Why Do People Stay In Abusive Relationships?
Why People Stay In Abusive Relationships
What is abuse? Webster defines it as to use wrongly or improperly; to hurt; to treat in a harmful or injurious manner. So why do people stay in abusive relationships? The reasons may not be acceptable to everyone but according to mental health experts, there are specific reasons why people (not just women) stay in abusive relationships.
Surviving in an abusive relationship of ANY kind is a puzzlement to people on the outside, but there are specific reasons why someone 'allows' this or cannot find a way out. It is also about the patterns that people do not see sometimes and fall unknowingly into. The first step is for the person involved in an abusive relationship on any level to see the pattern and want to change it. The person who needs to change is the abused in order to finally and completely heal as the pattern will inevitably repeat itself down the road.
Photo Credit: Flickr Samat Jain
Reasons For Continuing In The Abusive Relationship
This in my humble opinion is the number 1 cause of people in failed or abusive relationships - on ANY level, not just partnered relationships but with friends or coworkers, family members or mere acquaintances. The only reason a person 'takes' abuse is because they are most familiar with it. They believe they DESERVE it. Nothing could be further from the truth but in this case, breaking the cycle of low self-esteem and believing that each and every one of us on this earth deserves happiness and deserves 'better' (whatever that better may be) is the key. Until a person can decide that he or she deserves love, deserves happiness, and deserves to be free to make their own decisions (good or bad) and act on them, the pattern of self-esteem vulnerability continues.
Low self-esteem is also tied to where we come from. Meaning that if a person grows up with the pattern of being emotionally abused, physically abused, sexually abused, verbally scathed for doing anything other than what the perpetrator decrees, the mechanism is locked into place. The victim of the abuse has it firmly in his or her mind now that she DESERVES this treatment and to think of anything outside that box is futile. The pattern of abuse will be perpetuated because the victim has signed up for the program.
Only by looking into the mirror and deciding to be different can one break out of this pattern. Deciding that one wants happiness, wants fulfillment, wants a 'better' life - these are the turning points of change and only by getting that mindset and focusing on that set of goals can the pattern be broken. I want happiness, therefore I will go out and get it. I deserve peace in my life and joy - I will go out and get it.
Over the course of my 56 years on the planet, I have seen this reason far more times than I'd like to admit. 'If I do not admit that it is there, I do not have a problem.' Seemingly very successful people - family members, friends I have had over the years - they LOVE the person that they are with and that seems to wash away everything. If they love them, there cannot possibly be anything wrong with them - or the relationship. Of course to most people on the outside, everyone can see the problem staring them in the face and it is all TOO obvious who is controlling whom. The shattered dreams are evident, the penalties for daring to speak out against the 'controller' in the relationship. But still there is not a problem.
Denial is the hardest of any excuse to fight because the person who is firmly entrenched in denial is unreachable. Until they hit rock bottom and decide that they can no longer go on living a lie, there is truly nothing that can be done. Interventions are helpful but only to a point as in the case of someone very close to me, after finally taking the step to free herself from an abusive relationship, she immediately was overwhelmed with guilt about what she had done and went back anyway.
The most common phrases I have heard spoken about people who I feel were controlling or abusive to my friends or family on some level - 'he's really a nice guy; he just gets a little out of control sometimes'. 'He was tired - he didn't really mean it.' 'He made up with me afterwards and said it will never happen again.' 'He just wants what is best for me and why shouldn't I do what he wants? I should not make life harder for him because he works SO hard.' Or as a child when I was physically abused - 'If only you would have been better; why can't you be good like your sister? Then this would never happen'.
Most people who are in an abusive relationship do not believe that they can survive on their own. They usually also have their entire financial life tied up with the abuser. That is part of the control. That is part of the lack of self-esteem. The abused person is 'too stupid' to handle finances, 'too flighty' to have spending money, 'too incapable' of making solid decisions, monetary or otherwise, so the abuser or controller usually ends up handling the pursestrings. That is all part of the pattern. If they control the situation, the victim stays.
If a person looks at their life on every level across the board and can point to financial dependency on someone else where they take no part whatsoever in decision making or have any freedom to participate and/or spend money that is made, there is probably a serious problem there. Most partnerships are just that - partnerships. Both partners equally decide how and when to spend the money. Both partners in a relationship should have areas where they can express themselves and within reason, indulge themselves. If one person in a relationship is controlling ALL the money that is spent, how it is spent, or determining when it is NOT spent, that signals a pattern of domination.
WHERE WOULD I GO?
Over the years, like with financial control, I have heard this statement from several people embroiled in an abusive relationship. It is fear plain and simple that keeps them rooted in their current situation. They do not feel that they can provide adequate food, shelter and clothing for themselves if they leave. They do not feel that they can have a life if they leave because they are dependent upon the other person. They do not feel that they have any options, so they give up - they stay.
That is the saddest pattern of all to me - the hopelessness. The belief that your life is over and you are destined to live out this pattern for the rest of your days. There can only be light at the end of the tunnel if the pattern is broken! If there IS hope - if there is change. Since most abusive or controlling people do not see the need for change, the only salvation is for the person suffering the abuse to get out - break the pattern; see a brighter tomorrow and act on it. No change is ever easy but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of giving up and remaining in a situation that is doomed.
There are agencies today that help and there are people standing up right and left to fight abuse on all levels. There is no better time than the present to make a change for the better as years ago, it was nearly impossible for someone being abused to get help. Today, we do have choices and the patterns CAN be broken.
MY CHURCH OR MY FAMILY/MY CULTURE WILL DISOWN ME
Unbelievably there are still some people today who will not understand but happily, not as many as years ago. It is not the stigma that it once was to leave someone, to divorce, to stand up for oneself and say 'enough - we need to be apart'. Living with the scorn or rejection of one's family, friends, culture, or church community is never easy but again, the benefits far outweigh the risks. I always believe that when people display courage and fight back for themselves, eventually people do come to realize the rightness of the act.
No one should have to live a lie and no one should have to live unhappily. There are a million ways to die and there are a million ways to live. I believe strongly in living happily until I die and if the pattern I am in currently does not bring me happiness, it is obviously the wrong pattern. Years ago when I sought to make a better life for myself, one free of abuse, I decided that I would keep searching for the happiness I deserved until I found it. I made a pact with myself that I was going to find it and that I deserved it. Fortunately for me, I was able to break the pattern but not without hard, hard work and counseling - both in office and through books, research, etc. Again, the only person I could change was myself - not the situation or the past - but I have to say - it was worth every bit of it!
I HAVE TO THINK OF THE KIDS
This particular reason actually makes me want to cry because it is the opposite of what most people think will happen. People stay in horrible relationships because they fear what will happen to the kids or that the kids will suffer. The worst of all things happens when someone decides to stay in a failed, abusive or destructive relationship. You have just taught your child or children without saying one word how to abuse or be abused; how to have a destructive relationship, whether they grow up to be the perpetrator or the victim. Children are sponges and they watch everything we do and listen to everything we say - or do not say. Living by example is the best teaching tool but in this case, it is the wrong tool. It teaches our children to stick to the patterns and continue the cycle.
Children are very resilient creatures. They actually accept change much better than most adults. That is not to say that any failed relationship will not have detrimental effects on the children involved. There will be sadness, there will be guilt, there will be all kinds of feelings that will come up because ultimately children look to adults for stability. However, in the long run and over the longer term, children who see HEALTHY parents and see healthy parenting styles grow up to be functional and devoted parents themselves. Children that watch years of patterns of abuse and unhappiness grow up with the idea that they, too deserve abuse or unhappiness, or conversely that they must abuse someone else in order to feel 'good'.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Most people know if they are in an abusive or failed relationship. They know deep down what they need to do and perhaps they have ALL the reasons above why they do not want to do it. Perhaps they lack the necessary skills to try to make a change or the necessary support group to think of doing something to better their situation.
Again, there are numerous agencies out there and if someone you know is in an abusive situation, gently suggest that they at least seek help online. Better yet, see a counselor and discuss options. But be aware that most people when confronted with 'interventions' no matter how small or how gently put are not happy with the advice. I know several people who decided to stay with their abusive partner and are resigned to this fate for the rest of their lives. It is a sad choice, but there is nothing anyone can do if someone will not help themselves.
My crazy grandmother had a saying and I believe it to be true - 'God helps those who help themselves' and until someone can do that, there is only support that can be given but the ultimate change has to come from within the abused person. The person who suffers abuse must take charge and decide to break the pattern or the pattern will continue. However, I always feel that it is the best thing to offer someone in this situation a shoulder, a sounding board, a safe haven - and advice as far as you can provide it. I do believe there is always hope for every situation but that we are all responsible for our own happiness ultimately.
Resources For Help
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How To Get Out Of An Abusive Relationship
Links and Where To Get Help
- WomensLaw.org | Where to Find Help
Legal information, help and support for women, teens, and girls living with or escaping domestic violence or sexual assault (custody, divorce, restraining orders, orders of protection, immigration, military law, tribal law, kidnapping, stalking, dati
- Controlling & Abusive Relationships
- Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships
Are you wondering if you or someone you love is being abused? Learn about domestic violence and abuse and the signs of an abusive relationship.
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