Believing in receiving abuse

minh left wonderful comment on my last post "Hard wired to flip/flop" that I've pasted into here for everyone to see.
Tom this is not a considered response but are you saying that abused children are "getting secret satisfaction from getting abused"? They want the abuse to stop.
Are you (& Freud), saying the the death instinct is hard wired? That we want to die? That the the animal frozen in the headlights is somehow emotionally complicit in the ensuing carnage? My understanding, to date, of this behaviour is that staying still may render you invisible to a predator whose visual processing is sensitive to movement. Playing possum. Baby animals are often spotted as a camouflage for when stillness is the correct response.

Prey animals don't surrender - most carnivore hunts fail - the wildebeest juvenile attacked by the lioness struggles fiercely & some escape.

Is what you're getting at - habitual abuse- the abuse where the recipient normalises the situation? The endocrine system is certainly going to come into play here & set up activate addictive potential.
Thanks for adding some awesome refinements to what I wrote here. Your insight into the frozen state of body/mind as camouflage seems more right to me -- than my characterization of it as accepting the fate of being breakfast for a predator.

I'm drawing parallels in this between our conduct and our states of mind. That led me to draw the connection between our helpless, whining stagnation in life and acting motionless in danger. As you inferred, I am dealing with chronic abuse, habitual suffering and perpetual confinement to limiting experiences. The endocrine system has an opportunity to become dependent on the toxic stimulation and form an addictive pattern.

You're also right about our having a fight response, just like the instinctual, hardwired flight and freeze responses. Just because we getting attacked, does not mean we'll take it lying down. Adrenalin empowers our running away at full speed for 30 minutes to escape predators. It also pumps us up to go on the attack, intimidate opponents and ambush those we cannot defeat head on.

I understand the death instinct to be all that is the polar opposite of the pleasure principle. It's wanting to suffer, to be punished for guilty pleasures, to feast on a famine of love, to thrive on deprivation of respect, to feel special from getting abandoned, and to enjoy the "bad karma" of our envy, hatred and self pity.

The idea of "secret satisfaction" ties into the psychology of self concept, identity formation and internalized shame. We may think we deserve abuse because we are unworthy of respect, have no experience with getting validated, or see no conflict in being a doormat. It fits are pictures to be in harms way -- so we accept it. We say things like: "whatever", "I'm cursed with this", "It's something I'm called to endure". In our experience, abuse always happens eventually and never stops permanently. We learn from experience to expect it, enable it, and take satisfaction in experiencing our assumed fate.

When we really want abuse to stop, it does. We step outside the food chain. We change our minds, self concepts, underlying stories and expectations. We not longer set it up, dream it up or pray that it happens again. We come from a very different place that validates us from the start. We expect respect, freedom from our past history, a break in familiar patterns of interaction and changes in how we see ourselves. We get what we newly expect once we stop regressing into old patterns, familiar dangers and comfort zones of "taking abuse for granted".

There's plenty of hypocrisy among those who say they want abuse to stop. They say they want it to "stop" and give the "go sign" to their abuser. They fail to admit to themselves how they ask for abuse with their insecurities, believe in receiving it and prefer it over abandonment. Their power to choose, change and pose an unfamiliar threat to their predator -- are all in shadow, denial, or unconscious awareness.

Getting it together calls for genuine empowerment, not New Year's Resolutions about change, affirmations or goal setting. A change is self concept, fate and underlying facts of life is deep. It's a fourth order change that changes everything.

The necessary outlook for this transformation embraces paradoxes that defy logical thinking. A predator is a threat and an opportunity. Abuse is unwanted and a useful lesson. Change is highly motivated and highly resisted. Fear is part of the problem and part of the solution.

Thanks for evoking all this added clarity!


  1. Tom, what a powerful post!

    I was sexually, physically and emotionally abused for many years of my childhood. This taught me the "habits" of being a victim and for the first 20 years of my adult life, I structured most of my relationships to continue this pattern of me as victim and others as my "abusers." While I was no longer being physically or sexually abused, the dynamics of victimization and abuse were very much alive in those relationships, with me contributing to that dynamic as much as my "abusers."

    At a certain point I began to recognize these patterns and to try to change them. However it is a constant battle because my "natural" response is to be in a "one-down" position. It feels "easier" to me because then I don't have to learn how to manage conflict or how to stand up for myself or anything else. So in the sense that I don't have to go out of my comfort zone, I get satisfaction from repeating these kinds of dynamics.

    The challenge, I think, is to learn a new kind of satisfaction that comes from no longer acting in the victim role. Yes, it's more difficult to stand up in a conflict, but there's so much more to be gained when you do.

    The other challenge, as you point out, is that you have to change your self-concept to adopt new behaviors. You have to see yourself as being worthy of being in a different place. In some ways, what can help is to "fake it till you make it," practicing new behaviors until they feel more natural and you've earned that new of feeling about yourself. But for the changes to stick, you really do have to undergo a fundamental shift in how you see yourself--it's the only way that the new behaviors can become unconscious and natural to you.

    Anyway--great post. Thanks for discussing this further.

  2. Michele:
    Thanks for adding to this superbly. What you've said has given me an idea for a follow up post on changing our self concept. Coming soon :-)