When we think of abusers, many of us imagine someone like Michael Vick, teaching pit bills to tear each others hearts out while they stand by and laugh maniacally at the poor creatures pain.
We think of classic villains, real or otherwise, like O.J. Simpson, Chris Brown and Jack the Ripper and archetypes like the child molester trolling schoolyards for vulnerable kids, or the drunken parent with their slurred speech and alcohol fueled rage.
The reality is, though—while these types of people do exist—generally an abuser is someone who is flying well beneath our radar. They have normal looking lives and families that love them, and often, are extremely charismatic and intelligent.
The reality also is, many of these abusers manage to hide so easily in the open because they choose mental and emotional—rather than physical—abuse. It is much harder to conceal broken bones than it is a broken spirit.
Even if they do favor physical abuse, though, a relationship with an abuser—a romantic one anyway—almost never starts out as abusive.
Usually, it’s just the opposite.
When we become involved with an abusive person, we are often swept off our feet by their passion, their intuitiveness and their ambition. They may seem unlike anyone we’ve ever met before, and have a magnetic effect on us that is electrifying and hard to release once we discover it comes—not from a place of love, but from a need to control.
To those of us who are not abusive, this transition from adoring partner to unpredictable and frightening stranger seems incomprehensible. Surely the adoring partner must still be hiding inside there somewhere. And surely, if we say or do just the right thing, or wait long enough, or beg hard enough, the person we thought we knew will resurface eventually.
It is not uncommon for those of us trapped in abusive relationships to spend entire lifetimes—not necessarily trying to escape the abuse—but trying to transform the abuser back into the person we first imagined them to be.
Why would anyone wish to hurt me?
We miserably wring our hands and ask ourselves this unanswerable question time and time again. We deduce it is because someone has hurt them, and they need us to help them heal. Or they don’t know what they’re doing, and they need us to help them understand.
Or we really are deserving of their antagonism, and we need to learn how to be better.
Or all of these things combined.
And while part of this is probably true—someone has hurt them and they do need to heal—it will never be in our power as the abused party to make that happen. We have been devalued to the point where we have nothing positive left to contribute to the relationship.
Why do abusers abuse? If we are the aggrieved partner, we are already long past trying to figure that out.
The only thing we should be wondering is, why am I still around to receive it?
Abusive people don’t operate in a vacuum; they need a victim to feel “complete.”
As such, the relationship between abuser and victim can seem intensely powerful and elemental, and the victim can feel a sense of being needed that is highly seductive—even addictive.
But those of us who find ourselves in this situation must remember, we can not fulfill our own true destinies by allowing the dynamic to continue.
We can never grow or flourish if we remain.
The one and only way to end abuse is to walk away from our abuser, to release our fantasy of who we wanted them to be, and to believe in a world where we deserve to be deeply loved.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard