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Understanding why someone may stay with their abuser
by TeenHelp September 9th 2016, 12:43 PM


Understanding why someone may stay with their abuser

By Nicole (eumoirous)

Note: This article does not encourage staying in an abusive relationship, but rather serves to explain why people may remain in one so that it is easier to be an ally to a loved one who may be going through this situation.

Having never been in an abusive relationship, it is easy to see one happening and not understand why the victim does not leave. It can be distressing to watch a friend get mistreated and to feel like they are just letting it happen. Abuse is a very complicated situation, but it has a few patterns that cause the relationship to persist. People may choose to stay with their abusers because of history, because the relationship is domestic, the abuse is emotional, or because of threats. It could be a combination of these factors, or even something else entirely. Every relationship is different, these are just examples.

Having a long history with an abuser is a common reason why people choose to stay in a relationship that has become toxic. Often the abuser does not begin the mistreatment right away. They typically slowly begin to pick at flaws, demonstrate control, or physically harm their partner. Once months have passed in any relationship, toxic or not, it can be tough to end it. Victims become very familiar with their abusive partner and usually have some routine in place, and leaving that behind can seem like a risk even though it would improve the victim’s well-being. When you are with someone you love, your brain releases the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which cause you to feel attraction and an elevated mood. Breaking up removes these chemicals from your brain, and this is why many people feel depressed for some time after the relationship ends. For some people in an abusive relationship, it may seem easier to stay than to feel that depression caused by chemical withdrawals.

Despite the relationship being toxic, the couple may have moved in together. In the present day, couples cohabitating has become much more common. In this case, it can be very difficult for the victim to leave the relationship because they would have to find a new place to live. Moving can be a lengthy process due to finding a place, applying, and moving out all possessions. This task can seem too daunting, so it is common for victims to think the abuse isn’t bad enough for them to leave their home. Additionally, people may be financially dependent on their partners, so even if the relationship is abusive they may stay in fear of having nowhere else to live. If a person doesn't work but their abusive partner does, it may seem easier for them to stay and have that financial support than to leave and have to make it on their own.

Emotional abuse is also a major cause for abusive relationships being prolonged. Emotional abuse can include comments such as “nobody else will love you” or “you can’t do better than me.” When said repeatedly, it can lead the victim to believing what their partner is saying. Another form of emotional abuse is gaslighting, which is when the abuse causes the victim to question their sanity. Gaslighting comments can be something such as “you’re crazy” or “you’re psycho.” Again, when said repeatedly it can lead the victim to believe it. Emotional abuse causes psychological trauma to the victim, and it can even lead to PTSD. People who perpetrate emotional abuse may do so to isolate their partner. They may tell lies about their partner’s friends or tell their partner that nobody actually likes them. This isolation is a way they gain control of their partner and make them stay in the relationship despite it not being healthy. Once a victim feels isolated, they may be afraid of being completely alone if they were to leave the relationship.

Another form of emotional abuse is verbal threats. Abusive partners may threaten suicide or to harm the victim if the victim should leave. It is never easy to know if the threats are empty, or if they will be held true. If you or anyone you know is being threatened by a partner, it is crucial to contact authorities right away. Your personal safety should always come first, and it is never okay for someone to threaten suicide. In these situations, it is best to leave the relationship immediately. It's also crucial to remember that if a person threatens to harm themselves or threatens to even commit suicide, it is their choice and fault if it happens. A person is never to blame for the self destruction of another person.

Perhaps the most common reason why people may stay with their abuser is because they do not realize how toxic the relationship has become. Many of the factors highlighted can lead to people denying that they need to leave the relationship. Additionally, the abuser may have days or even just moments where they are kind people, or they may apologize and assure the victim that it will never happen again. Friends and family may voice their concerns to the victim, but it is easy for the victim to be in denial of how bad the relationship is. This can also lead to denial. Usually when a person is in denial, they have to discover on their own what reality is because they won't want to listen to other people, even loved ones.

In most cases, an abuser will repeat the abuse and whatever harm they caused will likely happen again. An important part of recognizing abuse is to know how to be an ally. If you have a friend who is going through an abusive relationship, it is always a good idea to respectfully voice your concerns, but being there for support can be the most helpful thing you can do. The victim has to make the decision to leave. It can take time for victims to register the abuse, but when they do they need support to be able to leave and heal. However, if you perceive there is a real danger, contact the authorities. Safety is the most important factor, and filing a report can offer protection to the victim.
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