Creating a Holistic Picture of Abuse

Creating a Holistic Picture of Abuse

Originally published July 22, 2021

In my last post I explained the mechanics behind how childhood trauma can lay down neural pathways that might lead one to adopt abusive patterns of their own.

But not all who experience childhood abuse will go on to enact abusive patterns themselves.

To gain a deeper understanding of this we need to look at other factors, which as I mentioned in my last post can be genetic and environmental.

Genetic factors include whether or not a person is wired more strongly towards what Schnarch calls anti-social empathy.

I have written about anti-social empathy in other posts, but to briefly define it, empathy for Schnarch is a neutral term that can have pro- and anti-social expressions.

Everyone has the capacity for empathy as it is a basic survival tool, and everyone expresses both pro- and anti-social empathy (a normal expression of anti-social empathy would be something like schadenfreude).

It is simply a question of whether a person tends towards one more than the other. And this wiring may look like getting a neurochemical reward when exerting power over others or causing others pain.

Environmental factors that create conditioning for patterns of abuse are too numerous to expand on in detail here, but looking through the lens of social power structures, it is easy to see that for some individuals exerting power over others is incentivized, while for some accepting abusive treatment is incentivized. One’s behavior and ability to play a role directly correlates to social standing. Wealthy and powerful people often do not become wealthy and powerful through benevolence, they often gain status through displaying an ability and willingness to overpower others.

And this isn’t limited to dominant modes of power either. Within toxic social justice culture, a dynamic has emerged of people with more privilege being socially incentivized to accept cruel, demeaning behavior from people with less privilege as a performance of allyship. Power exchanges become a way to gain status, trust, and respect in the world of toxic, performative social justice.

In a capitalist system where power plays are fundamental to survival, it is no mystery how our environment shapes our willingness to leverage our own power over others.

Combine the proper factors of environmental incentives, physiological reward systems, and neural pathways being laid through witnessing or experiencing abuse as a child- and the result can be neurological patterning towards abusive behaviors.

The good news is that none of these factors are impossible to overcome.

Physiological rewards for over powering others or causing others pain or distress can be explored consensually, or funneled into pro-social applications.

For example, personal growth often requires discomfort or distress- a properly harnessed capacity for anti-social empathy can make challenging others in a supportive and consensual environment a highly rewarding experience.

Kink is another great example of consensual applications of anti-social empathy.

Shifting environmental factors are where transformative justice and social movements towards creating a horizontal democratic society come in.

When we de-incentivize exerting power over one another, we can better keep patterns towards abuse in check.

It’s important to note that even if adults have been patterned towards abusive behaviors, they are still adults with the ability to make choices about their behavior.

Effective responses to abuse neither coddle nor shame.

Supporting individuals in growth requires an appropriate balance of compassion and understanding with challenging a person to take full responsibility for their own behavior.

Understanding abuse holistically allows us to work with the whole picture.

Rather than perpetuating the idea that people only abuse from their inner wounded children and risk justifying and coddling the behavior, we can see that there is a present incentive behind the behavior. From this place we can support individuals in seeing themselves as beings with agency, and challenge them to grow into healthier, more sustainable ways of relating and moving through the world.

Creating a Holistic Picture of Abuse

Originally published July 22, 2021

In my last post I explained the mechanics behind how childhood trauma can lay down neural pathways that might lead one to adopt abusive patterns of their own.

But not all who experience childhood abuse will go on to enact abusive patterns themselves.

To gain a deeper understanding of this we need to look at other factors, which as I mentioned in my last post can be genetic and environmental.

Genetic factors include whether or not a person is wired more strongly towards what Schnarch calls anti-social empathy.

I have written about anti-social empathy in other posts, but to briefly define it, empathy for Schnarch is a neutral term that can have pro- and anti-social expressions.

Everyone has the capacity for empathy as it is a basic survival tool, and everyone expresses both pro- and anti-social empathy (a normal expression of anti-social empathy would be something like schadenfreude).

It is simply a question of whether a person tends towards one more than the other. And this wiring may look like getting a neurochemical reward when exerting power over others or causing others pain.

Environmental factors that create conditioning for patterns of abuse are too numerous to expand on in detail here, but looking through the lens of social power structures, it is easy to see that for some individuals exerting power over others is incentivized, while for some accepting abusive treatment is incentivized. One’s behavior and ability to play a role directly correlates to social standing. Wealthy and powerful people often do not become wealthy and powerful through benevolence, they often gain status through displaying an ability and willingness to overpower others.

And this isn’t limited to dominant modes of power either. Within toxic social justice culture, a dynamic has emerged of people with more privilege being socially incentivized to accept cruel, demeaning behavior from people with less privilege as a performance of allyship. Power exchanges become a way to gain status, trust, and respect in the world of toxic, performative social justice.

In a capitalist system where power plays are fundamental to survival, it is no mystery how our environment shapes our willingness to leverage our own power over others.

Combine the proper factors of environmental incentives, physiological reward systems, and neural pathways being laid through witnessing or experiencing abuse as a child- and the result can be neurological patterning towards abusive behaviors.

The good news is that none of these factors are impossible to overcome.

Physiological rewards for over powering others or causing others pain or distress can be explored consensually, or funneled into pro-social applications.

For example, personal growth often requires discomfort or distress- a properly harnessed capacity for anti-social empathy can make challenging others in a supportive and consensual environment a highly rewarding experience.

Kink is another great example of consensual applications of anti-social empathy.

Shifting environmental factors are where transformative justice and social movements towards creating a horizontal democratic society come in.

When we de-incentivize exerting power over one another, we can better keep patterns towards abuse in check.

It’s important to note that even if adults have been patterned towards abusive behaviors, they are still adults with the ability to make choices about their behavior.

Effective responses to abuse neither coddle nor shame.

Supporting individuals in growth requires an appropriate balance of compassion and understanding with challenging a person to take full responsibility for their own behavior.

Understanding abuse holistically allows us to work with the whole picture.

Rather than perpetuating the idea that people only abuse from their inner wounded children and risk justifying and coddling the behavior, we can see that there is a present incentive behind the behavior. From this place we can support individuals in seeing themselves as beings with agency, and challenge them to grow into healthier, more sustainable ways of relating and moving through the world.

And rather than perpetuating the idea that abusers are simply unapologetic, destructive monsters with no hope of redemption, we are able to understand that people who abuse are more than their behaviors, and with proper support can create meaningful personal change.

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