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Seeking the Pattern of Our Abuse

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Photo by Natesh Ramasamy

I was conversing a few weeks ago about how our minds work. In a nutshell, it’s been shown, time and time again, that the human brain is hardwired to find patterns, even when they aren’t there.

Basically, when new information is introduced to us, our brain tries to fit it in with what we already know and believe. That’s why it’s so hard to convince people of something that doesn’t fit their worldview; our brains aren’t designed that way. It’s actually more instinctive to make the new information fit. It’s how we keep ourselves safe by incorporating new information into our existing worldview in order to quickly adapt to changes. If there’s a pattern, then we can use that to predict the next danger. That’s a basic survival instinct.

With abused children, the same thing happens. How many survivors have you heard trying to “make sense” of their past? Unfortunately, too many of us try to make sense of the abuse by looking at what we already know rather than the whole picture.

What I mean by that is that children generally see the world from their own viewpoint. Children who’ve not matured to the point of recognizing that things happening around them are not the same as things revolving around them tend to look at a new experience, like being abused, and try to fit it into their world. But their world only consists of them, so they naturally try to figure out why they were abused.

But it’s the wrong question. We weren’t abused because of anything we did, nor were we abused because it is part of some greater “reason”. Telling survivors that everything happens for a reason or encouraging them to find the purpose of being a survivor only encourages wrong thinking about what happened. The abuse happened because someone else decided to abuse a child. There may be some pattern or reason that the abuser chose to do this, but in the end, that’s exactly what it was—their choice. Looking at ourselves and trying to figure out why someone else acted would be similar to looking at our own lives to try and figure out why our neighbor bought a motorcycle. They bought a motorcycle because they wanted a motorcycle. Thinking that they did it because of us is ridiculous.

So don’t be ridiculous, ok? You were abused because your abuser made the decision to carry out horrible acts. Instead of trying to find the meaning of it all, let’s start looking at how to heal from it and have the life we are capable of making for ourselves as survivors.

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