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How to deal with an abusive relationship
By: Pulkit Sharma
Published on: Jan 20, 2015

Dr Relationships are source of greatest support and encouragement for a majority of us. Whether they are with our father, mother, sibling, partner, friend, teacher, boss, coworker or children- relationships add meaning to our life. However, whenever an important relationship turns abusive it can be extremely traumatizing. Abusive relationships deplete our self and cause a gamut of physical and psychological disorders. The negative effects of being in an abusive relationship are pervasive and long-term. In such circumstances people often look for ways to deal with an abusive relationship. Usually people try whatever best they can think of and the advice that their close ones give them. More often than not, the situation is very complicated and nothing seems to work. After repeated failures many people get depressed and some even contemplate suicide. Such extreme situations can be avoided if we understand our own mind and the psychology of the abuser; and make an informed choice.

Step 1: Acknowledge the abuse
Abuse can be sexual, physical or emotional. It is very surprising that often people who are in abusive relationships find it hard to recognize that they are being mistreated. This happens because the abusive person in the relationship uses a lot of terror and justification to weaken the self and the psychological reasoning capacity of the victim. When an individual is repeatedly told that they are bad and deserve to be abused, sadly a part of them starts believing this lie told by the abuser. I have had some clients who asked me whether they were being really abused or were they imagining it. I often tell them to just focus on and observe their experience rather than judging it.

Pain is straightforward. If someone is giving you pain, does not acknowledge it or justifies it despite your repeated attempts and, is unwilling to help you deal with it then it is abuse. Trust your emotional experience, it will clearly tell you whether you are being abused or not. Remember that everyone has flaws and having an imperfection gives no one a right to abuse any person. Therefore, you need to stop believing in the lie that you deserve being battered. Once an individual clearly recognizes that they are being harmed half the battle is won.

Step 2: Understand the mind of an abuser
Abusive people may not be easily distinguishable from non-abusers. Often they are quite well-adjusted in all other spheres of their life except for one or more close relationships. It is within the context of close relationships that they feel comfortable in revealing their core self. Therefore, don't get influenced by how the world sees your perpetrator. People may tell you repeatedly and powerfully that he or she is a very nice person and the fault must be within you but always remember that they may not have shared a very intimate relationship with the perpetrator.

Abusive people are often hungry for power and control. Making someone dependent and scared boosts their ego. They have high levels of aggression in their personality along with poor impulse control. This means that once they get angry they cannot channelize it in a constructive way and hurt others. Also, abusers have a high degree of narcissism in their personality. As a result they are extremely self-centered and focused on their own needs. They may have themselves been abused by someone and as a result seek to change roles. It gives them immense satisfaction that they are not weak and dependent but all these 'undesirable' traits rest in the 'victim.'

You need to understand what in the personality of the perpetrator is making him or her behave so. Most victims are very scared to talk to the abuser about the abusive encounters. However, in the moments when the perpetrator is calm and composed it is crucial to initiate a dialogue to understand their mindset.

Step 3: Understand your own attachment
People often have a need for intense attachment in the face of danger. The experience of abuse makes a person infantile and extremely vulnerable in that moment and that is why they develop an extreme attachment with the abuser. This influences their realistic judgment about the abusive relationship. They feel confused about how to deal with the abuse. Many victims try to distract themselves from the abusive aspects of relationship by focusing on positive aspects of the perpetrator. For instance, a female client would often tell me "at times I think that it is no big deal. He beats me up mercilessly but he also loves me and is very caring when in a good mood. Besides that he is an excellent father." Such type of reasoning is extremely flawed and is often based on anxiety.

Prolonged and severe abuse also makes a victim develop an addiction to pain. At the core, they feel acute emptiness and anxiety. In order to run away from these unpleasant emotions and find some stability they continue to be a victim. A gay client who saw me for psychotherapy shared that he allows other men to torture him because that makes him feel real and relieved. Otherwise he feels intense anxiety and vacuum. Understanding your own thoughts and feelings around an abusive relationship can enable you to reach an informed decision.

Step 4: Arrive at a decision and execute it
It is extremely important to arrive at a decision of what you wish to do. One can either try and repair an abusive relationship or quit it. As highlighted earlier, rational decisions can be reached when you acknowledge the damage caused by abuse and your own emotions and conflicts around it. Whatever you decide, it is extremely crucial to fix a deadline for yourself. Deadlines are very helpful because people usually go round-and-round in abusive relationships. Evaluate all aspects of the situation while arriving at a decision and then decide on a deadline. Once you have set a deadline stick to it under all circumstances.

In several cases, quitting is the only option because the abuser is either unwilling to change or does not even acknowledge that they have a problem. As discussed previously, quitting is not easy because the traumatized person feels extremely vulnerable, empty and dependent on the abuser. Therefore, one needs to venture out and establish a secure bond with others. Once you have developed new relationships that you can bank on or revived the existing ones, you will be in a better position to quit.

In some cases, people can try and repair the abusive relationship by changing its dynamics. Psychological analysis has shown that the abuser is not inherently powerful but he or she derives power out of the victim's fearfulness and submissiveness. Once a victim deals with his or her apprehension and becomes stronger, the abusive partner becomes weak. If you are keen to restructure the relationship, tell the perpetrator clearly and firmly what behaviors you cannot tolerate. If the abusive partner still carries on with those behaviors, you need to think of and enforce some deterrents or negative consequences. Besides this, encouraging the abusive partner to develop effective communication skills is also very helpful. Many abusive partners give up aggression when they have an alternative mode of communication to express their unpleasant emotions.

The take home message is that silence and passivity never help but complicate the problem and increase the trauma in an abusive relationship. Therefore, under all circumstances one must take a risk and become proactive. Although there will be no miracle, some hope is any day better than doom.

 
Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytical Therapist at Imago- Centre for Self, Delhi. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com