Childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior

Here at love is respect, we often talk with people who experience abuse in their relationships. They want to determine why their partner is abusive towards them. Sometimes this search for “why” leads them to believe that their partner is abusive because they experienced child abuse or lived through childhood trauma. Regardless of your past, childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior.

It is natural to want to understand why someone harms you, and we’d like to provide some clarity on this topic. Although child abuse and trauma can have distressing lifelong effects, this does not cause someone to abuse their partner later in life. Surviving child abuse or witnessing domestic violence as a child does not ultimately determine that someone will become an abuser themselves. A partner who uses their past to justify their choice to abuse is making excuses and failing to take accountability for their actions. Unfortunately, abusive partners often redirect blame and responsibility from themselves onto their partner. Its important to know that this is never acceptable. Redirecting the “reason” for abuse is something we consider gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse.

We know that childhood trauma can affect a person’s mental health, especially if they aren’t seeking treatment. However, of all the life impacts of child abuse listed on, intimate partner violence is not one of them. Abuse stems from a toxic mindset of wanting power and control over a partner. Many people who experience trauma or abuse in their childhood grow up to be healthy, respectful partners in their romantic relationships.

digital boundaries background
digital boundaries background
Childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior
Childhood trauma is NO excuse for abusive behavior

Abuse is a choice, not something caused by someone experiencing child abuse.

So what does this mean for you?

If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship...

Counseling can be helpful

Please know that abuse is not something you deserve to go through. Your partner’s past does not justify their current choice to hurt you. Having an abusive partner can certainly affect your mental and physical health. Many victims and survivors of relationship abuse find counseling helpful.

Self-care is beneficial

It can also be beneficial to practice some intentional self-care, even if it’s as simple as getting enough sleep at night, eating full meals, or going for a walk. Journaling is another powerful activity that can help you process the abuse and provide a therapeutic way to document what is happening. If you do choose to journal about the abuse as a way to record the details for evidence, be sure to keep this documentation in a safe place that your partner is not likely to find.

Consider creating a safety plan

Another way to prioritize self-care is to consider a safety plan. This involves thinking of creative ways to stay physically and emotionally safe. Safety planning anticipates abuse and prepares a plan for what you’ll do when things escalate. If you need help creating a safety plan for yourself, try our interactive guide.

If you are concerned that your childhood trauma is negatively impacting your relationship...

Learn about healthy relationships

You’ve taken a big first step by thinking about this and seeking more information. Know that your trauma and feelings are completely valid, and you are not alone in feeling the effects of past trauma on your life. That said, both you and your partner deserve a healthy relationship filled with trust, respect, equality, and open communication. A relationship with these elements is fulfilling and rewarding for both partners. It’s important to remember that having a  healthy relationship is a choice that both partners must make.

Healing from past trauma

Our early caregiver relationships have a great impact on how people treat us as we grow. If you couldn’t rely on your parents or caregivers to provide you with physical and emotional safety, it’s understandable that you might fear others will do the same. The closeness and intimacy that romantic relationships entail can recall those early caregiver relationships. This can make our fears associated with that trauma particularly strong. These feelings are valid, and you deserve a safe space to process them and  heal from the trauma. Once that happens, you may find it’s easier to choose healthy behaviors in your relationship.

Understand the types of abuse

You’re not alone if you’ve attempted to protect yourself from painful childhood experiences by choosing unhealthy behaviors. Perhaps you always want to know where your partner is. You check up on them constantly, or maybe you are pressuring and coercing them not to spend time with certain people. While it may be easy to link the reason behind your behaviors to your insecurities caused by childhood trauma, none of these behaviors are healthy or fair to your partner and behaving in these ways will not allow you to process or work through your trauma. It is important to remember that behaviors are choices and how you choose to behave is not something that is outside your control, regardless of past experiences.

Healing and changing into a healthier person and partner often requires in-depth support from a counselor experienced in working through trauma and, ideally, familiar with the spectrum of unhealthy and abusive behavior in romantic relationships. If you’re ready to heal, you can use GoodTherapy to locate counselors in your area. Additionally, we recommend exploring Lundy Bancroft’s research on changing abusive behavior. Also, know that you can reach out to a love is respect advocate anytime, if you have concerns about your romantic relationship.

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