I recently lost one of my closest friends to an abusive relationship. I’m obviously devastated, but more than that, I’m fucking irate that abusive relationships are so prevalent in our society and, even though the signs and symptoms of abusive relationships are readily known and available, so many people are still blindsided by abusers.
No matter how many times I reached out, no matter how many times I tried to get through to her—to let her know that I knew what was going on and that everyone around her could see that she was being controlled, manipulated, abused—she denied it and insisted she was fine or she just ignored me.
And there’s the glaring problem. Victims of abuse—be it emotional or physical or both—become brainwashed into believing that their relationships with their abusers are tolerable, normal even. Many feel their intuition tweak in the form of gut feelings, but they ignore their own inner warning system and convince themselves that it’s all good.
I know this because I’ve been there. TWICE. I’m a slow learner.
Fight or Flight Shuts Down Creative Thought
The most interesting thing about victims of abuse is that they live every day—often every moment—in a fight or flight state, always prepared for their abuser to erupt. It is a scientific fact that the human brain, when in a fight or flight state, shuts down the area of the brain that allows for creative thought. So while abuse victims are in fight or flight, their brains specifically remove their ability to see what’s actually happening, to recognize it for abuse, and plan their escape. If you ever talk to victims of abuse—the ones lucky enough to escape from their abusers by whatever means—it is very common for them to admit that they had NO IDEA they were being abused until AFTER they got away from their abuser and had time to decompress. Even then, it usually takes a few months, until their brains relax out of the FoF state, before they have that huge A-HA moment.
And it’s all because abusers are fucking skilled at manipulation, fear and guilt tactics, and controlling others. AND, many abusers don’t even have a clue that they are abusive. Whether it’s from childhood trauma or life bullshit or if they are just wired that way—they aren’t self-aware enough to see their behaviours as wrong or abnormal. Most abusers feel fully justified in their behaviours and convictions and it’s near impossible to convince them otherwise.
Abusers tend to exhibit a lot (if not all) of these behaviours:
- they regularly lie or twist the truth, often believing their own delusions and becoming righteous about them.
- they think twelve steps ahead of everyone.
- they instinctively know how to twist situations to make everything seem like the victim (or someone else) is at fault. They seldom own their shit or admit to being wrong and are wizards at blaming everyone else for all the shitty things they do.
- they always know how to guilt trip their victims.
- they intrinsically understand how to constantly make their victims question their own worth until they conclude that they must, indeed, be useless and worthless—with comments like “you can’t make it without me” and “you’re pathetic” and “who else would even want you?” and “I’m smarter than you” and so much more.
- they always present a likeable facade to the outside world. This is a huge reason SO MANY abusers get away with the shit they do. They are excellent actors and never show the outside world the person under the mask.
- they use words or fists or both to beat their victims down, exhaust them and keep them constantly walking on eggshells and in fight or flight, so they lose their ability to try to (or even think about) escape. As an aside, this kind of constant stress also depletes the victim’s health and immune system, inviting in sickness. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did a study on abuse victims and major illnesses, such as cancer and autoimmune disorders. I predict there would be a high correlation between them, but I digress…
- they mix their abusive moments in with moments of kindness, humour, “normalcy” that give their victims hope that there is a good person in there somewhere who may emerge fully someday.
- they control who the victim sees (often isolating them from friends and family, bit by bit), who the victim talks to (often monitoring their communication channels and preventing them from letting others know they are in trouble or need help), where the victim goes (often losing their shit or forbidding the victim to engage in certain activities if the abuser feels threatened or insecure about them), and so much more.
- they threaten their victims with punishment or consequences if they try to leave, try to fight back, or try to express their belief that they are being treated poorly. They threaten to hurt or take away those their victim loves (or they actually DO take them away), claim the victim will not be able to make it in the world without them, threaten to say horrible things about the victim (which, of course, the victim believes because they regularly see others accept the abuser’s lies without so much as blinking), and all sorts of other bullshit that just isn’t true and has no merit.
- they do everything in their power to control, manipulate, scare, and convince their victims that they are stuck in the relationship and can never escape.
And it’s all total bullshit.
None of those things make up a loving, respectful, healthy relationship.
None of those things are normal.
None of those things are even fucking acceptable.
People on the outside—the ones who love the victim and see everything so clearly and the ones who have been there, done that—end up feeling helpless and angry and infuriated that we can’t do anything to get through to the victim. Many of us try many times and fail repeatedly, either because the victim is so far gone or because the abuser catches on and shuts off all communication. We, too, end up burning out and giving up because all our efforts end in failure or disaster and we can no longer sustain the energy or the heartache associated with the situation. We can no longer condone the abuse and, by remaining in the victim’s life, we feel like we are doing exactly that. So we give up and back off because it’s not a healthy situation to be in, for anyone.
And then we lose the people we love and we have to mourn that loss while also wrestling with the guilt of not trying harder.
You CAN escape!
My only hope in writing this is for anyone who reads it and finds yourself checking off some or all of the behaviours I’ve listed, realize that this is NOT okay. Realize that you are being abused and that you are in an unhealthy, unstable relationship and you need to get help. If you feel you love your abuser and you think there is hope to get them help as well—that is certainly your choice—but you can’t do that if you stay in the relationship. The help can only come, for you or both of you, when you get some distance between you and have some time to process through the trauma you’ve sustained. My wish is that my words will somehow reach you, however far gone you are, and will bring you back to your senses and your heart center, where you will know it’s time to make a change.
And then, once you realize it, that you will find a way (no matter how scary it is or how many times it’s been drilled into your head that you can’t make it on your own) to reach out to family or friends or a helpline and ask for help to break free. Because it IS possible. You are not alone, even if you feel that you are, and you can find a way out. You just have to take that first step.