as you have no idea where to even start! It feels overwhelming, like a giant weight that you have to carry across a vast desert. How can you ever get through it? You don’t even know where you are going! What is it supposed to look like? What does it feel like? No. Maybe it is best to stay the way things are. Wrong. You can do this. With a bit of help and a lot of awareness and willpower, you can make it to the other side.
Confronting something that is deeply ingrained can be tough and will take several attempts before you can see even the smallest of changes. But don’t give up. Keep trying. The changes will come, slowly sometimes, but they will come. The best thing you can do is to find a trained professional in your area that will help you. Keep in mind that not every therapist is going to be the right fit for everyone, and it might take a few tries before you find the right one. In addition, or if you are not able to see a therapist for whatever reason, a good step would be to keep aware of when you are feeling the need to lash out and when you are feeling defensive. During those moments, it might help to excuse yourself from the situation and go to a private room so that you may think about what is happening and figure out an appropriate response that will not hurt the other person. Are they actually attacking you? Or do you only perceive the attack when they are not meaning it this way? When you feel calm, revisit the situation and TRY to respond in a more appropriate manner. The more you try, the easier it will become. There will be mistakes, and there will be times where you feel stuck. Do not let this discourage you. In time, you will see the changes.
Think back to when you were a child (or when you were in an abusive situation) and try to find the similarities in your own behavior. How did you feel when the abuse was directed towards you? What do you feel was wrong with THEIR behavior? Could they have expressed themselves in another manner to you? What would you have wanted them to do instead?
This may be painful and difficult to think about and you may find your mind shutting down. If this happens, come back to it another time. Again, the more you try, the easier all of this will be. The hardest part is breaking through the long-held barriers that have been put up inside of you to protect you from the hurt you have felt or are feeling currently. You must find a way in. Little by little, you can break these walls down.
Are there circumstances where you know you have acted badly in the past? What happened to trigger those reactions? How could you have acted to avoid the hurt that was caused?
Patterns of behavior form with people you have spent a good deal of time with. These habits can be difficult to break as we go right back to being our “old selves” whenever we are around them, even if we have changed immensely. If you find this happening to you, it is possible that you will need to take time away from these people (even if they are not harming you), in order to fully implement the changes within yourself. You may need to step away for a while and socialize only with people you have not spent time with in the past. Make NEW friends and behave in the new way that you have decided to behave. Form NEW patterns and become comfortable with those before ever bringing back anyone from your past with whom you held unhealthy patterns of behavior. Keep in mind that it possible that you will never be able to alter your habits with the people you knew before your changes, although it can probably work with enough effort from both parties.
Regardless of how much change you are able to foster, any change at all is already a major benefit. The important thing is to keep trying and little by little you will get to a healthy place for yourself and for others.
When in the midst of an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.
Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!
Author Bio - Anna Czarska is a writer and actor who has 15+ years of experience dealing with various situations of abuse. She has pursued business ventures and creative pursuits as well as spending time to study psychology in both formal and personal education. For more information, you may find her Linkedin profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kasiakraut/