Abusive relationships are tricky because it isn’t always as clear-cut or obvious that one is in an abusive relationship until much later. As it becomes more apparent, leaving is difficult on multiple levels. People who haven’t been in an abusive or toxic relationship can’t fathom the intricacies of the psychological damage and mind games that are played onto a victim. It can take years for one to leave because an abuser knows exactly how to control you and leaving is much harder than it seems.
So, we spoke to Karina Calver, the Founder of Hukam Healing and a TEDx speaker to understand more about reasons that hold victims back from getting out of an abusive relationship and here are the 4 reasons she mentioned:
1. Dangerous to Leave
On a practical level, an abusee is well aware that they should leave but the reason it is hard to do so is that they fear if they actually can. What this means is, the consequences of leaving are what obstruct an abusee from walking out of a toxic or abusive relationship. The attempt of leaving (in an abusee’s mind) may seem more dangerous than staying. The possible risks can be physical (even being killed) and/or emotional abuse along with taking the abusee’s passport, phone and money so the abusee is trapped and powerless.
2. Emotional Rollercoaster Ride
An abuser knows how to win their victim back after putting them down. The apology, sweet-talking, presents, etc. are tricks used to earn the abusee’s trust back. They then second-guess their initial reasons for leaving. If you’re a victim, you would tell yourself something along the lines of, “He/she isn’t so bad. He/she feels sorry for what they did and he/she says they love me.”
For an abusee, feeling belonged and wanted trumps over the emotional rollercoaster because it is done extremely cleverly. So the mind goes into believing their words over the victim’s own intuition. However, when the abusee starts letting themselves in again and accepts their apology, this reoccurs. It is a vicious cycle, which keeps the victim tiptoeing around, unsure what explosive act they will see next or when. The sweetness of the honeymoon phase followed by abuse is another ploy of an abuser.
Manipulation is that undercurrent that goes without notice. One can’t quite see they’re being manipulated especially when it is subtle and done over a period of time. It blends in with everyday behavior. The effect of being manipulated is that it damages the victim’s self-esteem, which can lead to an abusee not recognizing the effect and believing they had asked for it or that it is their fault. The gaslighting done causes the victim to in turn apologize for doubting their partner or for provoking them, which in turn gives more power and control to the abuser and the manipulation only strengthens.
4. No Support
When one is in an abusive relationship for an extended period of time whereby the person you’re with despite being abusive is also your family, it becomes almost impossible to leave. If an abusee doesn’t have support outside of this person, walking out seems bleak. Emotional support is essential to feel like someone is there for you. But aside from emotional support, financial support is another reason many stay.
If you’re the victim in an abusive relationship and are dependent on this person to take care of you financially, then walking out and not having anyone else to turn to for help becomes another reason to hang on despite it being dangerous to stay.
When a person does leave and it is usually after years of being controlled, manipulated, brainwashed and gaslit, the damage done takes years to undo. If you know someone in a toxic relationship, telling him or her to just leave only pushes him or her away from you even further. Bear in mind that if leaving were that easy, wouldn’t one just do so? Understanding the internal struggle an abusee goes through will shed more light on why one stays for years (when they do) and holding space for them when they lean on you is paramount so they can get back on their feet.