Resolving Abusive Relationships First
Many adult survivors find themselves in relationships that in some way parallel or resemble their childhood abuse scenarios. In some cases, these relationships are actually abusive if not physically or sexually, then emotionally. Spousal or partner abuse is another behavior linked to childhood abuse. The psychological or emotional impact of spousal abuse on the survivor can be every bit as devastating as the physical harm because it reinforces and reinstates the sense of fear, threat and personal devaluation that the childhood abuse originally created. Many survivors are inclined to deny the abusive nature of their adult relationships, much as they once denied their childhood abuse.

If you have never acknowledged or resolved your childhood abuse, you stand a surprisingly high chance of unconsciously repeating it fully or partially with a partner, spouse or friend. Research tells us that abuse survivors are subject to as much as five times the risk of future victimization as are persons who were not abused. In addition to creating problems in your current relationships, and even presenting the threat of physical harm, this denial can seriously undermine your recovery.

Part of your SAFETY FIRST! plan is to assess whether your current personal relationships are abusive. If you determine that your personal relationships are abusive, then you will need to resolve them before initiating your recovery. This issue can be very complicated because, in some cases, your expectations for relationships (which are shaped in part by your childhood abuse), can affect your perceptions of how people treat you. In other words, what you expect to happen to you in your relationships can play as important a part in your perceptions as what actually happens to you in your relationships. Depending on the specifics of your situation and personality, you may need help in distinguishing what is really happening to you now and what is a perception based on your childhood experiences and memories.

Whatever the case, your interactions with others need to support your overall recovery goals, not to destroy your current efforts or reinforce past childhood abuse patterns. Remember that the whole idea behind SAFETY FIRST! is to be able to work on your recovery from a position of strength that results from having eliminated the fears associated with the abuse. Since recovery is a most challenging task, you need all the help and support you can get, and this includes making sure that your personal relationships do not replicate old abuse patterns.

On page 27 is a Personal Relationships Checklist. Use it to assess the degree of support and safety provided by your personal relationships. You can also use the checklist for work relationships, although these tend not to have as much impact on your sense of safety, in part because of the more structured and (usually) restricted nature of the workplace.

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Survivor to Thriver, Page 26
© 2007 THE MORRIS CENTER, Revised 11/06