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Thursday, May 20, 2010

T3 - Top 10 Reasons Why Characters Would Stay In Abusive Relationships

In order to create more realistic fiction scenarios involving abusive relationships, I had a request to delve a little deeper and give insight into the couple dynamic.

The following 10 reasons why people stay in abusive relationships will be in bold black, and the counter-argument that might be able to "break them free" from the abuse you inflict on them in your novel will be in bold red.

#1) Love. Probably one of the most often-cited reasons. They love the partner and experience times when their partner is loving toward them. It's also painful to admit that someone you love would hurt you, so due to the very real love the victim feels, they will downplay the abuse or convince themselves that it's really not that bad.

Just because you love someone doesn't make them healthy for you. Leaving a person won't shut off your feelings for them, but it will put the victim in a more rational position to look at the relationship for what/how it truly is.

#2) Hope. They have memories of happier times and want to hold on to optimism that those times will return. They might believe the "key" to their happiness lies in a simple change to be had by the abuser---that one day, he will keep to his promise to change or that if the victim just does something differently, the abuse will stop.

Since the victim isn't the one doing the abusive acts, there is nothing they can say or do to change their behavior to end the abuse. The abuser will promise to change in the honeymoon stage, but the only sure-fire way to end the abuse is to end the relationship.

#3) Self-Blame. The victim might begin to internalize the words from the abuser that it was "something they did to deserve the abuse." The partner can say it's the victim's fault, and the victim might actually start to believe it.

You can only control yourself, not the actions of others. There is nothing the victim can do that deserves to be hurt under any circumstances. The abuser is 100% at responsible for what they are doing.

#4) Shame. It might be too difficult or embarrassing to admit what's really going on to friends or family because you're afraid of what they will think about you. One big possibility that might taunt the victim is if they said, "I can't believe you were so desperate for love that you settled for that guy."

If you aren't the one doing the abuse, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. People who might say something similar to the above statement aren't educated about domestic violence. There are people out there who won't judge you.

#5) Comfort. Many people grow up with violence in their families of origin. If a child was ever hit and told by a parent that they did it because they love the child, then they could grow up to think and accept that love and violence together.

Physical abuse is not about love--it's about gaining power and control. There is nothing normal about violence accompanying love. Love is antithetical to power and's patient, kind, not envious, boastful or proud. Love isn't rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrong. It doesn't delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, persevered. Love never fails.

#6) Hopelessness. The victim may feel that they'll never warrant a relationship where they are treated any better, especially if they have gone from one abusive relationship to the next. They are willing to settle for an abusive relationship than being alone. There is a certain amount of co-dependence in this viewpoint for sure.

There are more people in the world who don't abuse than who do. Respecting yourself enough to believe you are worthy of a relationship that doesn't harm you might require therapy. The fact is, victims are strong people who endure tremendous much.

#7) Fear. If the abuser has ever threatened to harm or kill someone the victim cares about if the victim leaves, then the victim will stay shackled in the relationship to protect those loved ones.

If threatened, it's important for a victim to have a safety plan in place that they can act on quickly. The plan needs to include "cues" that might serve as warning signs of impending abuse, what things have worked in the past to protect themselves, leading escalating arguments into designated more public places, phone numbers that can be called for assistance, names/numbers of people who are willing to help out if you turn to them, a code word used to let those people know you're in danger, an escape route to safe locations and/or medical care.

#8) Guilt. Abusers are very good at playing guilt trips, and will tell victims how much it would hurt them if the victim left. They often will tell the victim that they would commit suicide.

Guilt trips are just one way abusers try to manipulate victims. It wouldn't be the victim's fault of the abuser actually followed through with a suicide threat.

#9) Religion. Interesting, this one. A victim might feel a messiah complex of sorts and want to rescue, change, fix, heal, and save their partner through being loyal and staying with them. Many Christian women in abusive relationships will quote Scripture about how "God hates divorce" in order to justify staying with the abuser. If they married couple has children, they also become a reason to stay, the victim believing that the child will be better off with two parents instead of one.
Oooh. Tough one to combat! No amount of loyalty or understanding will change the partner. Besides, loyalty must be earned, and someone who is supposed to love you but abuses you instead has betrayed your trust. As for children, witnessing domestic violence is extremely psychologically damaging to a child. It's better for a child to live with one non-violent parent than with two parents in an abusive relationship. Who's to say the abuser won't turn on the child? Visitations can be set up for the child to interact with the abusive parent in a safe setting. If they are real sticklers on divorce, then you can say leaving a person to maintain safety doesn't necessitate a divorce.

#10) Isolation. Abusers will often isolate a victim to the point where they have no close connections with family or friends. If the victim should ever choose to leave, then they might feel they'd have nowhere to go but a shelter or on the run. Victims are frequently dependent financially on the abuser--the abuser makes sure of it, as this is yet another technique to isolate.

Friends and family will be more supportive than you think. Often they resent the abuser for cutting them off from the victim and would be more than happy to step in and offer support if called upon. They'll likely be relieved to be asked finally! There are also programs out there designed for people in abusive relationships to gain financial independence.

I hope this sheds some light into how you can make your characters who are abused be more realistic in their arguments to stay with the abuser. Next Thursday, I'll *try* to take you inside the head of an abuser. Not exactly fun stuff, but helpful in creating vivid, realistic characters!

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Jill Kemerer said...

Great post, Jeannie. More great motivations for real issues. Have a great weekend!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Oh, this is so good. Thank you for your deep compassion and talent as a writer and a therapist. I want to share this post with so many people. In my current drama, my MC is in a verbally/emotionally abusive relationship. She has a recurring line, "It's not that bad." And, yet, her spirit is being killed off ever so slowly.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

This is an excellent list, thank you Jeannie. Great fuel for both sides of the situation, and it's up to the characters whether they can get through about the reality of the situation.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Very interesting. I love how you broke it down for me...I will keep this in mind for my next characater. Thanks Jeannie

Tory said...

As the mother of four children, three of which are girls, I cringe at the thought of one of them being involved w/ someone abusive. My husband and I are both Christians and believe we set the example for how our children interpret intimate relationships.

Yes, at times my husband and me feel both mentally and physically drained, but we never allow our frustrations to compromise the foundation we've set for our kids. It's sad, however, that many teens are not raised by both mother and father living under one roof.

I only hope and pray that the example we've set for one another will exemplify what a loving relationship should be during those petulant years for our girls.

Thanks for bringing this issue to light! Tory Minus

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.