The Path Into Abuse
The solutions to ending verbal, mental, emotional and physical abuse are disheartening. We tell families of abuse victims: "There's nothing you can do until s/he's ready to accept what is happening." We tell abuse victims: "The solution to your problem is inside of you. No one else can solve this problem for you."
The "solutions" seem mystical, magical...untouchable. The solutions leave abuse victims, already reality-impaired, with the sense that all they can do is wait and hope that someone or God will eventually flip the switch and life will become sweet. The solutions feed into the theory of co-dependency which in part states that at some level, co-dependents wait for rescue instead of using their innate powers to change their situation.
Our generic, flighty advice to abuse victims feeds into their abuse-altered belief that the world turns separately from them, uncontrolled and cruel, until the world "decides" to alter its course. In a way, this belief mirrors the actions of the abuser to whom victims see to be all-powerful and unconquerable. The abuser assumes power, takes it forcibly from their victim in hateful ways, and then, one day, turns around and gifts their victim with shows of affection or remorse.
Our destructive advice to abuse victims perpetuates the idea that the victim's solution is, in essence, dependent on the abuser. Is it any wonder why abuse victims remain in abusive relationships knowing that they feel their personal solution is embodied in the abuser? If you deeply felt your personal solutions were embodied in a stone, would you deny yourself that stone?
Unfortunately, due to the deep and complete attachment victims develop with their abuser, the victim is not initially able to see the reality of their predicament.
Path to Dependency
Victims did not consciously attach themselves to the abuser - it was a subconscious occurrence that took place over time at the direction of the abuser. The abuser consciously or subconsciously led their victim toward an alternate reality wherein the abuser's thoughts and actions are "right" and the victim's perceptions are essentially "wrong".
The path of persuasion and deception offered by the abuser intrigued the victim who truly wanted to understand the abuser's thought process (isn't that what we do when we love someone? seek to understand so unconditional love may flourish?). In the process of understanding the abuser, the victim becomes enmeshed in the abuser's alternate version of reality. In many ways, the victim comes to accept the abuser's version above their own (to avoid punishment or pain and to receive love and acceptance).
Something Is Wrong
The "something" sensed is the victim's loss of self. The family feels as if they're "losing" their son/daughter. The victim, due to dependency, cannot discern the loss of self as such because s/he is so connected to the abuser.
The victim searches for the solution in multiple places: maybe the relationship is in trouble, too much stress due to work, a substance abuse issue, or some other outward issue that can be addressed and healed. The family thinks removing the abuser is the solution (more correct than the victim's solution, yet perhaps not as effective as they think).
Separation of Me and You
In order for the true problem to resolve, the victim must separate themselves from the abuser and regain power over themselves. However, if the victim physically leaves the abuser due to family or societal pressures, s/he may return quickly.
You see, physical abuse is the end result of unsuccessful mental and emotional abuse (the abuser strikes physically when s/he feels the tried and true methods are faltering). Therefore, physically leaving the abuser before addressing the ties that bind (emotional and mental abuse) often results in a speedy return. It is important to address the issue as close to the root cause as possible and work outward for lasting success.
Please understand, I do not advise a person who is being physically assaulted to stay in the home because their "attachment issues" are unresolved. If you are physically abused or sense impending physical violence, leave immediately. It is possible and recommended that if you feel you can physically leave your abuser now, then do so now and work on the attachment issues from a safe physical distance.
The problem is that most abuse victims do not feel capable of physically leaving the abuser. There are a million reasons to stay, underneath all is the idea that the victim cannot survive alone. Families say, "You won't be alone - you'll be with us!" yet for a person completely enmeshed into the abuser, the idea of forsaking the abuser for any other person seems counter-intuitive and self-destructive.
There is no way to draw out a victim from an abusive relationship until the victim sees themselves as a separate entity, capable of making judgments on their own. (Well, if you happen to be a more attractive version of the abuser the victim is already with and can convince the victim you will treat them better, then you also have a shot at grabbing up a new victim.) The realization that ending abuse forever resides within the victim is the basis for the disheartening advice we toss about as a society. It is true, but it is not the end step. You, family or victim, are powerful and can bring about true and lasting change without once depending on the abuser to participate.
In the next blog, The Path Out of Abuse, you'll find ways to lead yourself (or your loved one) out of abuse as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Jo, K. (2012, January 15). The Path Into Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/01/the-path-into-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
No, it's not normal. It may be common, you may have friends who experience it too, but don't let your commonality bring you to thinking it is normal. First relationships are "first" relationships for a reason - a second, third, fourth relationship is destined to come. Use this first relationship to learn about the abuse and how to extricate yourself from it.
I recently just realized that i am in an abusive relationship. for the last 8 years i have thought there must be something terribly wrong with me because no matter how hard i try i can't seem to make him happy. I have walked around on eggshells in my own home to keep from setting him off. and yet somehow i still do. I feel powerless. I don't know who i am anymore. I feel like i've been brainwashed. even now that i realize that what he is doing isn't right, all he has to do is start pointing out all my failures and all the things i have done wrong and i go back to thinking i really am stupid and worthless and that i deserve this. This relationship is the only relationship i have been in so I don't know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like. I mean maybe this is normal?
Patrick, you are right, of course. Honesty underlies our integrity and relationships. In an abusive relationship, the victim's ability to express their needs/desires honestly becomes severely hindered. In time, not only is the victim "afraid" to express feelings honestly to the abuser, they also lose touch with their integrity (in this case, the ability to "know" what they want or deserve in a relationship).
One of the abuser's greatest weapons is to keep knocking the victim off their feet emotionally and mentally. Unlike a regular relationship, the victim has no solid ground from which to express their concerns. The ground is continually shifting, and in the confusion, the victim loses sight of what s/he feels and thinks.
Honesty does work, but in an abusive relationship, the goal is to get the victim back to a point of honesty within themselves first. The victim must recreate and trust their own solid ground (which the abuser doesn't want them to have). After the victim owns their integrity again, communication can begin.
However, communication must be a two way street to work. Abuser's do not want to communicate, they want to control; controlling someone has nothing to do with honesty.
The overall, life-bettering and abuse-ending weapon is plain honesty about what you're feeling and needing. If you don't tell the trust out of fear of punishment, it's neither for your good, nor for her's: everyone loses. Honesty isn't just important, it's necessary for good relationships. Telling feelings is telling truth.
Thank you so much for this article. I am just beginning to realize that I am and have been a consistent victim in abusive relationships for a very long time.
I am beginning to believe there is something in me that is attracted to these types of people and relationships. The first mentally & verbally abusive relationship took me 4 years to get out and over. The second one took me 7 years to get out and get over. And now, presently I believe I am in yet another mentally & verbally abusive relationship that I will eventually have to get out of and get over.
I can't say how many times I would walk on eggshells just to avoid him getting upset or mad or begin to yell at me or treat me in a mean, demeaning, cruel and petty way. I keep thinking if I just try to be more understanding, kind or gently then maybe he won't be mean or curt or get upset. I keep thinking there must be something else I can do to make him happy or happier. In the process, I go against everything I believe in my heart; I go against my conscious, my values, or hopes in life.
Then, every once in awhile, he becomes really nice to me. He shares things with me, becomes interested in me & my life, and becomes really gentle. When this happens I think "great" he's coming around and really does love & care about me. The problem is it never lasts -- it always ends and he eventually gets upset, mad, and mean again.
If I read your article correctly, I not only have to get out of this relationship, but I must learn how to correct whatever it is inside of me that craves this type of relationship. If I get out of this one -- I don't want to get right back into the same type of relationship yet again. I want to stop this circle -- I just don't know how.
I really hope you publish some advice on how to break this cycle. Many thanks for opening my eyes.
"In many ways, the victim comes to accept the abuser’s version above their own (to avoid punishment or pain and to receive love and acceptance)."
I can relate to this. Now when I see or hear things that back up my side to her that she is treating me bad I don't want to show it to her because it will just tick her off again. Yesterday in the paper there was a letter to the advice columnist about the "silent treatment". The answer was that the abuser has real problems and they should go to counseling. Ironically, she launched into the silent treatment that very day. I haven't shown here the article yet because if I do, she'll get even more ticked and it will extend it. This is cycle I find myself in.
I want to confront her but there is no good time. If things are not going well it will only get worse. If things are well that day it will ruin it. Of course she'll ruin it when she's ready anyway.