Abuse: Through the Eyes of the Abused (Part 2 of 2)
(This is the second part of a two part series. Click to read Part 1)
Abusers typically dismiss the idea of seeking professional counseling assistance as they project their anger and rage onto those closest to them. They see no wrongdoing on their part. They are either unable or unwilling to comprehend the psychological wreckage that they foist on their loved ones.
Generally, it is the abused client that shows up at my office. The abused patient looks like she has been held hostage in a war zone. A sense of numbing radiates from this victim during the onset of the counseling process. It is not uncommon for the abused to seek therapy under the illusion of "saving" a relationship. The victim may have chronically been assaulted either verbally and/or physically by a partner and yet may hold out hope of fixing the partnership.
Those who have been abused generally have experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotional upheaval. They have learned to doubt their own instincts, minimize the pain of betrayal, and have succumbed to the manipulation, or power and control of their mates. They will talk about horrid manifestations of abuse without any emotional intensity attached to the experiences. The discussion of their stories comes across as an afterthought.
Nevertheless, for some reason, the abused have come for assistance. They may have read all the right books and sought refuge through support groups and shelters. It is not unusual for the abused to bring books on anger management or mood disorders to my office, looking for validation that they are on the right rack in their journey toward relationship repair.
It has been my experience that the abused victim has a "poor picker." The picker is the selection criteria that emerges out of the life experience of the victim. Often, the victim has lowered her standards in relationships, believing that it is her lot in life to settle for whatever comes her way.
The abused do not believe that they deserve the best in their most intimate connections. Many have no perspective for what a healthy relationship looks like. They may choose to commiserate with misery because they are used to living in a dysfunctional comfort zone; or they may fear leaving a relationship because they anticipate further retaliation; or they may lack the courage to move forward into the unknown of experience. Regardless, they feel stuck and look outside of themselves for some type of validation and resolution.
Assertiveness is not an asset of the abused. Most have never set appropriate limits or boundaries in relationships. On the contrary, the victim tends to acquiesce to the needs of others. Giving away one's sense of self, they allow their partner to have his way as they justify rage and anger as an appropriate reaction to interpersonal contact. The abused lack the ability to stick up for themselves, because on some level they feel that the abusive reaction may be warranted. Over time, the abused develop a belief system in which they are unable to see the "forest from the trees." The victim internalizes the rage and anger of their partner and believe that they must be doing something terribly wrong to deserve such treatment.
The abused want to believe that there is a magic bullet to fix their partnership. They tend to overlook the abusive experiences and dwell on specific incidents of well-being in the relationship. Minor "victories" may overshadow the trauma of repeated abuse.
The abused tend to get hooked into the cycle of victimization. They may "victim-posture", meaning that they play out the role of the victim to gain sympathy from friends and family. Their codependent neediness may keep them tied to a relationship that is toxic. The abused may feel that they have no options other than holding onto the relationship. They may envision that it is the counselor's responsibility to alter their relationship, rather than assist the abused in facing their own needs, "blind-spots", and responsibilities.
To review, here are some of the characteristics associated with those who have been physically and/or emotionally abused:
- The abused individual desires to fix her partner.
- The abused tend to have lowered expectations in a relationship. They don't feel they deserve better.
- The abused partner tends to mistrust his instincts. He believes he must have done something wrong to warrant the abuse. He internalizes the rage and anger.
- The abused partner lacks assertiveness skills. She allows her partner to control and manipulate.
- The abused partner tends to be a caretaker, focusing attention away from her own needs.
- The abused partner minimizes the trauma of abuse and dwells on events that make the relationship appear normal and healthy.
- The abused partner "victim-postures", playing helpless and seeking the sympathy of others.
- The abused partner may commiserate with misery by staying in a relationship, even though there are no realistic options for improvement.
- The abused partner looks to others to repair the torn relationship.
Why is it that a partner being abused may leave a relationship for a period of time only to return? This pattern is quite disturbing, particularly for those who work with battered individuals. The abused partner may be addicted to the unhealthy nature of a volatile relationship. All of the "blind-spots" that I have mentioned are contributing factors to this phenomenon. It is human nature to stay with what we know best. If we are familiar with trauma, we may stay with it for no other reason than it feels comfortable to us Ã¢ï¿½ï¿½ and this is the tragedy of the abused.
James P. Krehbiel is an author, contributing writer to FamilyResource.com, and a cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached through his website at krehbielcounseling.com.