Want and Need in Abuse Survivors
Abuse survivors tend to think they don’t need other people; that they can get along just fine
without other people. The truth is that human beings need other people to nurture, protect,
share, love, and procreate with. What abuse survivors have actually learned is to not want
Children in abusive or neglectful situations learn that they are not allowed to say “no,” that
their opinions and desires do not matter, and that they have to do what their abuser tells
them to do whether they want to or not. They learn this through trial and error in a fairly
quick process – that of being hurt if they do not comply with the abuser’s wishes.
Some children learn that if they want something they won’t get it, others learn that if they
want something it will be used to hurt them in the future. Some children learn that to love
something means it will be taken away, others learn that if they love something it will be
destroyed. Some children learn that to have a possession is to have things taken away or
broken. Others learn that they may want or need something but they will never get or have
People of any age who are in abusive or neglectful situations often learn to be submissive,
to meet others needs, to ignore their own needs, and to believe that they are not of value
except in the role the abuser places them in, which is also a role of little or no value to the
Children who are neglected learn that they will not necessarily be taken care of, they often
learn that they are of little value to their caregiver, they learn that wanting or needing
something means very little, and they learn to do without.
People, children or adults, who are physically abused, learn to avoid the abuser no matter
what it takes. They learn to hide, to be silent, to be invisible. They learn that nothing they
do is right; to exist is to be wrong. They want love, peace, freedom from the abuse, and to
be rescued. They learn that only what the abuser wants matters, their own wants and
needs must be set aside in order to survive.
Most people who are emotionally abused feel as if they have no value, that they cannot do
anything to please their abuser, to exist is to be abused. They want love and respect, but
they learn that they cannot have it, and that it is a waste of time to desire love and respect.
They learn that what they want is not important because their desires have been sacrificed
to the whims of the abuser.
Individuals who are sexually abused learn that they cannot say “no,” that their body is the
possession of their abuser to use as the abuser pleases. They learn that they exist to fulfill
the desires of their abuser. They learn that their desire to be loved, to be taken care of, to
have friends, and to be protected is not important enough to merit attention. They learn to
not want because they understand that they won’t receive.
Children and adults, who are abused in any way, learn that what they want is not
important, so they learn to suppress their desires. They do this because they have learned
that their desires are secondary to the desires of their abuser, and that their own survival is
more important than fulfilling their desires.
As adults, these children do not know how to express their needs and wants; they only
know how to meet others needs and wants. They end up angry and resentful as adults,
often without knowing they are angry, or without understanding why they are angry.
Because of the responses they received as children, these adults are unwilling or afraid to
express their desires, wants or needs. They are sure that everyone responds the same
way their abuser did. They are still in survival mode and do not know how to get out.
Many survivors, of both childhood abuses and domestic violence, struggle to understand
why it is so difficult to have healthy intimate interpersonal relationships when others make it
look so easy. These individuals have unconsciously learned that to be vulnerable is a
weakness that is easily exploited by abusive or controlling people. Vulnerability gets you
hurt. Wanting something, and allowing another to know, gives that person power to hurt,
needing something gives them even more power. For the abuse survivor it became a
matter of survival to not express wants and needs.
In an interpersonal relationship each person needs to be needed. The person who has
survived abuse does not understand this because they believe they do not need other
people. Love is the supreme act of being vulnerable to another. The abuse survivor may
love deeply, but they seldom have the ability to be vulnerable and express their love,
needs, or desires because of this fear of being hurt even more. The abuse survivor does
not understand that survival is instinctual and will often override a person’s need for caring
and love. They do understand that to be vulnerable is dangerous, therefore is to be
To ensure safety, many abuse survivors understand that weakness cannot be shown. This
means no tears, not feeling a need for love or comfort, and being able to hide one’s desires
and emotions from others. All the while desperately needing to be loved by someone; and
not wanting to be hurt, therefore suppressing personal desires (wants) in order to stay (be)
Laurie M Forbes August 2010