#abusiverelationship #victimofabuse #psychology #relationshiptrauma #posttraumaticgrowth #postbreakuptips
When you have suffered (or are suffering) from an abusive partner, you fear to break the silence and talk about it, because you know you’ll almost surely end up being misunderstood and poorly judged. You risk loosing credibility and respect with the people you would open up to, and having them bounce back the responsibility and shame at you.
You might even feel guilty of what you’ve been through, blaming yourself already for not having escaped this earlier (or not being able to escape this, if you’re still into it). You might be confused yourself, wondering after a traumatic relationship, why you have been accepting such painful treatments way too far.
But this judgment from others, as your own self-judgment, only come from a huge lack of awareness and knowledge about the precise patterns of PSYCHOLOGICAL VIOLENCE and EMOTIONAL ABUSE. People generally can’t figure what it is, and how it works.
After I’d recovered from almost 4 years of a traumatic abusive relationship, and went through a lot of questions to figure out how it possibly could have happened to me - though I don’t believe I’m stupid, I came to understand a few factors that I’ll develop here. They might help you reconsider your judgment and offer more understanding and support to any victim you might know; and if you are the victim: more understanding and forgiveness to yourself.
At least one, and often more (if not all) of the following points explain what can keep an intelligent and strong person living with an abusive partner.
1. You can’t IDENTIFY the abuse.
It’s very easy to spot the abuse from outside a relationship, when you hear a short negative summary, but much more complex from inside the relationship, when you are the one in love, with no step back to estimate the actual balance between your partner’s ‘good side’ and ‘bad side’. Between what's acceptable day to day, and what's not.
If I tell someone now: “He was treating me so unfairly, manipulating my self-esteem to destroy my confidence and take more and more control over me; he had no empathy and could be amazingly cruel to me; he was taking his satisfaction in crushing me emotionally, etc”… then it’s very easy to guess that I was in an abusive relationship.
But that obvious and alarming statement is my overall aftermath, my post-breakup analysis, that I can summarise this way from a clear and detached perspective: after I’ve already gone through a psychotherapy to understand what happened and recover from the trauma, and had my therapist (a clinician psychologist) explain his behaviour, from every detail I described, as a severe case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), his total lack of empathy as a deep psychosis, and explained me all the ins & outs of his abusive personality and manipulation technics. Now I’ve learned from this expert psychologist, and from all the psychology studies I’ve pursued afterwards, about all the signs to identify a psychological violence issue.
But before that, when I was in the relationship, I could never have told that my soulmate, the man I loved the most, was subject to such a deviant psychopathy. I thought his "flaws" were just normal, like we all have some, and that he could improve... I didn't understand the level of danger and psychological destruction of his behaviour. When people came to me with questions, I’d say I loved him and he was amazing… Hiding the "private part" of our arguments... When you meet someone that becomes over time your ‘partner-in-crime’, your closest friend and then your lover, for all the nice moments you enjoy sharing with him; when you’ve fallen in love for the ‘good side’ you admire in them, and got attached through the intimacy of a couple, you really don’t have enough distance anymore to analyse the overall situation when it starts evolving dangerously wrong. When something painful happens between you, like a harsh argument or a fight, you just feel hurt about it, think that this is a temporary issue, which you’ll try to overcome. At each fight, you consider the argument itself, try to deal with the present issue, but you’re not always taking a step back to question the whole relationship from it. All the bad things he can do to you, appear each time as ‘the bad side of him’ you take on you to cope with, because he’s the love of your life, he’s your partner, your soulmate. It’s not like reading a ‘criminal case’ statement in four lines on a paper, it’s your personal life with many complex intrications, feelings and attachment, it’s your most loved one you’re considering, a story you’re emotionally involved in. Sometimes he hurts you, but many times he also makes you laugh and feel so happy in love… when you are in a fusional relationship day by day, it’s very unclear to see the limit of what was acceptable or not, what was serious or not, what you will forgive again or not.
You only see the private story of your couple, with ups and downs, as you think everyone experiences, and loose sight of the precise threshold of unbalance where a destructive abuse starts.
2. You see it, but you EXCUSE the abuse.
If you can see the signs of abuse, and notice there is an abnormal behaviour repeating over time, you might know indeed that something is wrong with your partner’s psyche. But still, if you love him for a lot of good reasons besides, you are of course inclined to accept more easily his dark side. You know his personal story, you know his emotional background, his own traumas, his insecurities, so you have come to understand why he behaves like this, and explained it, justified it to yourself.
This is a natural ‘protective’ reaction from your subconscious mind: irrational violence is shocking and unacceptable, but if you can understand the violence, you can more likely excuse it:
If a stranger comes from outside of your life and hurts you for no reason, like a criminal attacking you in the street for example, you will naturally react and defend yourself, judging the violence unjustified, then unacceptable.
But when the violence comes from someone you love and know intimately, the pain is even harder to take; it might hurt even more. Being harmed by the one you love the most is terribly painful and traumatic.
That’s why often, unconsciously, your mind needs to find reasons to explain it, justify it and make it look rational, so that it feels easier to stand. Otherwise it’s too unfair and painful to take. Knowing the causes of his hurting behaviour helps you to excuse it and forgive it more easily, and then apparently helps you to overcome your pain.
You put off the feeling of suffering by mentally justifying it.
That’s why you can be drawn to accept much more from the person you love, than you would from anyone else.
You play their best ‘advocate’ and defend them. Maybe because you also have a particularly developed empathy, and the precise ability to always defend people in general. But think about that: who’s defending your part in this case? Did you forget about your own right to be treated respectfully?
3. You lack of healthy relationship REFERENCES.
You think that the suffering in your relationship is normal. You think that pain is a usual part of every intimate relationship anyway; that it is just the counterpart of love.
Your emotional background might have accustomed you to feel hurted everytime you loved someone, so you might believe “that’s the way love goes”.
If you never had the chance to experience and feel a healthy form of relation, from your first relation to your parents for example, then you grew up with no idea of what a fair love and emotional balance should be. If you have never been treated right, emotionally, then a partner following on this pattern will not appear so unusual or shocking to you. Your emotional standards might be very low and then you are used to accept suffering as a natural part of your life.
If you’ve always experienced love as an unbalanced emotional journey, then you can easily believe your partner is still a fair chance to have a lasting relationship, even though it hurts sometimes. You can stick to him anyway, no regard for the dark sides of him, because after all, “no one is perfect”.
If your partner for example, makes you feel that you are never good enough, but your dad has always done the same since you’re born, then you don’t find it unacceptable from your partner, because it just feels usual: you believe he’s right. Or if your mother has never taken care of you, nor given you the feeling to be loved, then your careless or unloving partner will not seem so unusual either: You got used to not expect any ‘emotional fulfilment’ from others, even from your closest loved ones.
Or you might have seen one of your parent sacrificing themselves for the sake of keeping the family up during your childhood, then the idea of sacrificing yourself to make the relationship last seems normal…
And so, you accept your relationship as it is, because you can’t figure a better model of relationship to aim for. You simply don’t know what a “healthy” one should feel like, because you've grown up with dysfunctional love models.
4. Your LOW SELF-ESTEEM keeps you attached.
If you don’t feel worthy enough to hope for someone better, think you are not young, pretty or self-confident enough to leave him and have a chance to find someone else to love you, then you are afraid to loose him and end up alone. You believe suffering in a relationship is still better than being left alone.
If you really want to build a long-lasting relationship, grow a family, have children… then you will stick to this plan no matter what, and forgive your partner everything, for the sake of the relationship. You are ready to accept everything to see your “dream” and life goal become reality. Even if the love with your partner is tarnished, you stay in love with "the idea" of having someone anyway. You fear too much to give up on your life goal, and so you stick to your partner, because you think you’re already lucky to have one.
Some people have grown up developing a healthy ego, meaning a natural sense of self-worth, self-love and self-respect: they know they are valuable and deserve to be treated accordingly. They would spontaneously kick off anyone that doesn't respect them. If that's you, you hardly understand why the victims let themselves be disrespected. But some people have grown up with a deficient ego, damaged by a lack of recognition from their parents, for instance, and then they don’t have a strong sense of worthiness. They just don’t spontaneously feel valuable and never dare to ask for too much… If you’re in that second case, you might know your partner is hurting you, but never considered you could deserve to be treated better. You don’t have enough self-esteem to aim for someone loving you ‘right’. You think that “a perfectly fine man” would be too good for you, out of your league, and never even considered it in your options. You think as you are flawed yourself, you'll obviously always match with flawed people as well...
5. A manipulative partner reverses the blame on YOU.
An abusive relationship is always related to a manipulative behaviour. Whether the abuser is doing it more or less consciously (in more calculating or instinctive ways), there are many forms of psychological manipulation that can bring even the smartest person to loose a clear sight on reality, and come to accept irrational treatments.
“Gaslighting” (from the 1944 movie “Gas Light” illustrating this) is the technic of the abuser sowing little by little, more and more seeds of confusion and self-doubt in your mind, that you won’t find weird one by one, but all together they end up affecting your original beliefs. The most powerful metaphor of this psychological effect is “the frog in the saucepan”: If you drop a frog in a saucepan of boiling water, it will jump out directly to escape, and live on. But if you place the frog in cold water in the saucepan, and then slowly raise the temperature little by little, the frog will stay, getting used to it progressively, then die boiled.
So, even if originally you wouldn’t let someone disrespect you or treat you badly, a manipulative partner can insidiously brainwash you over time, as the more intimate you are, the better he knows your weaknesses and can use them against you. With many small talks or daily reflections that can seem usual one by one, he will progressively belittle your self-confidence, bring doubts in your beliefs, deconstruct your references, condition you to reduce your opposition, bring you to think he’s actually right and you’re wrong, and make you loose sight of your original personal standards.
He will reverse the issue of his hurting behaviour, convincing you that you are the cause, the trigger of it: “I have to treat you like this, because of who you are!” “You make me do this!” "I wouldn't be angry if you hadn't provoked it..." So, you can’t blame him of being abusive when he makes you believe the reason of his behaviour is your own fault; and this being always very well argued, from his knowledge and use of your most intimate flaws, personality traits and insecurities.
You end up thinking your suffering in the relationship is also your responsibility, and start thinking about improving your own flaws, instead of blaming his behaviour. You come to believe that to see him change, you have to change first.
With a long time of manipulation, he makes you believe you’re actually treated the way you deserve, and you got what you are bond to have, seeing who you are. And then you are the one that bends, adapts and changes, for a more peaceful outcome. Step by step you remove from your behaviour (and your natural personality) every aspect that he criticises, until you are no longer yourself. You're alienated.
With this technic he raises your self-doubt to a critical level; which also grows your feelings of shame and fear to open up to someone else, as you feel responsible for your pain.
6. You think you can change your partner and FIX them.
“The Nurse Syndrome": when you are selfless and always put others' needs in front of yours. Sometimes you know your partner is abusive, you can clearly see the unfair ways he’s treating you, and you know it’s not normal. But as I’ve mentioned in point 2, you choose to excuse it. You put your own ego, emotions and pain off the map, and focus on the problem as a “sickness” of him to cure. Your higher goal is to save him, not to save yourself.
If you are a particularly empathic person, it is natural for you to see through people’s psyche and understand their emotional patterns. You analyse that his violent and harsh behaviour to you comes from his deeper insecurities, personal background that you know of, and then you feel entitled to help him, as you can understand the causes and explain his “symptoms”. You can point the reasons for his issues, so you believe you can fix them. You feel strong enough to take the pain and endure the abusive behaviour, because you have a greater will to heal him. You think that your devoted understanding, acceptance, extreme patience, forgiveness and unconditional love will make him feel better, reassure him, support his good will to change, and cure him in time.
If you are this type of person, that finds their self-esteem in helping others, that gets the best feeling of being valuable by giving always more and loving more to be loved in return, then you are very likely to keep an unconditional love going for an abusive partner; as an attempt to prove yourself that you can be good enough and save him. You find your self-value, your pride and feeling of strength in enduring this, in “not giving up”.
In that case you can see that the victims of abuse are actually not abused for their weakness (as a lack of strength), but for an excess of strength and resilience, which a narcissistic abuser would hold onto, like a parasite on a tree. The more resistant to suffering and the stronger the “victim” is, the longer the abuser can practice their cruel behaviours on them and keep the manipulation game on. Where a weaker victim would ‘break’ faster and give up, a strong empathic mind will endure the pain much longer. But even though, the ability to cope with pain will not make it disappear. Then these victims are only delaying the impact on their own emotional balance, and risking greater disappointment, when they realising the abuser won’t actually change: It’s even more energy wasted and good intentions abused, which will end up as a bitter and traumatic experience, even more than the pain itself. The tree looks stronger than the invisible parasite, but in the end it will die from inside anyway. You might think your tolerance and strength help you to be stronger than the harm from your abusive partner, but he is insidiously sucking your inner energy like a black hole: limitless.
A lover is not supposed to be a therapist for their partner. Some victims of abuse might have been confused thinking so, and therefore staid in for too long. They slipped into a “strong nurse/sick patient” relationship, instead of a mutual love balance. "You need me, I'll feed you..." From the good will to support their partner. Then they end up burnt out, from the lack of mutual respect and care in return.
7. Your partner THREATENED you or made you FEAR to leave.
It seems pretty obvious to remind, but the most common reason why a person stays with an abusive partner, despite the suffering, might be when their personal situation makes it really not easy to ‘just call it off’ and leave.
The most typical example is when one can’t be financially sufficient on their own to make a living alone or with children. But there are also many other forms of “attachment” that can be hard to cut off: such as a shared business, a shared house, children, responsibility in family or medical issues, work connections… In many cases these can seem impossible obstacles to overcome, in the idea of a break up.
And when the toxic partner is particularly manipulative, they will make it even harder for you to consider a chance to leave:
A possessive partner might have taken control step by step over your financial decisions, your social interactions or work opportunities, diverting you from all the possibilities to get support on your own, and making sure in the process that you become dependent of them.
A manipulative partner might have insidiously cut you off from your family and close friends, planting more and more doubts in your mind about them, so that you wouldn’t feel comfortable to ask for their help, and wouldn’t dare to speak up to anyone. So you’ve come to believe you have no one reliable out there, in case you want to escape.
The abuser might even have made clear threats and intimidations to discourage you from thinking about it, raising the fear of a terrible revenge. They might keep a hold on you, by threatening they could destroy your career, your public image, etc.
And there are the disguised threats, the perverse “emotional blackmail”: the toxic partner gets you to believe, through repeated words or behaviours, that there would be a bigger damage for others if you were to leave: Like implying he would kill himself if you leave, or could be harmful to your children… You start to feel a terrible responsibility on your shoulders, and the fear of an endless guilt if anything should happen because you left; which forces you to stay.
So, if you were misunderstanding or doubting a victim who finally speaks up about abuse,
I hope you’ve understood now that not every one has the same psychological background as you have, and that they can have faced many personal issues to deal with first, which you have no idea of, in order to be able to break their silence now. Hopefully I have made most of their possible reasons clearer to you, so that the next time you hear about a case, you are not so prompt to judge and can show a bit more of compassion and understanding. That’s what the victims need to feel, instead of doubts and critics. If you have doubts or critics though, as it is natural to have your personal opinion, please keep them for yourself, as you can never know everything about someone's intimate life, and so you will avoid causing them more harm.
And if you were yourself a victim of abuse,
whether you're still in it, or trying to recover from the trauma, I detailed these 7 points to help you make peace with yourself, understanding better how you got yourself dragged into this painful story. You are not stupid, you are not guilty, and you are not to blame for what happened.
From all the examples I described above, try to identify and acknowledge the type of manipulation that your ex-partner has been using on you, to make you stay that long. Introspect honestly and get aware of the strengths and weaknesses that brought you into this pattern, so that you can find out what you need to reconsider, to avoid getting caught in a toxic relationship or in any form of emotional manipulation ever again. You don’t have to feel ashamed of your weak spots, but also can be proud of your strength: you have been particularly loving, patient, hopeful, forgiving, tolerant, understanding, protective, which are a lot of good intentions and qualities you can be proud of. Now understand well that a manipulative partner lives with a seriously deviant psyche, which is not something you can just cure with love, and not something that will pass by itself with time. Expert therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists have knowledge and experience to comprehend and address psychopathology, but it’s not the responsibility of a lover to be a cure for their toxic partner.
You are in no way entitled to sacrifice yourself and your happiness for the satisfaction of someone else. A true love should never endanger your self-esteem and your natural right to be respected. A true love starts with mutual respect and mutual care.