For a very long time I used to wonder why do abused women stay in an abusive relationship (of course both genders face abuse, but we mostly read about women). I used to think – if someone would treat you bad, logically you would cut off with that person. Why would anyone ever stay in a relationship that everyone else sees as abusive?
Abuse isn’t a straight forward mistreatment of someone. It is mixing love (or appearance of love) with control. The abused person is blamed for his/her hurt feelings, as if they deserved what is happening to them. The abuser flips the script where they abuse, but they blame the abused person for hurting them. Now the abused person thinks – ‘I am a good person. I didn’t mean to hurt him/her. But it must be my fault why these bad things are happening to me. Only if I try harder to please him/her, maybe it will stop.’ Soon it devolves into, ‘I am a bad person, that is why this is happening to me. This person claims to love me and claims I hurt him/her. I have to try even harder and prove that I don’t hurt him/her.’ And so the abused person stays, trying harder, working harder, doing anything to make things better. But nothing they do ever stops the abuse, because it was never their fault. It was always the abuser’s fault to maintain control. But a good person will always try to show that they aren’t bad when they are blamed for something they didn’t do. And that’s what someone in an abusive relationship does – they keep trying and trying to show they aren’t bad. With the false, toxic sense of love, the abuser breaks down their self-esteem till the abused person believes that he/she isn’t good nor worthy, and he/she must keep trying to please this person to feel a sense of worth. Why do they lose their self-esteem? Because they are constantly blamed for whatever the abuser is feeling. In the beginning the abused person might say that they didn’t do it. But over time they start believing the blaming and the accusations, that they must be responsible for whatever the abuser is feeling. And when they do what the abuser wants, they get a little bit of love which is like a dopamine shot to their brain. For a few days or weeks, they feel a sense of worth again. And it lasts till the abuser has a new need and the cycle starts again.
And abuse is one of the hidden curses of society. The abuser doesn’t look like a monster. They could be a smiling parent, spouse, or significant other. They could be highly respected members of society, or appear as good, normal people. The abused person might not appear like a miserable human being. They could your friend whom you think is a perfectly happy person. But what we see in public is always an appearance. Abusers are great at wearing a mask and showing a perfect side to the world. And deep down the abused know what is happening to them, and the shame of it makes them hide it even more. Abuse, be it sexual, psychological, emotional, or physical is the greatest harm to society – because it is hidden, because it self-perpetuates where the abused becomes the abuser, and because it rots the society from within where people live in fear, not happiness.
I finally got it, it is not the broken people who stay in an abusive relationship. It is good people who are broken down in a relationship with a person they absolutely trusted. A person they believed cared for their best interests or loved them. And in that belief, they do whatever they can to make that person happy. And that is abuse – power and control by one person, a desire to please and be considered good and be held blameless by the other person.