In my work as a trauma counsellor for survivors of abuse I have come across, many a time, the feelings that are experienced for victims of abuse from their partners, parents, family members or lovers. This I can only describe as a sort of love contamination. With this painful mix can come the tragic feelings of confusion, love combined with negative feelings, so often a concoction of love and shame. Many I am sure have had a taste of this soured soup and I wonder how common it is for us to have found ourselves experiencing this disturbing concoction. Who has not felt these confusing feelings at some point in life?
For many survivors of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual, it can be this mix of love and shame which creates a toxic soup, a poisoned brew of tragedy. The victim, in many cases, both loves, but simultaneously strongly attaches to the dark disturbing feelings that are also present in the act of abuse. When this kind of experiencing is part of a long term relationship, which involves a deep attachment, particularly if experienced in childhood, it can result in some long term and deep routed traumatic loss, maybe inevitably instigating a complex lifelong bereavement process, for the survivor. How can a dynamic mix of love and abuse, with all its shadow, occur without feeling a sense of profound loss and sadness?
Often it’s not only the perpetrator and victim that feels the shadow of abuse, but also those who witness what is happening to the people involved directly in this complex love dynamics. For the onlookers, who may be triggered by what they see, possibly triggering feelings of fear and loss of control for them, what these witnesses may perceive from a step removed, can often only be understood as frightening and shameful. And maybe it’s true to say that it’s often the victim, the more vulnerable person, that is most readily available, in their vulnerability and opennessf, to take on this projection of toxic shame and blame. Such remarks as ‘got yourself into this mess, look what you did’, ‘ you provoked this’ or maybe it’s something like ‘you are a fool, why get so het up about it all, let go?’may then get projected out to the victim. It’s true that eventually it’s the victim/ survivor that will need to draw on their own resources to take action to change their part within the abusive dynamics. This usually happens when the victim, or survivor, feels empowered enough to take charge of the situation that is happening to them. This may happen by either addressing the abuse to stop the behaviour or withdraw from the relationship that the abuse is happening in. Regardless of wether the victim needs to take action to help eliminate the abusive behaviour, any shameful types of responses, from either witnesses or perpetrator, can create such a feeling of shame in the victim and these projected out responses do not contribute to the very much needed empowerment that the survivor needs to move on. Shame can be one of the most disempowering emotions to experience.
However when we look at the love alone that we feel for someone, maybe it’s a bit like an ingredient within a recipe, can it even be a bad ingredient, a bad thing? Is it not then how it’s used
that makes or brakes something. I wondered about this concept in the case of the love component in the complex dynamics of abuse and dealing with the sadness of lost love for many victims and
perpetrators of abuse. How has that strong feeling been played out with each other? If it is played out abusively, it is the abusive act, with its shadow and feelings of shame, not the love,
from this act that then contaminates any love that was felt within the situation between two people?
Is not love, on its own, always love and can only ever be love? How we respond to our feelings of love are maybe the all important thing. We can feel love, witness it and respond to it. We can’t help what we feel and why should we feel shame for love? What we do with this love however, can either nurture or pollute this magical precious love feeling we sense within us. This strong feeling can be felt both positively or negatively as it can be so loaded with other feelings such as acceptance or rejection, belonging or alienation. These feelings can create such an urge at times to express, to act on them, maybe act out, to share and sometimes project out. If the actions, of this need to express to others, then go onto pollute, whether through shaming, discounting, negating, rejecting, or degrading, it can be experienced as a profound loss for those who also hold that sense of love within them, and maybe in the face of this innocent love, this can become a feeling of tragedy. A deep feeling of loss that is often felt by survivors. However sadly for those who experience this feeling, it often gets no voice , as it can come with such a feeling of shame deeply attached to that sense of love. These feelings of love and shame become entangled and then so painfully complex for those who experience them. If survivors can acknowledge the love component on its own, if it is there, separate it from the shame but see also the shame that had become attached to it, see it for what it is, maybe it’s one step forward in unravelling any complex bereavement process that often happens in abusive relationships.