This blog is not an excuse for abuse but an explanation of how attachment injuries can contribute to people becoming emotionally numb, shut down and unable to understand and commiserate with the suffering they caused. People who can’t feel pain on their behalf cannot empathise with the pain that others experience. They use anger as a defence to not take responsibility for the hurt inflicted on others.
Having secure attachment provides a safe place for each individual to be in; a place where both joy and pain can coexist. Elders in these families communicate security and safety through a variety of ways, including but not limited to loving touch, kindness, loving actions, and emotional availability. Caregivers are responsive to needs and not dismissive of emotions.
This loving response to pain models care, and the recipient takes this model with them into other relationships. However, when the aforementioned is missing, for example, in the case of a home where there’s the chaos of abuse, whether it’s one they experience personally or the abuse they see inflicted on their mothers, they will find strategies to cope.
With nowhere to take those feelings safely, children can shut down to avoid feeling. A child who shuts down to avoid pain doesn’t become an open adult who can understand and deal with pain without much personal work. It takes a lot of self-awareness and honest reflection to admit that the chaos of home could have inflicted injuries that make you unsafe.
It’s best to process and heal these injuries before attempting to go into a relationship; otherwise, the likelihood of you being emotionally abusive is high.
Parental separation can have a profound impact on a young mind. Many grow up without parents and with caregivers that were unable to love and who were physically and emotionally abusive in that environment.
However, the adult rationalises the physical abuse as the loving discipline, which causes them to do the same to their spouse and children. When abuse in any form is normalised, it becomes a dangerous pattern that repeats.
Abandonment and emotional neglect also play a role in the adult’s ability to give and receive love. People who have difficulty with negative feelings shut down and avoid them; therefore, they can’t empathise with your hurt.
Children learn how to manage feelings by watching their parents. When parents are emotionally unavailable or preoccupied, leaving a gap, sometimes the children fill that gap with stories of worthiness.
Having caregivers that are unresponsive to your needs can have a profound impact. This lack of love and safety in relationships with caregivers gets the individual primed for rejection. When the brain gets used to abandonment and rejection, it takes a defensive position to protect itself from perceived harm. Anyone in that state of hyper vigilance will not have the capacity to give or receive love.
Love shouldn’t hurt
Love doesn’t hurt, but for people primed for neglect and abandonment, even the purest love with the best motives will get treated with mistrust and even contempt. People who fear rejection due to a lack of secure attachment can become emotionally unavailable and manipulate others to meet their needs.
Although they reject the need for connection, they are unaware of how it operates in the subconscious.
Manipulation and control stem from needing connection but fearing that they won’t have it can lead to internal turmoil. As opposed to finding a supportive place to understand and heal the rage, it’s acted out in relationships. This push-pull of wanting love but fearing they won’t have it becomes an all-encompassing job. The lack of empathy and control becomes intolerable for the partner, friend, or child.
Although a relationship can become a safe space for all parties and a spouse can become a secure attachment figure, they cannot fix the attachment injuries. These injuries need the expert attention of a trauma therapist. This is one reason why books on marriage that don’t address attachment won’t help the couple struggling with abuse. That’s also why abuse is a personal problem. However, the relationship can become a secure space for both partners despite both receiving insecure attachment patterns. Without this, there’s little hope that healing will happen or that the abuse will stop.
The path to healing
Attachment injuries are often overlooked in treatment and help not given to abusers. Pastors and organisations working with couples dealing with abuse also need this information about attachment because most don’t know how attachment trauma impacts how the individual conducts relationships throughout his life.
Abuse hurts the adults in the relationship and has a devastating impact on children; therefore, in finding solutions to abuse, we need to dig deeper for the issues that lie at the root of the behaviour to find answers.
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