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56 4 Surviving Childhood “I Learned to Stand up for Myself” Medea endured a distressing childhood filled with abandonment and mental abuse by her parents. She did not feel that she fit in anywhere, whether it was in her home among her family or at school with her peers. As a result, Medea acknowledged, “I learned to stand up for myself.” Medea’s poor treatment by several of her family members left an indelible mark on her and, in retrospect, helped her understand how she came to be in abusive relationships and her resulting responses to the intimate partner abuse: Using my relationship with my father as a filter, I could understand why I made the choices I made. But I also had to understand that I couldn’t continue to make those choices and the only person who could help me be whole was me. And I could get to that place, but I could not depend on having a relationship with men to get me to that place. I had to look at my life and fix what was wrong, the same as if I had a health issue. Ultimately it would be up to me. . . . You have to co-create the life you want. Medea was a spirited child in spite of the neglect and isolation she suffered . Even though she found herself in a number of abusive intimate relationships during adulthood, during childhood Medea visualized her life beyond her depraved youth: “I felt like the world was bigger than that small space. I was kind of doing time.” At the beginning of this project, I expected that, like Medea, many of the women would have childhood experiences riddled with abuse and neglect. This was indeed a sad reality, as most of the women had suffered from an extensive assortment of abusive experiences during their formative years. Taking into account all forms of exposure to abuse and violence, 33 of the 40 women underwent some type of introduction to violence during their Surviving Childhood 57 childhood. They experienced abuse from parents, witnessed intimate partner abuse among parents, witnessed other acts of abuse and violence, and exhibited destructive behaviors. To be sure, I do not suggest that battered women cause their abuse because of their abusive backgrounds, but I do wish to move toward determining the significance of the link between childhood trauma and entry into abusive relationships and to enlighten the field of interpersonal violence regarding factors that determine these women’s reactions to intimate partner abuse. These experiences helped the women to develop at an early age their dynamic resistance as Black women in a society based in racial, gender, and class inequities. Individuals who have been the target of intimate partner abuse have often experienced some form of abuse or violence during their upbringings , although this is not necessarily an antecedent to their being in abusive intimate relationships as adults. Researchers on intimate partner abuse have found that experience with violence in the family of origin often begets future family violence.1 That is, if an individual is raised in a violent and abusive home, some existing research maintains that she or he often learns violence and abuse as a normal event or appropriate response. Further, some scholars have reported that battered women raised in violent family homes are stymied in their ability to recognize warning signs that an intimate partner is abusive.2 These types of reasoning and findings are based on the concept of social learning theory.3 But Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes warn that this link may also be explained by differences in individuals’ propensity to disclose their experiences in surveys, because “it is possible that respondents who reported one type of victimization (e.g., child maltreatment) were simply more willing to report other types of victimization (e.g., intimate partner violence).”4 Although these prior discoveries on the abusive childhoods reported by many battered women are related to the accounts presented in this chapter, additional investigation based on dynamic resistance must be included when addressing issues of battered Black women specifically. Family dynamics within Black culture, as well as societal pressures outside the family unit, must be given considerable attention in any examination of battered Black women and their childhoods. This is concluded and proposed by Gail E. Wyatt and her colleagues, who have reported that “[f]ew studies have examined associations between domestic violence and exposure to current or past crimes and injustices in one’s home or community...


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