What causes abuse in relationships?

what causes abuse in relationshipsHave you ever lashed out towards your partner, out of character? You might be wondering what causes abuse in relationships. Did you ever say or do things that you regret? Have you ever wondered why you acted abusively in that moment?  You might ask yourself, ‘why does a nice person like me act this way’? You may even refuse to see your behaviour as abusive because you are a kind and caring person. So, what causes abuse in relationships?

You may appear relatively calm most of the time, until you get triggered and then all of a sudden you feel victimised, to the point that you end up acting abusive to defend yourself.

Do you find yourself having explosive anger or rage that gets taken out on those you love? You may even do so when the situation didn’t need to evoke that kind of response. Does the anger feel justified at the time, but later, you look back at your behaviour, and it was unwarranted? Have you ever found yourself acting in ways that end up hurting others, as a form of revenge?

When individuals deliberately inflict pain onto others so that that they feel better, it usually has an underlying meaning. That person may be treating others the same way they have felt in the past.

Reason for abuse in relationships

There are many reasons for abuse in relationships. Oftentimes, someone becomes abusive due to past abuse they have endured. Maybe the hurt you’ve felt during childhood has prevented you from dealing with hurt. Perhaps you’ve pushed aside the memories to forget about it. Have you vowed to protect yourself from being helpless or vulnerable again by getting revenge on anyone who is perceived to be bullying or belittling you? When doing so, you use all your built-up anger to hurt others in the same way you were treated, to rid yourself of your pain. So they can feel how you feel deep down. In this way, past feelings of hurt get displaced and projected onto others in the present relationships. Sometimes, the experience of hurt can be real or imagined. Therefore, when exploring what causes abuse, it is often linked to internalised anger that becomes built-up and displaced onto relationships.

Childhood Causes for Abusive behaviour

There are family of origin causes for abusive behaviour. If you felt abused as a child, then you may feel triggered to feeling abused and act aggressively to defend yourself. You can do so by overpowering the other person when feeling provoked. This way you prevent yourself from feeling victimised and helpless again, but as a result abuse others.

  • Perhaps you got revenge at your ex-partner for leaving you by attempting to defeat him or her in court.  Have you attempted to take the children away as payback? Does watching them suffer cause you to feel better?
  • At work you feel betrayed that someone has questioned your work performance. In turn, so you speak badly about them to your colleagues, encouraging them to dislike that person.
  • You feel disappointed the waitress was busy and you had to wait. Having felt unimportant, you set-out to destroy her reputation by complaining about her.
  • Have you punished your partner when feeling abandoned, by cheating, using verbal downs or the silent treatment?

If you find yourself or a loved one in these situations or one that is similar, it may be time to consider if you/they have any continuing emotional trauma from the past.

Could you be causing abuse to others?

  • Do you alternate from appearing passive and caring to angry and hostile very quickly?
  • Do you feel helpless about taking control of your life? So much so that you get angry when others do not do things for you?
  • Do you cut someone off when you perceive you are being rejected by them?
  • Have you ever jumped in to protect a mate from getting hit and ended up beating up the other person? To the point that you become charged with the assault?
  • Have you had an urge to physically hurt your partner, but you had to stop yourself?  Maybe you slammed the door or intimidated them to let them know that you were in control.
  • Do you forget your pain by dishing out punishment or revenge at those you perceive to be hurting you?
  • Do you get angry that your partner accuses you of cheating and in turn end up cheating on them?
  • Did you feel teased or bullied your whole life and now won’t let anyone tell you off, by fighting back?
  • Have you struggled to leave your partner that you ended up cheating to find a way out?
  • Did you feel insecure about your partner potentially leaving you that you became controlling to try and keep them?

In the case that you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, it’s more than likely that you are projecting past trauma onto present relationships. In order to tackle what changes you should make to correct your behaviour, you must understand why you act they way you do.

Without dealing with the original causes of abuse, you end up causing the abuse in relationships

Underlying causes of abusive behaviour

In many ways, avoiding how one feels by projecting these painful feelings onto others, by repeating abusive acts done to you, means that you are not dealing with your feelings. Instead, you are continuing to act it out by repeating the problematic behaviour.  In this way, you can rid yourself of feelings of hurt or anger stored up inside you, causing others to feel the same way. When a person is abused by a caregiver who they identify with, they can internalise the anger towards themselves and act it out when they perceive that they’re being treated the same way as the past. So, if your partner asks an innocent question, you may misconstrue their intentions and attack their position. In this way, the person forgets about the pain or abuse in thes past, and perceives those in the present as treating them the same way. This places the responsibility of pain on the partner, although they haven’t done anything wrong.

Addressing the causes of abuse head on

What causes abuse in a relationship where a person feels pleasure by displacing internalised anger onto others? When you treat someone in an abusive way, you initially feel better by subconsciously treating them as your abuser.  Doing so allows you to take out your anger on someone who was not responsible for your past pain.

James Masterson defined the term Talionic impulse for those, including BPD, when referring to situations when the person inflicts the same pain that was done to them. In this way they act out revenge on those whom they imagine to hurt them. This is problematic because issues from the past impact present and future relationships. Luckily there are ways to combat this behaviour and work towards a healthier relationship!

Where to go from here

Counselling Melbourne Services offers Anger Counselling, counselling for Relationship issues for individuals and Marriage Guidance.

For more articles at sign up on her newsletter for free advice and tips from Counselling in Melbourne,  follow us on social media at Facebook and Twitter

All content is copyright 2018 Nancy Carbone

Back to Blog Home
Enquire Now Enquire Now