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Why Victims of Abuse Stay with Their Abusive, Narcissistic, or Borderline Partner and What to do About It

So many people do not understand why victims of abuse remain with their partners even after being terribly abused by them. Many people believe a few myths regarding victims of abuse:

  • They are masochists
  • They like being abused
  • They are weak
  • They provoke the abuser in some way, contributing to the abuse
  • Victims are partially culpable for the abuse because they stay in the relationship

If you are the victim of abuse and you can’t figure out how to leave your abuser, one thing you can do is understand why you stay. The underlying reasons may have nothing to do with why you think you stay. I have found it interesting to discover a few common reasons that people have difficulty leaving their abusers.

There are some practical reasons. These include staying for the children or out of financial necessity. Victims also often falsely assume that if the abuser has a substance abuse problem, then that is what is causing the abusive behaviors, and if he or she just gets sober, then the abuse will be eliminated.

However, the primary reasons people stay are psychological and include:

The victim feels responsible for the relationship. He or she has a strong sense of personal guilt over the problems in the relationship. This is partly because they’ve been brainwashed by the abuser, and it also may have reasons to do with their own (the victim’s) childhood conditioning.

The victims have abuse amnesia. This means that the victim’s coping mechanism is to dissociate during episodes of violence, minimize its impact, and “forget” the negative, while at the same time, magnifying anything positive the abuser does.

Victims of abuse often identify with the hurt “inner child” of the abuser. The victim feels compassionate and empathic towards the perpetrator’s “hurt self.” Instead of focusing on the abuser’s bad behaviors, the victim is trying desperately to “love well,” and be there for the abuser – no matter what.

Victims of abuse often hold on to the thought: “But I know he/she really loves me.”  They believe that the negative behavior is just an anomaly, and that the abuser is just acting out of kilter for some unknown and temporary reason. They believe that deep down, underneath it all, the abuser is profoundly dedicated to the relationship and to the victim. Because the victim often over-identifies with something sad in the abuser’s past, he/she gives the abuser a “pass,” as if somehow the abuser just can’t help himself or herself.

If you identify with any of these patterns in your own life, then there are few things you can do to heal yourself. These include:

  1. Know yourself. What does this look like, practically?  It means, know your tendencies to overlook abuse. Notice the patterns you have regarding “red flags.” If you see that you ignore red flags, then know that about yourself.
  2. Live in truth. Stop living in denial about the relationship and what is really going on. Look at your relationship honestly.
  3. Notice if you are over-identifying with the hurt inner child of the abuser. Are you trying to rescue him or her in some way? Is there a part of you that is determined to  love well and never abandon him or her?
  4. Notice your feelings. Many victims of abuse often feel guilty and confused. Many feel trapped and traumatized. If you feel any of these feelings, or others, such as obligation and fear, then realize these feelings are your cues that your relationship is toxic.
  5. Identify your relationship patterns. Get out pen and paper and document what you see as the “cycle of abuse” in your relationship. The cycle of abuse often looks like this: calm before the stormtension buildingabusive episodereconciliationhoneymoon phaserepeat.  Each couple’s cycle of abuse may be different from another’s, but all of the elements are there. Take an honest look at your own patterns.
  6. Look at what is happening to your own well-being. Do you find yourself “walking on eggshells” all the time just to try and prevent an abusive episode from happening? Do you feel a sense of constant dread, fear, numbness, or sadness? Are you keeping yourself quiet and trying not to “rock the boat?” Is your personality diminishing out of fear of upsetting your partner? Notice what is happening to you internally – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
  7. Know your value. Stop letting your partner de-value you and start owning your worth. Understand that you are a person with great worth, value, and dignity, and that abuse should play no part in your life. You deserve to be treated with respect. Claim your space in the world and don’t allow your personhood to be diminished by your abuser any more. As you watch yourself change, you will feel empowered.
  8. Focus your energy on self-care. Instead of focusing on fixing the relationship, change your priorities and, start focusing on getting yourself rescued and healed. You may need to set very firm boundaries and change your reactions. Do not waste any more time trying to explain yourself to your abuser. Do not point anything out to your abuser any more. Stop trying to get him or her or others to see what is happening. You just need to see it and then take care of yourself.
Why Victims of Abuse Stay with Their Abusive, Narcissistic, or Borderline Partner and What to do About It

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2017). Why Victims of Abuse Stay with Their Abusive, Narcissistic, or Borderline Partner and What to do About It. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from