There are myths surrounding the topic of domestic violence and other types of abuse. Many falsely believe that a victim of abuse is masochistic and somehow likes to be abused. Many believe that the victim somehow “had it coming to her,” or “caused” the abuser to react abusively.
No matter what another person says or does to us, our behavior is always our responsibility. There are many ways to solve problems other than by being hurtful to another person. Abusers forget this and believe that the victim is responsible for their behavior.
In fact, this belief that the victim is responsible for the abuser’s behavior is a common dynamic found in abusive relationships in general – both the victim and the abuser believe the victim is responsible, not only for the abuser’s behaviors, but the relationship overall.
There is a relatively common “cycle of abuse” that occurs in abusive relationships. It looks something like this:
Abusive incident – Victim becomes angry/scared/hurt/traumatized – Time goes by – Relationship becomes “normal” – Arguing/Tension – Build-up to explosive incident – Abusive incident – Repeat…
When the abusive incident is not occurring, the psychological mindset of the victim is usually comprised of the following four components:
- Waiting. The victim is waiting for the abuser to calm down and become “normal” again.
- Forgetting. The victim forgets about the abusive incident; moves on; forgives; and acts and feels as if nothing unusual occurred.
- Trying to get him to “see.” If she can get him to see how irrational he is and how hurtful his behavior is towards her, then he will “get it” and change.
- Figuring out how she can change. Perpetrators of abuse usually “gaslight” their victims, convincing them that their reality isn’t what they think it is. After an abusive incident, a victim will tend to analyze herself in order to change so that another abusive incident doesn’t occur.
When counseling victims of abuse, many people, including therapists and pastors, lack empathy and understanding. Many people get frustrated because she won’t leave. When probing further into this phenomenon you will usually discover that the victim stays because deep down inside she feels sorry for the perpetrator’s “hurt self.” Victims of abuse tend to over-identify with an abuser’s “wounded inner child.” She will be convinced that he will change if she can only figure out how to “love him well.” She has convinced herself that he is only hurting her because he is hurt himself and is only lashing out and doesn’t mean it.
Victims of abuse do this because they have most likely had early childhood experiences themselves that caused them to feel deeply concerned for another person – such as a child witnessing a sibling or parent being victimized by someone and feeling helpless to change it. During those early childhood experiences, a person may internalize an emotional memory that needs to be resolved within.
When she gets older and moves on to a romantic relationship, the dormant and unresolved traumatic memory still needs to be resolved. As she feels sorry for her abuser, she is participating in a pattern of “repetitive compulsion” trying to re-write and “right” the wrongs that were done in her in childhood.
Of course, this cannot happen by trying to love an abuser well. When an abuser is “loved better” he simply uses the victim’s good nature to further manipulate her. He exploits her positive trait of empathy.
Even though the outside world may find an abuser’s behavior to be outrageous and disgusting, victims have a hard time holding on to this reality. Their mind usually has “abuse amnesia,” where the victim almost completely forgets that anything negative even happened. This is a type of denial that a victim’s psyche uses to protect the victim from experiencing, emotionally, the destruction of being abused by the person you love the most. It is a protective measure; albeit, maladaptive.
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