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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse in Your Life: A Guide for Men

Attempting to break the cycle of abuse

There is a common expression: “Hurt people hurt people.” At its core, this simply means that people tend to lash out when they have been wounded. It can further mean, though, that someone who has experienced abuse will become abusive. It’s what is known as the cycle of abuse, and it can be a multigenerational curse. However, it doesn’t have to be. Breaking the cycle of abuse and violence can be emotionally and physically tasking, but it is possible.

A person who has experienced abuse, either firsthand or even just by witnessing it, will often internalize that behavior. Whether it’s a parent or another authority figure, or even a friend, the experience of abuse leaves a lasting effect. People internalize their abuse, and then it comes out in many forms. Some develop depression or anxiety, or they become withdrawn or distrustful of others. And some people mirror that behavior in their own relationships, becoming abusive.

Not everyone who experiences abuse will later behave in an abusive manner. And not everyone who is abusive has been abused. Still, there is a clear link between experiencing abuse and later engaging in abusive behavior. Whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, or some combination, abuse often leads to more abuse. If you’ve experienced abuse and fear it’s hurting your current relationships, there are ways to change. Let’s talk about how to stop the cycle of abuse.

How to Break the Cycle of Abuse

Whether it’s in your romantic relationships or your family life, abuse in any form is corrosive. Beyond the physical and psychological harm, abuse destroys trust, undermines self-esteem, and can poison future relationships. We’d all like to think that we would never be abusive, but the truth is abusive behavior isn’t always obvious. Often, particularly in relationships, abuse starts as jealousy or stern discipline and grows into domineering and possessive behavior.

There is a commonly stated truth related to addiction: The first step is admitting you have a problem. It’s very similar to abuse and violent behavior. Many who are trapped in the cycle of abuse, whether as victims or perpetrators, are blind to their situation. That’s largely because no one thinks of themselves as someone who would abuse or would allow themselves to be abused. Breaking the cycle of abuse requires realizing you’re stuck in that cycle.

Identifying and talking about abuse

Finally talking about the cycle of abuse

One reason it can be difficult to identify abusive behavior is that we often give it other names. For instance, child abuse is frequently framed as merely a form of tough discipline. While there is considerable debate about whether spanking is abuse, I’m talking about even more violent physical punishment. Many adults grow up having experienced physical or verbal abuse as a child, thinking it was normal. It isn’t–or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

This same problem pops up in romantic relationships as well. Often an abused partner will not consider what they’re experiencing to be abuse, or they will make excuses for it. They will say it’s their fault for making the abuser angry, or they’ll dismiss the behavior as “tough love.” It is unfortunately all too common for abused people of all ages to convince themselves they are not abused. It’s especially true for men who often feel admitting to being hurt means admitting weakness.

It's okay to get help

This is why it is so important to find someone you can discuss this issue with. Whether you suspect you’re being abused or you're worried your own behavior has crossed a line, talking can help. If the abuse is something that is deeply rooted in your psyche, seeing a psychiatrist or therapist could be essential. If you’re like far too many men, you’ll have to overcome the idea that seeking therapy is “unmanly.” Like any other illness, addressing mental illness sometimes requires professional help.

A therapist or mental health professional can help you understand your patterns. They offer a safe place to discuss your experiences, which will in turn help you understand your current behaviors. So much of our behavior in life is defined by things we experienced as a child, good and bad. Once you understand those roots, you can begin to make changes.

A therapist can help you see the path forward. You have to walk it.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse Isn’t Easy

There’s no one way to break the cycle of abuse. Everyone’s experiences are unique, and how people respond to various treatments or techniques will vary. Nonetheless, there are some basic steps to follow that can at least get you on the right path.

Acknowledge that you have a problem

Acknowledging his problem to a friend

As I discussed above, people who experience abuse often internalize it and then unleash it in their future relationships. A boy who was abused by his father may grow up to be abusive to his own children. A child who experiences sexual abuse may grow up to be a perpetrator. Study after study has found a strong correlation between childhood trauma and abusive or antisocial behavior in adulthood. That has been found to be especially true for men.

Breaking the cycle of abuse involves acknowledging your role in it. That may mean accepting that you have done terrible things in your life. That won’t be easy, and it could require completely rethinking your own self-image. If you grew up hearing excuses for your abuser’s behavior, you might deploy those same excuses for your own behavior. That is the dangerous nature of this cycle. Knowing how to break the cycle of abuse involves being able to take a hard look at yourself.

It could be a very unpleasant experience. But it’s absolutely necessary.

Getting out of the abuse cycle

You have to stop making excuses for those who harmed you, even your parents and other family members. You didn’t deserve to be abused, and they didn’t have the right to harm you. You also don’t deserve to continue suffering the repercussions of that abuse. You don’t have to be a perfect person to be treated with humanity and decency.

Recognizing how the abuse you experienced has affected you is a huge step. It’s, in fact, vital to stopping the cycle of abuse. However, if you only use those insights to justify or explain away your abusive behavior, you aren’t going far enough. You’re allowing the cycle of abuse to continue. We can never fully know the long-term repercussions our actions will have on others, and that’s especially true for abuse. The tendrils of abuse will spread far; unless we cut them back.

Only once you’ve accepted you’re in the cycle of abuse can you start making changes. But as I said above, that is merely the first step. If you truly want to know how to stop the cycle of abuse, you have to be prepared to work. That work involves self-examination, actively changing behavior, and, in some cases, seeking forgiveness. That means owning up to the harm you have done to others, which won’t be easy. It’s all a process. The end result, though, is mental, physical, and spiritual peace.

A warning though: You can’t expect to break a cycle of abuse overnight. Patterns of behavior and thought, especially those you’ve had since childhood, will not just vanish. You have to actively work to change your behaviors. Additionally, you need to challenge your own thoughts. Abuse leads to self-hatred in many people, which means you literally become your own abuser. You must choose to ignore and refute the voice in your head that says you have no self-worth. It’s a poisonous lie.

Coming Out the Other Side

Coming out of abuse

The process of breaking the cycle of abuse could take years. And, in fact, it could be something you have to be vigilant about for the rest of your life. Because abusive behavior is often linked to addiction, you may need to get sober, for good. That’s a scary thought, I know. Your addictions, whether alcohol, drugs, or anything else, will tell you that change isn’t possible. They will try to convince you there’s no point trying. They will lie to you. Don’t listen to them.

If you commit yourself to doing the work, life on the other side can be so much better. You can have healthy relationships, stronger friendships, and even more fulfilling sex life. If you’re tired of hurting the most important people in your life, including yourself, you have to commit to change. The cycle of abuse is not easy to break, but it can be done. Millions have. Just imagine how much better your life will be once you do it as well.

FAQ about Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

What is the cycle of violence for men?

The cycle of violence refers to the reality that people who experience violence often go on to be violent. For instance, if a child is abused or sees family members being abused, they may become abusive as an adult. For men with abusive fathers, this pattern of violence can manifest with their own spouses or children.

What causes men to abuse?

There is no single cause of abuse, though having previously been abused is one common factor. That is because abuse in its various forms can have deep, long-lasting psychological effects on a person. Among other things, such psychological harm can lead to depression, PTSD, and, yes, abusive behavior.

How do people break the cycle of violence?

The first step for stopping any negative behavioral pattern is acknowledging it exists and that you are trapped in it. From there, you should seek out professional help where available; also, be prepared to do the work. It may involve avoiding triggers like alcohol and drugs or taking a break from your relationship.

Why is it difficult to break the cycle of violence?

It’s hard to escape a cycle of abuse and violence if you’ve lived in it your whole life. When it’s all you’ve ever known, making the necessary changes can be terrifying. Furthermore, admitting you are in such a cycle could also mean admitting you’ve done some terrible things. That is a bitter pill to swallow, and one that most of us would rather avoid.

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