Abuse is about subjugating the needs of the other over those of the perpetrator or enforcing the wishes of the perpetrator over others however good intentioned

By Psychotherapist Mertha Mo Nyamande


Abuse is almost synonymous with all mental health issues, largely due to the vulnerability of the individual sufferer as well as those that are affected by their illness.

There is however a fine line between being the victim or the perpetrator when it comes to the issues of mental health as the cycle can be so extensive that it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

These are particularly commonplace in the personality disorder types – when the individual identifies with their disorder, ie the antisocial types where one believes that violence is the only way to resolve differences, or the anxious types that believe their anxiety is just who they are, than a disorder.

“It is just the way I am, or it is who she is” While abuse comes in different forms; physical (violence; arson, rape or sexual exploitation – using power or position to gain sexual favours or gratification over minors or those who cannot consent or cannot refuse due to potential loss of livelihood.

This incapacity includes those who are mentally incapacitated, due to being drunk, or unconscious), financial (misuse or abuse of vulnerable persons resources; money, property, vehicles for personal gain), emotional (neglect, abandonment, threats, intimidation, harassment).




Those who perpetrate these abusive offences can almost always have ways of justifying their behaviours, even when they know them to be wrong. A person who is mentally unwell, disordered or incapacitated usually have their cognitive functions impaired by virtue of their incapacitation, that the priority for them is to feel safe, joy, satisfaction or whatever meets their desires, regardless of the cost.

This means that they are not able to make logical decisions that considers the feelings, needs, or wishes of the other/s prior to committing/omitting whatever act.

Abuse is about subjugating the needs of the other over those of the perpetrator or enforcing the wishes of the perpetrator over others however good intentioned, and this is usually because they have been treated or taught in that way themselves.

This is where the question of whether victim or perpetrator applies; for example, a child who grew up in a household where domestic violence was normalised, they are likely to continue the pattern, for it is what they know to be normal.

Are they a perpetrator or a victim of their circumstances? Causes of abuse run deeper than meets the eye, for the predisposition is not always clear nor disclosed, often unconscious. Those in pain will almost always share what they have, consciously or otherwise.




Abuse is not only an individual’s problem but societal, for it always has a perpetrator and a victim, but victim can also be perpetrator and vice versa, as learnt behaviour, especially one that was communally condoned. When communities fall apart for one reason or another, it leaves more victims than victors, including those that directly affected, and their offspring/dependants, and so the vicious cycle continues through generations.

As such, an abused parent is likely to abuse their children, not out of choice, nor consciously, but often the other extreme of overprotectiveness they impose produces the opposite effect to whatever is intended.

Those of us who lived through the slavery, Chimurenga, Gukurahundi, AIDS, Murambatsvina, now Covid and various other wars that continue to make us feel unsafe in our daily lives – We all did for we are their descendants.

We are directly or indirectly traumatised by the events that took our friends and family members, some of us saw horrific things, if not charged with orders to commit them, causing both primary and secondary traumas and complicated grief.

Unless post-traumatic growth and self-forgiveness is achieved, the effects of the Post Traumatic Stress are likely to be passed on through generations; the hypervigilance, the irritability, the avoidance, the flashbacks, the nightmares would have caused the offspring to see and think this as normal or would have lived in fear of their lives.

That experience then gets passed on to their own, as no solutions would have been sought, nor provided, save for “traditional explanations, portions and cleansing”.

The longer we leave these issues unresolved, the worse they get, leading to us becoming increasingly insensitive to each other’s needs and suffering, thereby perpetuating the justified or unconscious cycle of abuse.


Remedies and recommendations

Unless we address our traumas collectively through open dialogue with professionals in these areas – both traditional and modern, we are likely to continue to cause each other further harm, whether consciously or otherwise.

As parents, we may think we are protecting our children by shielding them from our fears and life in general, thereby ill-preparing them for the challenges only spoken in theory.

Children need to be allowed to develop their own coping and their own fears while being supported as they go through them so that they will know and feel a sense of safety that allows them to take risks, express themselves, and challenge the things they think and believe to be wrong.

This creates learning environments that foster responsibility and accountability, generally.

The culture of patriarchy has not only limited our growth, both young and old by not allowing us to question the father’s opinions, thereby blind spotting his and our weaknesses, it has also caused damage and abuses in various forms. For life is not just about enjoying the strengths and opportunities, it also about preparing and mitigating for the weaknesses and threats.

For us to continue to develop, we need to ensure that the continued attention to weaknesses and threats in ways that makes them and us safer and more united in dealing with them. Ignoring them hoping that they fizzle away is not only dangerous, but detrimental to whatever futures we are creating.

Mental Health: Wellbeing and Happiness Series with MoNya-Mental, by Psychotherapist Mertha Mo Nyamande @ www.i-wellbeing.weebly.com. Insightwellbeing.mo@gmail.com









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