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Thoughts On Abusers and Victims

Reading a book written on the origins of war (BLOOD OF THE BELOVED by Mary Coleman), I was struck by two useful concepts about aggression which seemed relevant to the population I often serve: victims of physical abuse who become disregulated eaters. If you fit this description, I hope these ideas speed your recovery.

If you feel defective or “bad” as a result of having been physically abused by a parent, it’s time to stop blaming yourselves. A 2006 study (“Neural mechanisms of genetic risk for impulsivity and violence in humans,” Meryeer-Lindenberg et als, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A., 103:629-6274) identifies three factors which are needed together to produce a violent adult.” (BELOVED, p. 12):
1) gender (being a boy) combined with
2) a gene (MAOA) associated with violence
3) maltreatment during childhood

Coleman writes that “Societies that tilt toward guilt are actually more likely to avoid war than societies that tilt toward shame.” (BELOVED, p. 38) Applied to individuals, we might say that your parents might not have hurt you if they’d felt more guilt to prevent their actions. People who feel a great deal of shame, on the other hand, often aren’t able to access it to prevent hurtful actions, although they might feel shame after them. Guilt is an excellent feeling to experience when you’ve done something or think about doing something wrong. It also helps prevent you from doing it again. Shame, on the other hand, may compound negative feelings and cause a person to act out.

How do these concepts apply to you? First, recognize that you weren’t around when whatever factors that produce abusers came together to cause their hurtful behavior. These factors are rooted in your parents’ genes and childhood. Please take a moment to let this truth sink in. Your parents were abusers or potential abusers long before you were born. You didn’t cause their actions. Second, recognize that your abusive parents lacked the ability to feel enough guilt to prevent or not repeat their behavior.

Unfortunately, as may happen in human dynamics, you ended up feeling the guilt they should have felt, that is, you believe you did something wrong or were in the wrong when you weren’t. You survived a childhood in which you had no control over how you were treated, and now can lay aside your guilt and treat yourself well with the clear knowledge that you are non-defective and not at fault for whatever happened to you.