Romantic relationship of any sort is meant to be a place of comfort, warmth, affection, care, and safety. Romantic partners ought to support each other, grow together, and be able to lean on each other. And although relationships are rarely, if ever, perfect, expecting those basic features truly isn’t too much. Yet, so many abusers and their victims live their shared lives in a way that contradicts this foundational truth. And so many are entirely oblivious to that fact. The reason lies in the dynamics between the abused and the aggressor, the dynamics that makes them a perfect fit, however contradictory that might sound.
Every abuse is an attempt to control the victim. And every abuser, same as every victim, suffers from overwhelming insecurity. But the chances are the web of explanations and rationalizations around this simple fact is so complex, that it becomes nearly impossible to untangle it. Which is also why so many victims of abuse ask themselves if they really are being in an abusive relationship – something that usually sounds completely absurd to the outside observer.
What escapes the eye
It’s fairly easy to blame the perpetrator. It’s also often very simple to be judgmental of the victim as well. The aggressor is just an evil person who doesn’t deserve any sympathy. And the victim should have been stronger and more assertive, and should have never let that happen to her (or him). However, even though abuse cannot ever be excused, the matter is a bit more psychologically complex.
The abuser, especially when the abuse is purely emotional, often does not perceive what they are doing as an abuse at all. How is that possible? Well, when asked to explain their behavior, most of the aggressors in relationships feel very strongly that they were just setting their partner straight, trying to make them do the right thing – whatever they consider to be the right thing. For example, if they were suspecting their partner was cheating on them, the abuse that ensued came as a means of making the “cheater” have respect and be honorable. If they worked really hard to separate the victim from her friends and family so that they can control her easier, they often honestly believe that they did it because of the “bad influence” that had been coming from the side of those people.
The abusers also don’t realize that they’re feeling insecure
The lack of self-confidence that they feel proves to be elusive, as many aggressors don’t know how to experience different emotions other than anger. If their partner seems aloof, even though the perpetrator’s genuine reaction is fear and emotional pain, their mind is hardwired so that it doesn’t allow them to feel that way. Experiencing anxiety and despair in the face of the prospect of being abandoned by the one we love is more difficult than just be angry and act out in that anger. So, the aggressor’s mind protects them from an array of negative emotions, and gives them the safe alternative – rage.
And the victim?
They are also commonly unaware of how the things really stand. They usually come from families in which they were taught how inadequate they are, how unlovable and undeserving they are. So, they often spend their lives unconsciously searching for people and situations that will confirm such belief to them. And once they meet their aggressor, the game begins, and none has much chance of escaping it without an outside, preferably expert, help. The victim hurts all the time, feeling more and more like they’re drowning in the sea of guilt, self-blame, self-hatred, and sadness. But they don’t have the strength to end it (not anymore, not months or years of listening to all that demeaning talk).
Abuse is a harmful pattern of behavior and thinking that has an eerie potential of destroying many lives. And relationships should be places where no such thing can happen. But it does, and it happens in a recognizable pattern. Just when the victim recognizes that they’re living an abusive relationship and seriously starts to think about leaving the aggressor, the downright abusive behavior will momentarily cease. The abuser becomes the kind and loving person the victim fell in love with in the first place. All the old romance is back, and the honeymoon starts all over. Yet, as soon as the victim begins to second-guess her decision and lets her guard down, the abuser will take over the control again and the whole thing will repeat itself until one of the two breaks the cycle. And this takes courage, faith, and mostly – help.