Sadly, the answer is that many people do not recognise they are in an abusive relationship (tunnel vision) or they refuse to accept it when people outside the relationship point this out to them (denial).
Naturally people become attached to others because of shared experiences or feelings. In abusive relationships the attachment is through abusive experiences such as verbal or physical violence, neglect or shaming behaviours.
People outside of the relationship they cannot understand why somebody in an abusive relationship would stay in the toxic relationship and they start to withdraw their support.
Abusers often are inconsistent in their behaviour as well as being abusive they shower their partners with love and affection (the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon). They will share their abusive experiences telling the abused that you are the only person for them, the only person that can help them and therefore make the abused feel sorry for them so they forgive their abusive behaviour.
Once an abuser has their partner under their spell they will begin to isolate them from friends and family. This conditions the abused into thinking that the abusive behaviour is normal and it prevents people outside the relationship alerting the abused that it is not the norm. This isolation makes the abuser the central piece in the relationship making the abused feel the abuser is the only person that understands them and that it is a case of them and their abuser against the world. Isolation breeds isolation and distorts a persons vision of what a healthy relationship is. The abused person therefore becomes trapped.
Key signs of misplaced attachment are: –
- The abuser promises to change when the abused raises concerns about the abusers behaviour;
- The abuser always forgives and believes the abuser will change their ways;
- The abused tries to keep the peace and ensure they do not upset the abuser;
- The abused feels wholly dependent on the abuser and that they cannot survive outside the relationship;
Abusive behaviour is not something that comes all at once. It is a gradual “conditioning” process. This makes it almost imperceptible to the abused until there is a light switch moment. The conditioning process is systematic over a gradual period of time. It breaks down abused self-belief and self-worth.
Key signs of conditioning are: –
- The abuser asserts they are always right, even faced with opposing evidence;
- The abuser will often lie;
- The abuser denies saying something they have said earlier;
- The abuser says one thing and then does something different;
- The abuser will accuse the abused of lying
- The abuser will try and turn others (friends, family, colleagues) against the abused;
- How do the abused finally escape?
The hardest part is realising they are in an abusive relationship. Really listening to others may be a light bulb moment for the abused. Often making a list of actions and behaviours within the relationship that makes the abused feel unhappy or lonely may help with realisation. A coach, such as myself, who is impartial can help with compiling and analysing any list and will help the abused get back their perspective
It is important to take a step back and view the relationship through the eyes of someone not involved in the relationship looking in. A coach can help an abused person gain clarity and build confidence to help the abused to rebuild their self-belief to what it was before the conditioning behaviour started
The abused should never blame themselves or think that they are crazy. Abuse is an illness. The abuser often cannot help themselves and often does not know they are being abusive. The abused should congratulate themselves on realising they are in a toxic relationship and want to escape it.
Most importantly they realise that they will never change an abuser and they take back control for themselves.
If you can relate to the above or you know someone in that situation then please feel free to reach out and get in touch with me.
Sarah Hull – Divorce Architect