Don’t be a Victim; Change the Cycle of Abuse
When you are in an abusive relationship, many people who are aware of the abuse will encourage you to leave the relationship. However, many people who are in abusive situations may not have the strength, finances or resources, esteem, or even the desire to make that move. There are many reasons someone may not leave an abusive situation… an abuser has a tendency to erode at the victims’ perspective of themselves and the situation, making them doubt their own thoughts, feelings and abilities; which leaves them feeling isolated, ashamed, helpless, hopeless and even stuck. They may love the abuser and hope that if they could just do everything perfectly and make the other happy, that their situation and the relationship will improve. Being in an abusive relationship can be scary and the victim may fear the consequences from the abuser if they attempt to leave. Some may even deny the extent of the abuse; therefore making excuses for the abuser, minimize the effects of the situation or not fully understand that they are in fact being abused.
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness with those who may struggle with bullying, control or abuse. Even though they can not control those who abuse and may remain in such situations, my hope is to help them find their own inner strength and worth in order to be able to make healthier decisions for themselves and their life.
Even though bullying and abuse is usually the result of one person’s behavior to control another, many people who end up in repetitive relationships where abuse, manipulation and control exists tend to take on certain behaviors that contribute to their role as a victim and that tends to feed into the cycles of abuse. I am in no way stating that abuse victims purposely seek being mistreated, because I know that they do not. In fact, they often desperately seek affection and approval from others and may make extreme sacrifices and choices in their attempt to gain such. Yet, nobody deserves to be treated by someone that they love in any hurtful manner.
However, abuse victims do tend to take on certain behaviors that set them up as targets for abuse and as the saying goes “it takes two to tango.” Have you ever noticed that arguments with some people often form the exact same cycle? They say something, you respond to it in a certain way, and they respond back in a certain way… and every argument turns out the same with no further resolve or progress. Abusive cycles are the same way they function on similar actions and reactions. However, if you refuse to contribute to these cycles or learn different responses, the outcome will also be different. The trick is figuring out what steps serve to diffuse these cycles rather than serve to further fuel them. If you or someone you know suffers from domestic violence, here are some suggestions that may serve to help change the cycle of abuse and help them regain personal power in their life.
Recognize the many forms of abuse.
Many people may not recognize abuse is happening, feel that the abuse is their fault, or that it’s not that bad. However, abuse tends to escalate over time in slow and subtle steps until they gain full control over you. This occurs so subtly that the victim may not recognize what is happening until they feel completely lost and defeated. Domestic abuse or bullying can run from the obvious physical abuse, which includes physically harming one or threats to harm them, to emotional abuse that may take place through verbally belittling, placing demands or using subtle expressions that serve to demean you or your efforts. They tend to use guilt, threats, insults and other manipulation tactics to get you to submit to doing things their way.
They act out in behaviors that deny your feelings and neglect you of your emotional and physical needs. They blame you for their own faulty behaviors that result in their mistakes or abusive actions. They use methods, such as limiting funds or transportation, or hold you back from interacting with others that serve to limit and control your choices in life. Then there is the abuse that is more subtle, as they twist and use words that leave you confused about what they really meant by that, but that leave you feeling hurt and devalued. Whatever tactics an abuser may use, the results are the same, after interacting with someone who is abusive you will feel worse about yourself; hurt or upset; doubt your own feelings, needs and perspectives; feel obligated to do things the way they see fit, and feel insignificant to those who treat you in this manner.
Learn to respect yourself and override those self doubts.
I have learned that if you don’t respect yourself, others will pick up on that and disrespect you as well. If you do not have and express respect for yourself, then you have made yourself both the victim and the perpetrator of emotional self abuse. It is tough to accept, but really important to understand that we do tend to teach people how to treat us through the behaviors we emanate about ourselves. If we doubt ourselves and our feelings, put ourselves down, and trust others before us, others will see that lack of self esteem. Someone who lacks emotional value for their self is more apt to become an easy target for manipulation and control. If we are willing to place pleasing others above caring for ourselves (emotionally, physically, financially, etc), we set ourselves up to be taken advantage of. It is important to overcome such self defeating habits that set us up as victims and to have healthy boundaries in place for ourselves. This leads us to our next two steps.
Place healthy boundaries on what you’ll accept from others.
One of the most effective ways to change the cycle over being an abuse victim is to have strong, healthy personal boundaries. These boundaries are limits that you set in place for behaviors that you will and will not accept from others and what you are willing to do or not do for them. These boundaries need to define your personal values and worth that keep unwanted behaviors away. Learn to say “no” to unreasonable requests that keep others dependent on you at the expense of your own well being. Learn to stay firm with your “no”, even if they try to press about how you are being unfair to them (if they are attempting to take advantage of you, remember that they are the ones with the unfair requests). Instead provide alternative solutions for them to take responsibility for their own actions, problems and outcomes.
At the very least, you have the right to say, “That is not okay with me and I don’t appreciate this behavior” when others attempt cross that line. Try this on small matters at first, and then as it becomes more comfortable for you, slowly work up to bigger issues. Consider what the consequence will be if someone crosses your boundaries. Maybe the consequence will be that you choose to leave them or the situation at that moment. Find a consequence that works for you, that is safe for you and that you will follow through with. Do not make threats that you can’t follow through with as this will just set you up for bigger problems.
Have limits on what you will do for others.
Let go of the idea that you have to do every single thing that everyone asks of you; that you have to wear yourself into the ground until you’ve literally expended all you have to give and more. When you feel obligated to others in this manner, it is usually because of the fear to say no; a fear that you might upset others, or have to deal with their negativity or possibly even lose a relationship with them. You may actually want to seem useful or accommodating to them, but find yourself doing more than you can handle. When you constantly give in to all of their requests, no matter how unreasonable or unacceptable they may be to you, you are setting yourself up to be taken for granted and to be controlled by your own fears as well as the demands of others. By setting limits on what you will do, even small limits at first, you soon find out who genuinely cares about you and your well-being and who’s just trying to use you up until you no longer serve their purposes. The way that people treat you shows their overall perception of you. People who genuinely care will respect your limitations to their requests. Stop setting yourself up to be a victim by refusing to accept what is unacceptable. Let those who are just out to use you walk away, especially if they walk away mad.
Realize your true worth.
When others treat us, our feelings and our needs with little value, we may grow to believe that we truly are unworthy and then treat ourselves badly as well. This may include neglecting our interests or hobbies; neglecting our safety, health, hygiene and personal care; or lacking attention to things around us. It is important to take a hard and real look about yourself and your worth. You can reduce being an abuse victim by making a list of all the good qualities you know you hold, no matter what they may be or how insignificant they may seem, and remember these good qualities when others lay their insults on you. Refer to your list of qualities often and tell yourself that they are wrong about you because you know you have these good qualities; that you are good at these things and that because you value and respect yourself you deserve to be treated with respect and value from others. The impact of expressing your values are stronger if you look yourself in the eyes while looking in a mirror. When you can say these things while looking in your own eyes with no more doubt, you will feel your inner strength grow. Repeating this step regularly will slowly bring your sense of self-worth up over time, making you feel less vulnerable to being an abuse victim. But don’t give up after just a few weeks. It takes about three months to instill new habits. So be patient with yourself and give yourself time with the changes you wish to make in your life.
Be real about yourself and be honest about who you are with others.
One of the greatest set-ups we create to be a victim is to pretend that we’re something that we are not when we’re around others. We may try so hard to be so agreeable and likeable that we go along with things that we may not like in a hope to gain acceptance, approval and affection from others. When we misrepresent who we are, what we believe and our true values it tends to lead to one of two outcomes: either other people will begin to sense your contradictions and have less respect for you, or they will see you as someone they can easily manipulate in order to get what they want out of you. When you are genuine with about yourself, you will attract people who like you for the real you and you can stop putting on the different masks around different people. Pretending to be something that you are not in order to gain relationships is being dishonest to yourself as well as to others and is a sure way to wind up with people in your life who will home in on your lack of self respect, which sets you up to be a victim of abusive circumstances. After all, if you don’t like yourself enough to be honest about whom you really are, then you are disrespecting yourself. When we disrespect ourselves, others will find it easy to disrespect us as well.
Become aware of your authentic individuality.
In order to reduce becoming an abuse victim, realize that you are your own person and not a continuation of anyone else. Don’t try to meld into others, their interests, feelings and lives so strongly that you lose track of who you are and become obsessed with who they are. Be sure to find a healthy balance between making others a priority and making you a priority. Losing who you are individually will lead to much unhappiness and unbalanced relationships. Be sure to keep in touch with your own thoughts, interests, friends and activities. Make and keep time to enjoy the things that are important to you and that you enjoy. Putting this kind of balance in place reduces the chance of ending up in a relationship filled with emotional abuse or physical abuse.
People who manipulate, control and abuse others often seek a scapegoat because they don’t know how to deal with or solve their own personal problems.
Those who engage in bullying and dominating others are most likely reacting to you from skills and responses that they have learned as children. This usually stems from a lack in healthy communication skills, a lack of personal problem solving and an inability to overcome their own emotional struggles in positive and productive ways. Also remember that misery loves company and that those who engage in physical or emotional abuse may only feel more in control of their own lives when they are succeeding at controlling others. Like wild animals, they are more apt to attack those they feel they can prey upon, and tend to be attracted to those with abuse victim or codependent personalities.
When we refuse to take full responsibility for their misery and their problems, we are allowing them the opportunity to face, accept and learn new skills for themselves, therefore changing the cycles that set us up to be a victim of abuse.
A WORD OF WARNING: Abusive people desire to have control. So once they realize you are not falling prey to their controls, it may confuse them or further agitate them and they may push harder to regain that control. Please be cautious of how much you push this redirection and know your limits for safety with others, especially with someone who is physically violent. I do not desire anyone to get hurt more from their attempts to regain their own power. Remember that abusers tend to slowly, yet progressively wear you down over time. So, when it comes to someone who has been abusing you for a long time, it’s best to make your changes in subtle and slow manners as well.