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Abusive Relationships

As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety and trauma, I've worked with hundreds of women in abusive relationships so I'll share some of what I've learned in the hope that it might help an abuse victim.

1.  The longer you put up with abuse, the harder it will be to walk away.

When I work with abused women, my job is to convince them that the abuser won't change and all she can do is GET OUT. It's not an easy thing to accept. Her self-esteem is at rock bottom. Deep down, she doesn't believe she deserves better than this... She's afraid that no one else will ever love her. She's afraid of what her partner might do if she should leave... She often wants to believe that their love is so 'special' that it will somehow get them through this.

2.  No abuser starts abusing on your first date. First, he must win you over. Then, he must wear down your self-esteem. No one with a healthy sense of self-esteem allows abuse. The most effective (and least detectable) way to lower your self-esteem is to poke fun of some weakness or mistake of yours. He does it in the spirit of 'only kidding' or teasing but it becomes a running joke that subtly affects you... makes you feel less than others.

3.  The mental health field has an abysmal record of 'fixing' abusers. That's because controlling another person is a deeply-seated need for controllers. And losing one's temper becomes a habit. It's like a drug. It is a great feeling of release ...a rush... for the person who is losing his temper. Once you have given yourself permission to express RAGE with another human being and have gotten away with it, no one can take it away.

4.  Blaming is a common aspect of abuse. To believe that the answer is to change YOURSELF is to buy into the abuser's excuse. How many women have told me that their spouse "warned" them that, if they said one more word, they wouldn't be responsible for the outcome? Then, of course, the victimized spouse says something and gets hit... and tells me how it was, ultimately, HER FAULT because he warned her.

Bullshit! There is NOTHING any woman could say to me... NOTHING any woman could do to me that would make me hit her or be emotionally abusive to her. You could get me to walk away... that's all.

5.  'Controllers' always need to be right, seldom apologize, and always place blame elsewhere. They know exactly what we should all be doing and spend tons of time 'teaching' it to us and correcting and criticizing us... and yet they're some of the least happy people on the planet!

There is an unspoken agreement in every successful, healthy relationship: "I'm not perfect and you're not perfect. I'll live with your imperfections if you'll agree to live with mine. I prefer to go through this life with you."

In an unhealthy relationship with control issues, the unspoken attitude is, "Here is PERFECT (hand held high) and here is YOU (hand held low). I'm going to devote my time and energy to pointing out the difference."

6.  Abusers often grew up with an abusive parent. If Dad hit or attacked emotionally when he was angry, then a child learns that it's a normal expression of anger.. Emotionally-healthy men learned the opposite lesson.

7.  Abusers often isolate their victims. He doesn't like your friends and/or family and does his best to sever or weaken your ties with them. He has worked very hard to get you under his emotional control. An objective friend or relative who actually cares about you will often see right through his game and could ruin things for him.

If you believe you might be the victim of an abusive relationship, confide in as many friends as you can!

8.  Abusers apologize so they don't have to find and train a new victim. Here is what's called the "Cycle of Abuse":

Tension building phase

This phase occurs prior to an overtly abusive act, and is characterized by poor communication, passive aggression, rising interpersonal tension, and fear of causing outbursts in one's partner. During this stage the victim may attempt to modify his or her behavior to avoid triggering their partner's outburst.

Acting-out phase

Characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents. During this stage the abuser attempts to dominate his/her partner, with the use of physical or emotional violence.

Reconciliation/Honeymoon phase

Characterized by affection, apology, or, alternatively, ignoring the incident. This phase marks an apparent end of violence, with assurances that it will never happen again, or that the abuser will do his or her best to change. During this stage, the abuser expresses overwhelming feelings of remorse and sadness, to minimize any consequences for his actions. Some abusers walk away from the situation with little comment, but most will eventually shower the partner with love and affection. Some abusers may threaten self-harm or suicide to gain sympathy and/or prevent the partner from leaving the relationship. Abusers are frequently so convincing, and victims so eager for the relationship to improve, that victims who are often worn down and confused by the longstanding abuse, stay in the relationship.

Although it is easy to see the outbursts of the Acting-out Phase as abuse, even the more pleasant behaviors of the Honeymoon Phase perpetuates the abuse because the victim is now convinced that the relationship isn't all bad... convinced that there is hope... and the abuser has successfully avoided any consequences for his actions.

Calm phase

During this phase (which is often considered an element of the honeymoon/reconciliation phase), the relationship is relatively calm and peaceable. However, interpersonal difficulties will inevitably arise, leading again to the tension building phase.

9.  It's important to understand that, in most cases, the abuser does not do these things consciously. They do them automatically, which is worse. Where there is a conscious effort, there can be a conscious choice to stop. Automatic behaviors are not a matter of choice. The last breath you took was not a conscious choice. Abusers abuse as thoughtlessly as they breathe.

10.  Many of you protect your abusive partners by keeping his ugly little secrets. You may feel embarrassed to admit you're in an abusive situation. You must understand that when you keep his behavior a secret, he wins. He stays in control. You need to tell as many people as possible what he is like. In the long run, it's your insurance policy. He is limited as to how he can hurt you and what he can get away with when people in your life know what he's capable of.

Also, there are women's shelters in many areas that will work with you and help you to leave quietly and without incident. It's worth looking into. It costs nothing to talk with people who understand and are there to help.

~I hope that any of this may be of help to someone.
musicbook musicbook 61-65, M 19 Responses Jun 21, 2012

Your Response


I feel like that's my life.

Thank you ,this was very helpful,as a psychiatric nurse I have seen lots of abuse victims suffer from depression and anxiety disorders,visit psychiatrists when everybody knew that the sick person was the abuser.I myself come from an abusive background and got a "double whammy" when I met and spent seven years of my life with an abuser,that I did not leave soon enough for all the reasons elicited above in your post.My abuser did not have an abusive background,in fact his parents doted on him and his mother in particular in whose eyes he could do no wrong,his brother was a kind and loving man to his family,honest to a fault whereas my ex was a liar and a cheat who when we finally separated talked me into parting with a fairly large sum of money that my father had given me when he sold some property.I let him keep the money so that he would stay off my back as he promised.In fact he had suddenly decided we should get married when he knew of that money coming my way ,before this he did not want "to lose his freedom!" I was so naïve I did not even see his game! if ever I said things were not working out for us and I wanted out he would threaten to commit suicide and that I would have "his death on my conscience"there were also other threats which frightened me into staying.I will stop there because we would still be here at Christmas!

oh m G!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the story of my past relationship!!!! we were together 2 years, I have 2 kids from past marriage, I was sooooooooo emotionally devastated by the abuse but somehow, pregnant with my 2 kids, manage to move away rent an apartment and get out!!!!!!!!! stay away . i left a month and a half, please God give me strenght to stay away!

Report for abusive behavior.
He is a 53 y/o man preying on young and underage girls and is harassing a 23 y/o girl constantly. Report him so facebook will remove him and stop other girls from falling victim!

Growing up with a lot of emotional abuse, plus went through a mile storm of all mentioned above and then some. My husband had a very abusive step father which his mom feared therefore paid no mind to his abusive behavior out of fear. He can be a bit difficult but I can defend and talk back if needed. Thankfully he has a better nature about him although cops an attitude once in a while.

I hate abusive behavior in anyone in truly shows a shallow negative character and one who is very weak emotionally just like a bully.

Just wanted to add the moron I was with 23 years ago was the worst classic of the worst abusers.

growing up with an abuser I know and can spot the signs from a million miles away . . . they reek of it . . . still it seems more normal to me then a normal relationship . . . I know how to bob and weave so to speak . . . with a normal I feel lost . . .
great info . . . thanx for getting it out there . . . 8D

I wrote a story called, "Why do I keep choosing the worst possible partner?" You might like it... especially the 2nd part. ;-)

thank you . . . I'll check it out . . .

I suffered mental abuse for years. It was a gradual brainwashing process. By the time I was finally out of the situation I had to go through another long process of healing with counceling. But that also was hard to do as my abusive ex was so charming with both our families he managed to keep on abusing me through them.

You're right. It's very much like a brainwashing. And I've known lots of abusers who seem very personable and likable (and innocent) to the rest of the world.

Its so unfair what they do to the people they claim to love. And it is true that they usually don't like themselves. I can look back now and see that very clearly from actions and words said.

It IS unfair... and they don't know any other way to be. They don't admit to themselves that controlling you makes them feel powerful... They tell themselves that they're teaching you something valuable. Someone who truly loves you will go out of their way to make you feel loved, even when you make a mistake. Love is how you treat someone.

I feel if I had felt love as a child.....perhaps I could and would have had a much better insight to a persons true personality, and the marriage would never have happened. Guess I was looking for love.

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This is excellent advise.....I had gone through this 23 years ago with a real ahole.
I am currently married and he can BE A CHALLENGE but at least he is more tollerable
and NO I don't take any #$%$/ great work doc....

you hit home

"In nut shell" the first time is is physically or mentally abusive toward you " Walk Away and don't look back" AND FOR GOD'S SAKE never be taken in by the " Sorry I won't do it again" Saga.<br />
Just walk!!!!!

This is great sound advice.....I was with a horrible abuser many years ago. <br />
I am married now....he isn't any where as bad he just has moods and gets pissy <br />
but not out of control. This one is responsible works and pays bills. <br />
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My abuser use to steal my checks...bounce them, not work, run bills up and just make my life a complete living hell. Thankfully I got out of that a long time ago. <br />
<br />
Many Blessings<br />

Very good information. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for sharing this great informations. Since you experienced dealing with the victims, could you also share how to deal with family or friend that might suffer domestic abuse? Many of abused victim can't find her way out and need support from family and friend, but often, said family and friends have no idea how to help.

No easy answer to this as each circumstance and need is different. You can try to convince the victim that the abuse will continue (or worsen) until they do something about it; You can encourage the victim to seek professional help; You can help them move out and put them up somewhere safe (with a restraining order, if that exists in your country); If you live close by you can be an emergency contact... It really depends on the circumstance. The more people who know about the abuse, the harder it is for the abuser to escalate it. He can yell and scream (unless the neighbors know) or just quietly do his little guilt routine, but his hands are somewhat tied. The victim still needs to get out of the relationship but shining a light on the abuse often buys some time.

OMG! This just describes so much of my life. We've been married a long time, 2 kids. Except that all along He has had temper outbursts but has never hit me, or called me a name. Nevertheless I feel afraid of him, yelling & bullying. Recently he has been pushing me, stepping on me and hurting the pets! He has no concept that what he does is abusive. Even when his own daughter asks him to stop yelling it does not phase him in the slightest. He believes he is always right. He has me feeling worthless most of the time. Worst is I stayed. I should have left long ago, even before we were married. But now he has trained our son to be just like him. I am afraid that if I divorce him I will wind up a.) putting our children through a hell just like what I went through when my parents divorced, b.) curtailing their opportunities in life, c.) losing custody of them because my hubby will say I am gay and he is correct although I never cheated on him, d.) become poor, e.) suffer alone because I have breast cancer now....f.) and I will lose our friends because not only is he demure and non-threatening to the outside world, he is involved in the temple - a veritable pillar of the community & he will make it look like I was hurtful and unstable -the one to blame for everything as usual.

Is their a way to spot the abusers from the begging?<br />
Is the abuser going to abuse anybody? <br />
Do they need special conditions, or special characters for the victim?

The only way to spot a potential abuser is by 'feel'. They start out being very charming. When they feel enough familiarity they might tease or joke at your expense. That's the first step in lowering your self esteem. They may, instead, start correcting you, criticizing you, 'teaching' you... The important thing is, instead of this person making you feel GOOD about yourself, he is systematically making you feel BAD about yourself.~Yes, the abuser will be abusive with any partner. He is only drawn to partners who can be manipulated emotionally.

1-What do you mean by manipulated emotionally?

2-I personally believe that women in abusive relationship refuse to leave because the believe strongly that they will be abused again, so if they get to learn how not to repeat te same mistakes that will give them self confidence, and hope of a better tomorrow.

This is the best thing I have ever read about this topic. I love how you go starting from the beginning dissecting the ill relationship explaining every thing. AMAZIN.<br />
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Thank you so much

As a former victim of domestic violence, I applaud you for sharing this information. Just reading it allowed me to recall all the parallels to that disaster of a so-called 'relationship'. Most victims are completely unaware that the relationship is abusive until they are deeply invested in it, and that is why they so often find it difficult to leave. In my case, mental/emotional abuse was a precursor, and I was pregnant when the physical abuse began -- and I was being brainwashed into thinking it would be selfish of me to "break apart my family" if I were to leave. (I found out later, through research, that the abuse of pregnant women is extremely common due to the heightened level of stress and increased vulnerability of the female.) I was lucky enough to escape before he caused a miscarriage.<br />
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It's important to remember that abusers VERY RARELY ever change; it's how they are wired. It takes time, effort, and a lot of therapy to learn a different way of life... and, more importantly, the abuser must WANT to change (which most don't, because they rarely admit they have a problem at all). <br />
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With that being said: if you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, the best answer is to run (not walk) before it's too late.

Thank you for writing this topic. I am in a very abusive marriage and my husband is 9 years older than me. I have been married to him for 6 1/2 years and I'm so scared to leave. (financial, he will find me, afraid to start over). He is 42 and I'm 33 years old. He just killed my kitten yesterday and I am so disturbed over it. I don't know what to do, I'm not perfect myself but he treats me so bad and I know I deserve better. By reading your article today, I just finally and realized I have low self-esteem. I have always been a very confident plus size woman and when I dated guys in the past if they did me wrong or if they were no good for me, I would leave them alone. This is my first marriage and I have been through so much physically and mentally. I just want to thank you for sharing your words and thoughts. I feel so alone and I am so hurt and confused

you just described every aspect of my life, so many years have passed, so much fear, so scared of another failure at an attempt at life. every word you wrote screamed at me. now i can't help but cry, as i leave my house a lot now and stay with my kids, he just called and informed me that a motorcycle is not built for big women like me. He weights about a hundred more pounds than I do, no I am not with the same shape as i was before, but the cut downs come even when he is there and I am not there to hear, he calls. So I was reading your post when he called...<br />
In your study do older women ever break the chains???

Yeah. You're never too old and it's never too late to leave an abusive relationship. It's hard and it's worth it.