The Effects of Abuse and What Is Normal?

Written by on May 17, 2012 in About Abuse, On Healing

“Why didn’t you or anyone else stand up against the abuses you suffered?

When I talk about my childhood I get this question a lot. I have asked it of myself many times too. The answer is quite simple. Abuse was normal.

Like eating, sleeping and doing the dishes. It was a part of life. You don’t question what is normal. When abuse is normal it becomes camouflaged. You know it is there you just don’t always see it.

I knew I was being abused. I hated it. I wished it would stop. But I had no idea I had the power to do or say anything about it. I felt as powerless to stop the abuse as I felt powerless to change the weather outside. Still, I was haunted by what felt like my own complicity in the abuse. I struggled to understand my own behavior.

Sometimes I had no feelings when someone was being hit. Other times, I ran away when I saw the belt come out of the closet or the threatening raise of the hand. When I was the victim of abuse I simply endured it and tried to forget it. Abuse was like a daily dose of horrible medicine. I was told that it was good for me, it would help me become a better person. This was also confusing.

I only recognized the physical abuse. But there are several forms of subtler abuse that often leaves deeper scars.

Humiliation, shaming, blaming and manipulation are all forms of emotional abuse.

Lying, trickery, crazy-making and false accusations are all part of the mental abuse.

Sexual abuse is also not limited to rape and molestation, it includes exposure to inappropriate sexual materials, inappropriate touching, overtly sexual conversations, pornography, exposure of genitalia, experimentation, and incest of any kind.

Deprivations such as starvation, lack of medical attention  or care, and human interaction are considered child neglect.

And a commonly overlooked abuse is ritual abuse.

Ritual abuse occurs when groups abuse or participate in the abuse such as making victims complicit in the abuse in some way even as a witness. Also, when religion is used to abuse and control others by threatening possession by Satan or evil spirits, accidents claimed as punishment from God etc. Also, punishment that is torture would fall into this category, such as children being gagged and tied up, being confined, locked up, heads dunked into water and so forth.  Children are especially vulnerable to this kind of abuse and often takes the most time to heal.

All these forms of abuse I experienced or witnessed to varying degrees.  All of it was normal.

The question that festered in my mind was “why?”

When I read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”I found some answers. In his book Frankl describes the humiliating and horrific experiences he and his fellow inmates suffered at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. He analyzes the behavior of himself and his inmates with astonishing clarity.

He helped me to understand why I didn’t realize the gravity of the abuse I experienced, why I calmly watched others be abused without interfering and why others did the same. He termed this behavior “moral deformity.” By comparing my childhood to Frankl’s experience in a concentration camp I was able to find the answers and ultimately a reason to heal.

Frankl relates the story of eating ravenously a bowl of tasteless broth while the stinking corpse of his friend rotted nearby. It seemed to him impossible that he had depersonalized his survival in such a way. He then states that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal.” This statement was like a light appearing in a dark abyss.

My moral deformity was perfectly normal based on the environment I was subjected to and in fact, helped me to survive with my mind and identity intact.

My question then was “what is normal?”

Normal is that which is predictable.

What I could predict I could prepare for, what I could prepare for I could have control over. Even if that control was fragile or misguided. I had never stood up for anyone being beaten or abused nor did anyone stand up for me when it was my turn. And I didn’t expect anyone to do it.

I allowed abuse of myself and others because it was normal. It was predictable. What is predictable is manageable and what is manageable is survivable. Normal=predictable=manageable=survival.

Normalcy alleviates the fear of the unknown. In Frankl’s book this is illustrated when the concentration camp in which he was confined was liberated and the inmates embraced their sudden freedom with trepidation.They were afraid to leave the camp. Their freedom seemed like a surreal dream, a trick or ploy that might lead to their deaths. The fear of the unknown was even greater for some than the fear of suffering which they knew intimately and had learned to survive.

As they say, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

Understanding is key to healing.When I understood my own inexplicable and morally deformed behaviors I found compassion for myself. I realized I wasn’t crazy but I was a brilliant survivor and a creative problem solver. Through understanding I restored my self respect, expanded my awareness, increased my capacity to help others and discovered my purpose. While I was not responsible for what happened to me I was ultimately responsible for my own healing.

In Frankl’s own words “What is to give light, must endure the burning.”

What was normal in your childhood?


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  1. Joseph Atwater says:

    your words would be inspiring for millions if they could only reach your website. You are a gifted person to rise above the abuse and achieve what you have as a dynamic individual. I would hope that many others who are injured or suffered can get relief from your experiences

  2. Susanna says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words Joseph. And thank you for reading, I was touched that you were inspired enough to comment on my article.

  3. jeramy says:

    It’s 1:28 am and I just discovered you today and I can’t stop reading. I feel like I have learned so much. At the same time I feel like I have a lot to learn.

  4. Susanna says:

    Thank you for reading my work Jeramy and taking the time to comment.

  5. Tiffany says:

    I’ve been to your website often. I recommend your posts to people I think might benefit.
    But I didn’t realize just how brave you were. Your name, your words, your life exposed, with the aim to help and guide others. From victim to victor.
    Thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey. Thank you for exposing so much. Thank you for letting others in.
    I wish you much love, much joy, and continued google success.

  6. Susanna says:

    Tiffany, thank you for your kind words. You and others who comment and visit my site may never really know how much their words support me and give me strength to keep going. Bless you!

  7. Fedup says:

    I am not there yet and I’m not sure I will get there…ever. For me it’s been such a long, extended and varied period of abuse, mistreatment, poor health, life threatening illnesses, disability, deformity, ridicule, humiliation, pain, bullying, suicide…the list is so long that my last therapist couldn’t believe it and even suffered herself from my story. I read these articles but believe they are for others who have hope. I hope readers get there. Me? I doubt it, I just don’t think it’s possible anymore.

    Good luck to everyone else.

  8. Susanna says:

    Dear Peiter, I hope my words are not trite to you but I truly believe that while there is life there is hope. The dark the place, the deep, deep pain is sometimes the very path that leads us home. What feels like the impossible is actually a breath away from wholeness. I believe that healing is a way of life, a way of living a life. It is not about achieving some end result, some final patching up of wounds but rather an embracing of who we have become because of them. It is easy to see the damage, the loss, the dejection and the never ending pain. Believe me when I tell you I have known this kind of hopelessness, this black despair, the suicidal plans and the utter humiliation of my soul. I felt at times I was being slowly crushed to death and I longed for it to end. In time I learned to let go of the linear nature of thinking, of trying to make sense of all the senseless abuse and trauma. I was able to see that in the moment of all of my pain there was nowhere to get to, there was no END GAME. Just now. And in this moment I was okay. Bless you for surviving.