Among the difficulties of understanding abuse is that the bright line we sometimes imagine between victim and abuser is illusory. People who abuse others are often victims of abuse themselves — whether at the hands of their parents, other relatives, strangers or previous lovers — and they can repeat the patterns of abuse they were subjected to, or create new ones, in their relationships with others. A great tragedy then is that abuse can become a cycle, and the burden of breaking it necessarily falls on victims.
Not all victims of abuse will go on to abuse others, but studies suggest that about one-third of them will. Certain factors have been found to worsen the long-term impact of abuse and make it more difficult to break the chain, including abuse that started early in life, abuse that lasted a long time, abuse in which the perpetrator had a close relationship to the victim, abuse that the child experienced as particularly harmful and abuse that occurred within a cold familial environment. Victims of abuse who do go on to become abusive themselves may not always repeat the exact nature of their own abuse, either — a person who was sexually abused as a child may not go on to sexually abuse her own children, for example, but may be a neglectful parent.