Most people in abusive relationships wonder if the abuse is their fault, if the abuser can change their behavior.
People often wonder if their partner’s behavior is part of a relationship problem that can be worked out, or if it’s something they can fix.
These questions are normal and most people in abusive relationships have these questions at some point, usually when they realize that the abuse is making the relationship dangerous or unsustainable.
So, if you’re realizing that you cannot go on like this, it may help to know there are clear answers to these questions.
First, please know that abuse — including emotional abuse — is different from typical relationship problems like poor communication or even infidelity.
Abuse is not a relationship problem.
Romantic or peer relationships that contain abuse are not equal relationships, meaning that one person holds and controls the power in the relationship. A consensual adult relationship should never feature such a power imbalance.
In the case of abuse in family relationships, for example, abuse of a child or vulnerable adult by a caregiver, that power that the caregiver holds is used to control or demean the other person, instead of nurturing them. Both forms of abuse can be equally devastating.
Abuse in any form is inappropriate and it’s not due to a problem in your relationship — nor is it your fault.
While an abuser may tell you that their choice to abuse you is due to your behavior or a relationship problem, that is a lie.
Abusers clearly have control over their behavior, because they do not abuse everyone. They choose who to abuse, how to abuse, and when to abuse.
Abusers target victims at times when the abuse will be most effective to keep the power in their possession. They also use different forms of abuse depending on what will hurt the most at the time.
For example, they may choose physical violence in one situation, like when you stand up to them; emotional violence when they want to dismantle your empowerment, like telling you you’re worthless right before a job interview.
Abusers know what they’re doing when they abuse.
That’s why they hide the abuse from others.
They know how to tear you down and then build you back up so that they can do it repeatedly.
There are different models of the abuse cycle, but all of them flow like this: some kind of tension that leads to abuse, that leads to reconciliation, that leads to calm, until the next time.
It’s during the reconciliation and the calm times that make you see the abuser as loving or kind and that makes you question whether it’s the relationship or you that creates the abuse.
Please understand that abusers don’t feel different for you whether they’re abusing or reconciling — it’s a plan to retain power and control.
Abusers are privileged, entitled, emotionally unintelligent, and emotionally immature. These behaviors and attitudes are usually learned in childhood and are deeply ingrained.
If the abuser really looks at these parts of themselves, it can feel like annihilation — it terrifies them because they don’t know who else to be.
Kind of like when Harry Potter’s villain, Voldemort, couldn’t feel remorse because he thought it would destroy him when it would have saved him.
Also, being emotionally unintelligent and immature, they usually do not have the capacity for this kind of insight, let alone behavior change. They don’t really even understand what a mutually supportive and caring relationship is.
This means that they don’t want to change and may not even be capable of change.
Please remember that you cannot change them, it has to come from inside of themselves. You cannot love abusive mindsets and behaviors out of someone.
Many abusers will blame their partner or a situation (like a bad day at work or dinner being late) for their behavior or act like the abuse didn’t happen.
When you try to discuss the abuse with an abuser, dare to ask for behavior change, or tell someone else about the abuse, often, they will say that what you’re describing didn’t happen or happened differently than how you’re describing it.
They can go so far as to tell you or other people that you are mistaken or are making it up. This is called gaslighting and it’s a remarkably painful and dangerous way for an abuser to maintain control.
Because, if you “are crazy,” “are lying,” or “making it up/worse than it was,” it erodes your sense of trust in yourself and your instincts.
And then you stay and tolerate or excuse their abusive behavior, all the while blaming yourself.
Gaslighting is an effective way to get you to abuse yourself for the benefit of the abusers.
Bottom line: Abusers don’t want relationships, they want control.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, either with an intimate partner, a business partner, or a family member, the only way to end the abuse is to leave. And that can be hard and dangerous, so please prepare yourself for both the exit and the aftermath.
There are resources available to people who are abused by an intimate partner. Please research safe homes, victim’s services, and how to work with law enforcement for your safety.
And, if you’re judging yourself “for staying too long,” please understand that abuse is designed to make you stay — it’s a documented psychological phenomenon, similar to Stockholm Syndrome.
You may also be staying for a really valid reason: so that the abuse doesn’t “get worse.”
A final note: Many people try to go to counseling with abusive partners, which can be very dangerous.
Some abusers are able to change, but most do not. Going to therapy with an abuser can actually put you at a disadvantage.
Initially, therapy can make you feel worse because abusers can fool a therapist for a while, as you know, they can be quite charming and on their best behavior.
More importantly, abusers can twist what a therapist recommends and abuse you with that, as well as learn new methods to manipulate, attack, and gaslight you.
If you think therapy will help you, start with going for yourself, and do not tell your abuser because it will be used against you and they will try and control the therapy to forbid you to go.
You deserve to be loved, not hurt.
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