Why don’t people just leave an abusive relationship?
There is a statistic I will never forget learning from my personality psyche professor. She said that it takes a person at LEAST seven tries to actually leave an abusive relationship, if ever.
I thought, “how can someone actually remain in an abusive relationship? Isn’t it obvious when you’re being abused? Why wouldn’t you just leave?”
I can now attest to that statistic, and I look back at my naivete with forgiveness. Leaving is not so black and white, and abusers have tactics that would qualify them to run the CIA.
How does abuse begin?
I come from a family of therapists, theologists, and philosophers and I graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor's in psychology. None of that kept me from becoming a victim of abuse. Abuse is slow and discreet and catered to the person being abused.
I met my abuser during a vulnerable period. Most abusers search for young, vulnerable prey - people they can groom and manipulate. I was young, out of college, out of a six-year relationship, and had never dealt with the death of my mother. He used this information to convince me that he was empathetic toward what I was going through. He was playing a role, and he was a damn good actor.
My abuser made me feel special, seen, and understood. I dated him for a mere three months before I became pregnant with my first child. I sometimes think that was his intention all along (and thank God because I wouldn’t trade any of it for my vibrant, beautiful child). I was stuck, scared, young, and vulnerable. I was isolated from my family, friends, and coworkers. He moved me to a new city that I had never visited before, and although I had already experienced moments of abuse, that was when the abuse escalated; I soon began to feel I needed him like I was unable and unfit to live on my own.
The abuse was subtle and calculated. During my pregnancy, he convinced me to come off my anxiety and depression medication, which made me unstable. I was a new mother with postpartum depression, he was rarely around to help me with the baby, he isolated me from anyone who knew or loved me, he had taken my money, and I was exhausted. I thought the way I was feeling was par for the course. I was afraid, stuck, and unable to consider any other option than to survive - one day at a time. As time went on, the abuse became more prevalent and intense, and I was slowly broken down into a shell of a person.
Why stay in an abusive relationship?
Abusers will use manipulative tactics to create and reinforce a trauma bond. A trauma bond is an attachment or dependency the victim has for their abuser, which becomes addictive for the victim. These tactics can also cause the victim to stay because they have fear of being harmed by the abuser, fear they are not smart enough to make money on their own, fear they will not be loved, among other factors.
What are some tactics abusers use to keep you in the relationship?
Abusers use many tactics to break down their victims which makes them feel like they are unable to leave. I will discuss a few of these tactics below. *Please note that there are other tactics than what is listed here, and I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist. I am offering this information after years of research in an attempt to understand what happened to me.
Love Bombing - Love bombing typically occurs at the beginning of a relationship. Think of love bombing as a shiny sparkling bait at the end of a rusty old hook, it is used to attract the victim. Love bombing is when the abuser makes the victim feel loved, beautiful, amazing and seen. They will take personal information and use it to their advantage to manipulate their victim into thinking they are being empathetic. They will shower their victim with compliments. They will wine and dine their victim. They will appear to be successful, loved, and, well, sane - a perfect catch.
Lying- Abusers tend to lie about everything and anything, which causes victims to be in a constant state of confusion. My abuser would create a lie, wouldn’t be able to keep up with it, and then tell me, “I never said that.” I would be left thinking I had lost my mind. He would call me a “dummy” in jest, but after a while, it turned into, “don’t say stupid things” and “don’t act like an idiot.” I began internalizing these comments and became fearful of saying anything at all (which is crazy as I have always been opinionated and outspoken). Little did I know he was gaslighting me.
Gaslighting - Gaslighting is a term that originated from a play by Patrick Hamilton called, “Gaslighting.” It causes a victim to question what is real and can make them think they are losing their minds(https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-10-14/heres-where-gaslighting-got-its-name).
My abuser would plant ideas in my head and convince me that something was my idea, which left me in a position of being unable to argue since it was “my idea” after all. Meanwhile, I would be left confused and unhappy that I had ended up in a situation that I thought I was adamant about not being in.
Hoovering- You can read more about hoovering here, but for now: when an abuser feels like you may be distancing yourself, they will use this tactic to suck you back into an abusive relationship. With hoovering, the abuser will shower you with gifts, compliments, or trips, causing you to reconsider your stance. I will never forget an instance of hoovering that happened to me during my relationship. I plan to share my experience in my next blog post.
If you think you’re being abused…
I never thought I would become a victim of abuse, but I was (and still am as we share children). If you think you may be a victim of abuse, you’re not alone. You can get help, and you can be happy again. Reach out to your family, friends. Find a therapist. Research your options, and as always, feel free to reach out to the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) ; TTY: 1-800-787-3224 ; https://www.thehotline.org/ .