Am I abused or the abuser?
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.