When we’ve been in an abusive relationship for some time, a form of traumatic bonding takes place. It’s a bit like Stockholm Syndrome.
Named after the hostages of a bank robber in Stockholm started to feel sorry for and side with their captor.
When we first meet our abusive partner the emotional connection is intense. As the relationship progresses they start to isolate us from family and friends. Anyone who might give us a healthy reality check on what is happening. We may not be aware of it, but an unhealthy attachment to them starts to form.
We become dependent on the person who is hurting us. (trauma bond)
We need them to make us feel good after abuse. We numb our emotions. Our gut instincts no longer work and this only accentuates our denial. We believe our own rationalisations that the abuse isn’t as bad as we think it is.
Their manipulative tactics are also designed to make us accept responsibility for their behavior. We internalize this blame and rationalize that: If I hadn’t done this or that, they wouldn’t have got so angry. Had I not said this or that, the abuse wouldn’t have happened. We feel helpless. Trapped. I did. And I also kept how bad things were hidden from others. I didn’t reach out for help.
Until you can admit there is a problem, you won’t take steps to change it. Whilst you are convinced that you can affect them to change, simply by changing what you do and say. Whilst you keep changing your behavior and taking responsibility for theirs, you’re hanging onto hope things will one day be okay. So, you stay in the relationship waiting and hoping for it to improve. But the emotional and/or physical abuse only gets worse.
2) Admitting reality
This is when you start to admit to yourself the reality of what you have been denying and minimizing for so long. Admitting that my life was out of control was one of the hardest steps I had to take. For a long time, although I was able to acknowledge the severity of what I was experiencing, I was still paralyzed, unable to take steps to change it.
This is a time when your feelings shift back and forth from realizing you are a victim of domestic abuse to denial of it and back again. You love their good side, but you hate the bad. You are on an emotional roller-coaster. It’s a very confusing time.
The thought of leaving terrifies you. Even though they’re hurting you, you don’t want to lose the person you love. I still loved my ex. I had a son with him now and was desperate for us to be a family. I just wished the abuse would go away. I’d rather wait and hope he’d change.
Others might fear harassment or stalking if they leave an abusive partner. Or being left financially destitute, unable to get a job. Just the overwhelming fear of starting over again can be crippling, especially if it involves moving away and going into hiding, say in a domestic violence shelter.
At this point the fears of leaving outweigh the risks of staying. But there’s a huge gap between the often-exaggerated memories of the good times and the painful reality of how toxic the relationship has become. Even after my ex almost killed me by strangling me, I still convinced myself things would one day be okay. But gradually the balance tipped the other way. I moved into the next stage.
3) Preparing to leave
When we realize that sustaining the status quo means we put ourselves and our children in danger. We become aware we have no other choice but to leave. If not, the abuse will only escalate further. At worst, we risk losing out life.