Does abuse define a career path?

One of the enduring questions of human development and behaviour is why we take the paths that we do. What influences us in our choice of partner, profession, lifestyle and other things that make us who we are? This is a deep and complicated question even if a “good enough” upbringing has been experienced but even more so when a history of abuse and/or dysfunctional parenting has prevailed. In this case, when lacking the foundation of security, how do abused children make their way in the world, seemingly dragging a ball and chain with them? A book I recently reviewed may offer some clues and answers to this.

The book in question is  “Strong at Broken Places” by Linda T Sandford. The basis of the book are the stories of twenty child abuse survivors who figured that “the best revenge is living well”. Prevailing over a childhood of sexual and physical abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse and witnessing domestic violence, Linda Sanford asked them to look back and help us all understand how they fared so well. One of the first popular books on resiliency, Strong at the Broken Places was written for every survivor, friend, family member, mentor or helping professional who seeks the path towards self-forgiveness and healing.

Linda T Sandford spent most of time while writing her book explaining why she believes that abuse does not necessarily jump generations and the patterns of the past can be broken by survivors. This is often not the case when survivors of abuse choose a career path. It can be said that some abuse victims find their way in the working world because of the abuse and not in spite of it. Sandford eloquently uses a quote from Freud to start her reasoning: “there are two pillars of healthy life, love and work” It appears from Sandford’s research that many who could not find love, threw themselves into the other, making work the focus of their life.

In a normal family, parents are considerate and understanding with their children. They allow a child to be happy, responsible, creative and love is given and accepted by both sides. The child does not need to prove anything or work hard for the parent to love them and love is unconditional. In troubled families, abusive parents expect children to “do” for them in a spirit of “you are not good enough to love, you have to earn it”. Children, often thinking that this conditional love is better than none, “do” for their parents, becoming little “mothers, fathers, husbands or wives”.  This lead Sandford to the following conclusion: in contrast to the stereotype painted by society that abuse victims are “underachievers”, many excel at work, maybe because this work ethic is instilled in them through the abuse itself. This success in the workplace is usually not turned into the self-esteem that one would imagine. Many survivors point to the fact that work gives them a place “to belong”, either mirroring early family life helping siblings or parents or giving them something that they had never experienced before. Sandford states clearly that for many abuse victims, work is a manifestation of her theory of “looking good on the outside”.

It is then not surprising that abuse survivors often choose careers that have some relation to the abuse they suffered. Concerning this point, there is a widely held prejudice that due to the abuse, abuse victims careers are somewhat chosen for them through the conditioning experienced by the abusive parent. For example, if an abused child finds comfort in the animals or plants, many believe that this would drive them to be vets or horticulturalists. Sandford’s research did find, however, that many abuse victims end up in the helping professions, ranging from nurses to therapists. Through abuse and neglect, many survivors had to take on responsibility for the care of siblings and indeed parents from a young age and also have an ability to anticipate inappropriate behavior. Characteristics needed in abundance when helping others.

For many survivors, the world of work is a meaningful place. Many abuse victims were brought up in poverty and working hard is a way of providing financial security. Many of the sample interviewed were self-employed in some way to avoid working “for” someone and many saw work as a way “offering social contact but without the need to show vulnerabilities or bare one’s soul”. Many survivors were by their own admission, workaholics, stating that this addiction was “more socially acceptable” and is “rewarded by society” bringing a sense of “self worth” to what they are doing. Sandford states clearly that balance in life is vital. What worked as a child, that is working hard to achieve, rarely works as an adult and many survivors use this “busyness” as a shield for depression. Sandford finishes by saying that she believes that “being should stand proudly next to doing and working”.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals,couples,  groups and companies globally. Online therapy is, in my experience, effective for treating a number of major conditions. Are you having issues that you need to talk through? I have a range of plans that can help you get the help you need.  Online Therapy details : Here ……

  10 comments for “Does abuse define a career path?

  1. March 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Dharma Goddess: The Journey to Me and commented:
    This is fascinating and addresses a question I’ve periodically wondered to myself.

  2. Fiona
    March 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Nicholas, This article was fascinating for me! After growing up with an emotionally abusive/domineering father, my brother and I both started our own businesses, to avoid being told what to do. His was in landscaping (until his recent suicide) and mine is dog walking. Both of us work(ed) very hard to cover our depression. He said to me once “it’s interesting how we both ended up working for ourselves”….hmmm…yes it is! This article backs up our assumptions very well and has helped to put it into perspective for me. Thanks! Fiona

  3. March 26, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Reflections on Life Thus Far and commented:
    Excellent piece!

  4. March 28, 2014 at 10:22 am

    So that explains why I love my work so much! And yes, I’m able to bounce back from any adversity, stronger than ever!
    Enjoyed the supportive nature of this post…Thanks! 🙂

  5. March 29, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Reblogged this on kellykronicle.

  6. March 29, 2014 at 11:26 am

    This is a very good post on the abused and the help professions. Thank you bery much

  7. March 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Reblogged this on FALLING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE and commented:
    I just found Dr Jenner’s blog. Its very good. At least to me 🙂 I love CBT to begin with

  8. March 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Reblogged this on MadeleineMaya.

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