Abuse and the Cycles of Negativity

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Some time last year, my co-worker was stressed out, and on edge because of his girlfriend. He complained that she repeated negative behaviours that were destroying their relationship.

She would lie about little, unnecessary things, and seemed to be more at ease during arguments. It was almost as if she was more comfortable when she was upset, he said. She’d kiss other fellas, and then tell him about it, always crying, always feeling guilty. She also had a habit of calling off their relationship whenever she couldn’t handle a problem.

He was at the end of his rope, and was seriously considering ending their seven-year relationship.

I asked him if he knew why she did these seemingly self-sabotaging acts, and his response was that it could have something to do with an abusive situation in her childhood that she had never really gotten over.

He found it hard to understand why she, as an adult, couldn’t move past something that had taken place over two decades ago. The answer to that question might seem obvious to many, but it’s really one that is taken for granted.

It’s all in the fundamentals, in the ABCs and 123s of everyday life. It’s why in order to treat patients with psychological problems, professionals always treat the cause or the root of the problem. They always go back to basics, even if the basics are as far back as childhood, because the information that we receive as children is the foundation on which we learn.

Is it so difficult to grasp the fact that a child who was abused or exposed to negative situations would learn from their experiences, and not necessarily in a positive way? I mean, if we consider that there are certain traits closely linked to children who have been abused – poor self-image, the loss of childhood (ability to play and learn), and isolation – it might be easier to see where I’m headed with this.


‘Now, that’s not to say that every ‘bad ting’ and hooker on the corner was abused sexually as a child’


Promiscuity is probably the most noticeable effect of sexual abuse, manifesting itself in the teen and adult years. Now, that’s not to say that every ‘bad ting’ and hooker on the corner was abused sexually as a child, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority were – seeing that during the period when a child has been sexually abused, treats and money are usually promised or given in exchange for silence. So the learned habit of selling one’s body is developed, and sticks in the mind through adulthood. And I don’t just mean selling your body as in prostitution; you can include using your sexuality to make it up the corporate ladder or like a friend of mine, demanding that your bills are paid in exchange.

In Trinidad and Tobago, child abuse is still a critical issue and in some cases, not easily identified. I wouldn’t blame that on local law enforcement though. I’ll lay the blame where it rightly belongs – on you, me, and the generations that came before us, and taught us that keeping quiet was a feasible solution.


‘Perhaps instead of laying blame, we can take action’


Although I could place blame on the generation before, that would just be a never-ending cycle, and a waste of both my time and yours. Or would it? Would it push us to realize that in acknowledging mistakes of the past, we can try to correct them in the here and now? Would it be too much to ask ourselves whether we try to assist when we notice that a child is most likely being abused? Do we contact the police? Do we investigate? Perhaps instead of laying blame, we can take action.

Victims are usually bound into silence by shame or guilt and for those who speak up to caring adults, the admittance of abuse is usually brushed under the carpet and straight into the closet to become a family skeleton.

All of this is absorbed by the child who grows up thinking that ignoring the problem is the right way to go or that what he or she has experienced is a natural part of life. It’s why it’s so often said that abuse is a cycle. It’s a learned habit.

It’s why a boy who grows up observing his father beating his mother is more likely to beat his wife than someone who comes from an undisturbed home.

An adult abused during their formative or childhood years takes something from that experience. Among other things they learn about hatred, self or otherwise; they learn about betrayal and mistrust; they learn about despair. Yet the people around them sometimes expect them to move on untarnished, with no trace of what has affected them. They can’t, as my colleague has come to realise.

These negatives are the foundations on which they base their social education. If at an early age they learned not to trust or were betrayed, they are going to maintain this throughout life. They might decide to trust or to open up eventually, but their innate senses are going to direct them to protect themselves by sticking to early patterns of thinking.

What occurs in the childhood years manifests itself in the adult years. It affects our self-worth, and our relationships.

So the next time you see someone repeating negative patterns, and wonder why the hell they can’t seem to learn from their mistakes, you might just try to consider that maybe to them, what they do isn’t wrong. To them, it’s a learnt pattern of behaviour that takes time to ‘unlearn’.


Image credit: http://www.coe.int



Kalifa Clyne is a writer who spends all of her time writing or thinking about writing.


  1. sara

    July 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

    People need to stop placing blame for their actions on their past. Grow up and get over it.

  2. frank

    February 11, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    There’s definately a lot to find out about this subject.

    I like all the points you’ve made.

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