The Importance of Awareness
The problem with a lot of abusive relationships is that the “abused” becomes unaware that he or she is in an abusive relationship. They become completely unaware of the power dynamic within the relationship and how it is being used to control them.
Without awareness of the power dynamic, one can not change the power equilibrium for the better.
Where abuse is physical or sexual, awareness is more likely.
Emotional abuse, however, can be extremely difficult to detect. This is usually for two reasons:
- Emotional abuse works by affecting the abused’s self esteem. Once the self esteem is significantly affected, the abused begins to believe that he or she deserves the abuse, that it is their fault and doubts their own understanding of the power dynamic within the relationship.
- Emotional abuse can be masked by cultural ideology or the concept of romance within relationships.
I would like to point out two further important points with regards to emotional abuse.
- It is important to note, that Narcissistic Personality Disorder and abusive relationships are NOT gender specific. Men can be emotionally abusive, women can be emotionally abusive. There are emotionally abusive mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, girlfriends and boyfriends.
- A man or woman does not need a formal diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder/ Antisocial Personality Disorder or any other ICD-10/DSM diagnosis to be abusive.
- Mental disorder or a history of abuse does NOT under any circumstances legitimize further abuse.
Now that I’ve got the important print out of the way, let me focus, within this post, on the progression from the beginning of the relationship, where the “abused” is a person (some possible awareness), to the end, where the abused becomes the “other” (no awareness).
The “other” is some-one who has no thoughts, values or aspirations of their own. The “other” sees their life and their self image through the eyes of the abuser. As their minds have become enmeshed with their partner, they can not understand that they are abused. They are unaware.
Progression of An Abusive Relationship
At first, the abusive partner is seductive, charming, confident. He or she will seduce the other with money, sex or affection. A common term for this technique is described as “love bombing”. The victim-to-be will feel that he or she has met the person of her dreams, and this may literally be the case, for the abusive partner has recognised his or her fantasy and played it out accordingly. The relationship will happen fast and progress to commitment and later stages of the relationship quickly.
Once the “other” has become emotionally attached to the partner and has invested emotionally into the relationship, the abusive partner will begin to emotionally manipulate the “other”. He or she will use guilt and later fear as methods of manipulation.
The abuser will work on isolating the “other” from social support by devaluing and criticizing aspects of his or her family and friends or directly causing conflict with their relationships with others. The abuser will commence a campaign against the family, possibly stating inherited traits through genetic or environmental factors that are in place amongst the abused’s family.
The abusive partner will use methods such as the “silent treatment”, withholding affection and love for periods until the other learns to accept blame. One of the most dangerous methods is that of “gaslighting” a term used to describe relationships within which the abuser attempts to distort the truth, with the aim of making the other doubt his or her own memory or sanity, effectively rendering the other to believe that she or he is the defect and is the cause of the problems within the relationship.
“If only I can become better, everything will be OK.”
The other will begin to lose faith in his or her own ability, and, now isolated from his or her own social support network, will start to become more and more emotionally dependant on his or her partner. The abusive partner will incorporate waves of love and affection, followed by projected hatred and blame towards the other. The abusive partner will blame the other for this, further lowering the self esteem of the other.
Abusive relationships will make the abused feel that they are the abuser. The other, blaming himself or herself for the emotional pain within the relationship, will try to change him or herself to become better for the abuser. This will create the well known feeling of “walking on eggshells”. This system of conditional love will create a sense of conditional learning whereby behavior will be rewarded or punished in accordance with the abusers desires and wishes.
As time threads on, self esteem wears thin and blame and guilt is accepted by the other, the “other” begins to recognise his or her own sense of identity or self as unworthy, wrong, immoral and disgusting. He or she no longer trusts his or her own judgement or memory. His or her sense of enjoyment and happiness becomes fully associated with her partner.
The abused’s mind becomes synonymous with the mind of the abuser and his or her thoughts about the world becomes identical to that of the abuser. He or she disregards her own view, devaluing them just as the abuser has and leaning on the abuser to help her see the world as he or she sees it.
The other submits willingly to her abusive partner, believing unconsciously in the hope that he or she will make the abuser happy and they can then live happily ever after. He or she holds the abused as his or her savior from her previous ill mind, the voice of reason, the judger and the moral compass of righteousness. The other has left his or her previous identity and become a voiceless, unheard object, ready and willing to serve the glorified master within the relationship.
Who is the abuser?
- The abuser within these types of relationship may very well suffer from a personality disorder, an example of which may be narcissistic personality disorder.
- The abuser may have had an abusive past themselves, and underneath their false image may themselves have a low self esteem.
- They may need to be in a relationship within which they can control the other out of a hidden insecurity and fear that the other will leave them.
- They may be emotionally dependent on an object providing them with a constant amount of love and affection, but within this the object does not need to recognized as a person. In fact, recognizing the object as a person is dangerous to the abuser, for any criticism towards the abuser would then have to acknowledged. Instead, the abuser devalues and degrades the other, forming the other into an object who’s criticisms, opinions and emotions have no intrinsic value.
- The truly dangerous abuser will genuinely believe that the way that the abuser behaves towards the other is for the other’s own good, as a part of the other’s training to be better, to fix the inherited negative genetic traits and to eventually become like a person, for without him or her, the abuser sees the abused as less than an object, but rather, nothing.
Why does the abused defend the abuser’s actions?
One may wonder how or why the other remains in such a relationship and why he or she always defends the abusive partner when challenged. Why is it that he or she will defend the abuser towards any of his or her friends and family who express their concerns? This is likely due to the following:
- The abused believes unconsciously that it is her fault, just as a child often believes it is their fault when their parents argue. Due to the intense manipulation over the years, they blame themselves or their genetics or their own desires and wishes and will feel that by leaving the relationship, they will have failed their responsibilities and duties to their partner for their own perceived selfishness.
- It is likely that by this stage the abused will have sacrificed many years within the relationship and may also have children. It is extremely painful for the abused to acknowledge that they were never seen or loved as a person by their abuser, but only as an object. Denial for this reason is common.
- The abused has lost their own sense of identity, and they are now an extension of the abuser. Any attack on the abuser is felt as an attack on themselves.
- Having been manipulated to doubt their own judgement for many years, they will fear losing their abuser and facing the world on their own. They may also fear the abuser, for they have had a close insight to how he or she thinks towards others from the safety of his or her arms.
The effect of Abusive Relationships on Children
As time progresses within these relationships and as the abuser then begins to use the same manipulation tactics on the children, the abused may believe that that it is for their own good, for it is necessary due to the genetic faults that the abused has provided the child.
The child will grow up with an emotionally distant and neglectful father and a mother who will be deemed as having two sides to her personality- one when father is present and a more gentle, caring personality when father is not, or vice versa, depending on the gender of the abuser.
Only when the child becomes an adult will he or she realise the true nature of the parental relationship. Whilst he was younger, he may blame himself, or the “other”.
What About When The Adult Child Tries To Tell The “Other” The Truth?
The adult child after having realized the true nature of the abuser may then try to fix the relationship by challenging the other into also facing the true personality of the abuser. This will be difficult for the other to ignore, and, as much as he or she will devalue the adult child’s views as that of an irrational teenager, enough ammountable evidence against the abuser will lead the abused to a state of inner conflict, for it becomes more and more difficult to deny the objective reality.
Even at this stage, however, the abused will find it difficult to accept this and even if he or she were to agree on the nature of the abuser, he or she will deem it to be due to an underlying mental illness, which is of no fault of the abuser. “It is not his/her fault, that is just the way he/she is!”.
A Heavily Skewed Power Dynamic
This description indicates the extremes of abusive relationship, in which the power dynamic is skewed heavily to one side. My book “Whatever You Say Darling” explores power struggles and primarily provides advice for those relationships in which there is some power imbalance but not to the extent as is described above.
I must say at this point, that whilst my book may provide some education and insight into power dynamics, the advice within my book in terms of changing the power dynamic to a fairer equilibrium is primarily directed to those who have a polarized dynamic to a much smaller degree than depicted within this post.
Unfortunately, I believe that in extreme cases such as described here, the power dynamics are so deeply ridden within the relationship that restoration to a more fairer equilibrium is virtually impossible and fixing the relationship should not be the primary concern, but instead it should be the well being of the abused.
I would advise any-one reading this who feels that they are in an extreme power relationship to strongly consider leaving the relationship and seeking professional help and support. You deserve better.