One of the bitter ironies of life is that abuse actually happens in relationships with high levels of trust. An abuser would not act abusive if he or she did not trust that the victim would not just stay, but also stay quiet. This includes physical abuse as well as emotional abuse. To understand abuse,…
One of the bitter ironies of life is that abuse actually happens in relationships with high levels of trust. An abuser would not act abusive if he or she did not trust that the victim would not just stay, but also stay quiet. This includes physical abuse as well as emotional abuse. To understand abuse, it is necessary to think of how the conditions for abuse are put in place, and the psychological perceptions of the abuser and the victim.
How it starts
There are three major steps in building a nest for lasting abuse.
Building trust: Most of the times, what spirals into abusive relationships start off lovely as the abuser builds trust with a prospective victim.
Isolation: This second phase has to do with cutting off the prospective victim’s network of trust, and in my opinion, this is indirect emotional abuse. The aim here is to reduce the possible number of people the victim can confine in.
After isolation, a person is prime for abuse because they have no one to go to, coupled with a society that frowns on relationship troubles, and especially for women, the stigma of a failed marriage possibly with children, and an unfriendly biological clock.
Testing: The third phase is to test the limits. The abuser will continue to test the limits of what the victim would take from just using the threat of violence till the violence is fully blown.
The major psychological factors surrounding the abuser can be split into three.
Associated experience with abuse: People with memories of direct abuse or from witnessing domestic violence can form unhealthy association with violence and love making it feel acceptable subconsciously. This is no different to how in certain parts of the world, physically beating children is frowned upon, but in Nigeria it is the most normal practice.
Insecurity: When people feel inadequate to be with someone, it is natural to feel a need to compensate for this position. This is most common in emotional abuse where abusers attack the victim’s self worth to bring him or her down to their level.
Control: Most common with egomaniacs, some people are not capable of not being in control of things around them, and they can stretch this to people too. This is the case when people try to use threats like stopping financial assistance. In societies where women are financially dependent on their men, this can be a very serious problem.
The most popular notion of victim that keeps them silent is the fear that people will judge them for taking too much, e.g How could she take him beating her for 4 years? It’s her fault for staying. To understand abuse it is important to also see it through the eyes of the victim that contributes silence to power the cycle.
Fear of quitting: For some people, the fear of breaking out of an abusive relationship can be enough reason to stay in. This is more common in situation where the abuser have offered a standard of life the victim has become adapted to. It is always worse in cases were a spouse is not financially dependent. There is also much to be said about the fear of harm and even death threatened by abusers. The fear of consequences of leaving can be crippling.
Societal pressure: What will people say? Seemly what we expect to be the last question on the mind of a victim, but this is a very real fear. While we may easily think no one would judge a victim negatively for speaking out, darker parts of the human condition can make us delight in the plight of others, especially those we initially considered perfect. There is also the general negative perception of relationship troubles in society. The same perception that discourages troubled couples to attend marriage therapy is often at play in silencing victims.
Jesus Complex: This is probably the strangest of rationalization, but some victims actually consider their abusers broken and misunderstood. They believe it is up to them to save the abuser from self-destructive patters.
Abuse continues to permeate society because it occurs in silence. Raising awareness, public education, and having safety nets for victims with care for their security and mental condition after breaking out of abusive relationships in necessary. With the right social encouragement and support available for victims, the first step words sorting abuse would be complete. Help should also be made available to abusers that might require rehabilitation.
Image via Diary of a Black Child