Sometimes I hear stories of people who were abused as children. This never gets any easier for me, nor should it. Abuse by a parent, sibling, or other trusted adult is the most difficult to comprehend and to recover from. Of late, dreadful abuse by coaches in a variety of sports has come to light. Abuse may be physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional, and each terrible permutation produces its own particular pain, terror, and sorrow for the survivor. How can a parent, violate the sacred trust involved in having a child, and exploit a child’s innocence and vulnerability? I don’t know. But I do know it is rarely because of a mental illness, an emotional disorder. Abusers most often fall into the category of personality or character disorders, which means they are likely to be narcissistic, deceptive, and impulsive. They have a low tolerance for frustration, disregard the rights of others, hold grudges, and may have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. These character deficits enable them to hurt or abuse without feeling empathy for their victim, or appropriate shame, remorse, or guilt. Substance abuse exacerbates these behaviors. In what can be called the one-two punch of abuse, the victim will tend to feel empathy for his abuser rather than for himself. In this process of empathic reversal, the shame that should be felt by the perpetrator is absorbed, felt, and re-experienced by the survivor. It is with cruel irony that trauma hijacks our very physiology to a place of shame. It is so important that we share our outrage about the abuse with the survivor, so they might begin to experience their own healthy anger. To bear witness to the truth, especially an evil truth, takes courage, but it is our obligation to individual survivors and sometimes to our communities.
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