The Cycle of Abuse: How Victims Can Become Abusers


Maltreatment that we often receive as a child, especially in the name of disciplining can mostly be categorised as abuse.  So, what is this abuse manifested as harmless/ minimal punishment?

Abuse is a multifaceted issue that encompasses physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological harm. It often occurs within a power dynamic, where the abuser exerts control over the victim. Victims of abuse often experience feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, fear, and confusion. These deeply ingrained complex wounds can significantly impact their emotional well-being and future relationships. 

Unfortunately, those who have experienced abuse themselves can, in some cases, perpetuate the cycle by becoming abusers. While not all victims of abuse become abusers, understanding the underlying factors that contribute to this pattern is crucial for breaking the cycle and promoting healing and prevention. 

Let’s look into certain factors that could lead to victims turning into abusers. 

People who are violent, deceptive, inconsiderate of others rights and social norms can often experience changes in their brain, like the thinning of certain brain regions responsible for thinking, motivation, and controlling emotions. Substance use can also influence abusive behaviour. Alcohol is involved in 40% of domestic violence cases. Prolonged use of alcohol leads to changes in brain regions that are associated with impulsive actions and aggression. 

Individuals who have been abused or neglected during their own childhood can often turn into abusers themselves, while being clueless about it. Perhaps, that's why parents often maltreat their children with harsh punishments without considering how such abuse impacted them in their own childhood. For example, locking a child in the bathroom if he misbehaves, calling them names, making them the subject of jokes, etc 

Also, growing up in an abusive environment can make such maltreatment to be normal and expected. Victims may start to believe that it's okay to endure and even engage in abusive behaviour in their own relationships, such as shouting & yelling, blaming/ scapegoating, threatening, and hitting. As a result, victims of abuse might develop high emotional sensitivity and low stress tolerance. They might anticipate others to be demeaning or attacking as well, causing them to react with offence/ attacks of their own. Therefore, abuse can have a negative impact on a person's self-worth and self-esteem to a large extent resulting in emotional insecurity that can drive some victims to seek power and control over others using similar methods of abuse that they endured, as a way to compensate for their own sense of inadequacy and inferiority.

Breaking the Cycle

Ending the cycle of abuse requires the victims to acknowledge the abusive behaviour they endured along with its consequences, in order to steer clear of continuing the cycle of abuse. It can also be beneficial for them to learn new and better ways of communicating their feelings, and emotions effectively, only then can they maintain healthy relationships with their children, partners, etc