Research in trauma demonstrates that if a person has been abused as a child, their likelihood of sustaining abuse later again in life dramatically increases statistically. Some of this can be explained by nurture or factors that were missing from a child's upbringing that would have provided for better safety.
But this does not explain the tendency for an ex-wife of an abuser to remarry only to learn that their second husband is also an abuser, too? What are the chances? (They're actually higher than those who haven't suffered abuse in the past.)
Essentially, it is believed that this compulsion serves a few different purposes which are all aimed at coping with trauma, however ineffectively. The traumatized person operates under the unmanageable tension to both deny and hide from the experience of pain that produced the PTSD, but at the same time, they also seek to purge the trauma, stress, and shame associated with the event.
If a person doesn't get it right the first time, there seems to be some emotional hope that they can to better in a similar situation or with people that remind them of those who were involved in their abuse.
While the mind becomes incredibly creative in its efforts to suppress the memory of the event, those memories also emerge and invade the person's consciousness and physical function because of hypervigilance (that sensation and state of mind of waiting for the next shoe to drop). We express our stress in some manner, believing that we're hiding it.
On a very ineffective and very subconscious level, the traumatized individual very ineffectively attempts to work through the trauma because of three specific unrealized objectives. Sadly, they do it with the same set of bad skills and frame of mind that they did when trapped in the midst of the original trauma.
Unconscious Goals of Reenactment
- Understanding of the experience
- Mastery of the experience
- Distraction (To manage mood with a stimulating but less threatening type of similar but controlled trauma)
Remember that the structures in the brain that govern the survival response have nothing to do with the “higher function” of rational thought. We are also drawn to those things that we find familiar to us, and if our baseline of familiar life includes abuse, we are more likely to encounter it again.
Unconscious emotions create deep and powerful motivations which the conscious mind cannot understand. An irrational part of us looks for a way to heal by getting rid of our feelings about our old traumas by writing them off when we believe that we can overcome some new trauma. But we can only change things by moving through and facing the experience of the original trauma.
Luckily, there is a road map to help us through the process.
For further reading until the next post: