Once Damaged, Always Damaged ?

It is a widely held view that abused children are likely to move the abuse onto the next generation by abusing their own offspring in some way. The term “once damaged goods, always damaged goods” is a widely held belief in society and abusers are expected to repeat learnt patterns. Abuse survivors are even sometimes met with suspicion and a form of derision once it becomes known that they have been abused. It is clear that many people believe and hold the concept of “damaged goods” to be true. Most of the statistics that go to make up the figures that most studies relate to concerning repeated patterns seem to be flawed at the very least. Many are only taken when incarceration takes place or if the police are involved, completely disregarding survivors who make a complete recovery or use private methods of treatment to recover. Given this, it is not surprising that official figures show that many victims of abuse become abusers themselves. While this can be said to be true in some cases, it does not take into account factors that can lead to a child surviving, understanding that it is not guaranteed that they will become abusers themselves.  There is much evidence that in some cases, life is not totally damaged by early trauma and due to such factors as a child’s natural resilience and bonds made with “good” people outside the family, things can return to normal.

Linda T Sanford in her inspiring book “Strong at Broken Places ” calls this rush to prove the “damaged goods” theory as projected deficiency which means that we take our own feelings about child abuse and project those onto the victims believing that they must feel the same. This opinion is also coupled with an expectation of what is likely to happen to the survivor in the future. The author believes that three psychological theories that are frequently applied to the „damaged goods” theory are in themselves flawed and often misused. The first is the Intergenerational Transmission of Violence theory which states that “eighty percent of sex offenders were abused as boys”. This figure is based on prison cases only and does not include, for example, sex abuse survivors who never became abusers, adding a counterweight to the argument.  Methodology applied from various other studies would bring the eighty percent figure down to thirty-five or forty percent. These studies also suggest that abuse is not contagious and it is not guaranteed that abused will become abuser. While some do, it is presumptuous to believe that it is the majority.

The second “flawed” theory deals with “learned helplessness”. This determines that abuse victims “learn to resign themselves” to the abuse, feeling they deserve it and seeing it as a way to cope. This was based on an experiment with dogs by Martin Seligmann who found that 65% of dogs chose to take pain rather than find an escape route. When applied to human behavior, some theorists believe that humans subjected to constant victimization as children will exhibit helplessness, seeking no solace from the abuse and going on to be victims of rape, self-mutilation or life as prostitutes, to name a few examples. The reality is somewhat different as it appears that many abuse victims actively seek help and had indeed moved on in life, according to studies. The third theory often misapplied is the one that states that child victims often show identification with the abuser going onto become offenders themselves because they found the abuse somewhat “justifiable”.  In a child’s mind, there is either an offender or a victim so the natural thing to do to stop becoming a victim is to be an offender. This statement totally disregards the fact that states that a lot of survivors have come through abuse knowing the difference between offender and victim and have used this knowledge in their interactions with their own children.

Sanford strongly  suggests that all three of the above mentioned theories, widely used by psychologists, cannot hope to predict future psychological problems for the majority but can only help to identify potential problems at best. While the number of abused who become abusers is clearly smaller than statistics show, they often suffer from other problems.Abused children who came from families where violence was common are more than three times as likely to become abusers as are those who experienced maternal neglect and sexual abuse by females. One-third of the adult abusers had been cruel to animals as children, compared with just 5% of the child abuse victims who did not grow up to commit sexual crimes. But abusers and non -abusers experienced similar levels of physical abuse as children, and there were few significant differences in the severity or characteristics of the sexual abuse they suffered.

“It is clear that prevention of sexual abuse involves not just treating the victim, but ensuring that the family environment is safe,” psychiatrist Arnon Bentovim says. “If you leave a child in a family situation where he continues to be subjected to abuse, even if it is not sexual, you are probably wasting your time.”

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals,couples,  groups and companies globally. Online therapy is, in his experience, effective for treating a number of major conditions. Are you having issues that you need to talk through? He has a range of plans that can help you get the help you need.  Online Therapy details : Here ……

  6 comments for “Once Damaged, Always Damaged ?

  1. Kenneth Kennard
    November 8, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Ah! This dispels some common myths with sound, forensic, arguments. I suffered years of sever emotional abuse as a child which led to depression and suicide attempts as an adult. However, I have always had a great affinity with animals and it never crossed my mind to hurt them or any human being. I had treatment for my feelings of worthlessness, and the consequent self-harm. But the best “treatment” I had was to raise 3 children in a loving environment and to have a lovely rescue dog. I now have two grandchildren and feel proud of the fact that my children are happy, mentally healthy adults. I count that as my greatest achievement.

  2. November 9, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Wonderful! Thank you for an educational and honest post about a difficult issue.

  3. Idontdeservethis
    January 17, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    I have been with my partner for 14 months. He was sexually abused by his father at the age of 15yrs, just the once as he remembers. He’s punishment from God for having sex outside of marriage? A month or so later shortly after he’s 16th birthday, he walked out of the family home without a coat on his back and began he’s life. He’s now nearly 50.
    During my time with him, he’s behaviour shows how this has damaged him. He has stolen from me, financially abused me, physically harmed me, threatened me with suicide if I don’t forgive him, to name but a few. The other side of him is he has been successful, and grew a successful business which he came out of due to the collapse of his 3rd marriage. He was left penniless and still awaits proceeds from the liquidation.
    He blames he’s behaviour on his fathers abuse or being locked out of his business.
    He’s latest is not paying the rent for the last 3 months & concealing this from me. He’s had his wages to himself for 8 months (the length of time we have lived together) while I pay bills, provide food, loan him money etc etc. I had to withdraw £2700 from my daughters savings to pay the rent to the landlady as she wouldn’t leave the house until it was paid. He has promised to pay this back, although if he is true to himself, I will not see a penny. in 18 days we will be homeless.
    He has recently atlast reported his fathers crime to the police. I hope this helps him heal.
    I as a victim of he’s abuse feel I can longer go forward with him, as I have a duty to my self & my daughter to not put myself at any more risk of his systematic abuse. Wether that be him stealing my or my daughters possessions to sell for financial gain, damaging my possessions, lying to me, cheating on me, applying for businesses and houses without any financial means just to keep me in his world. All the while I do believe he has access to money but chooses not to use it.
    I have made the decision to leave when safe to do so … I have 18 days and no money as this abuser has taken me for everything he could.

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