What effect do abusive relationships have on the partners of abusers?
Both emotional and physically abusive relationships take a deep toll on the partners of abusers. Self esteem is worn down, sense of options evaporates, self-care is compromised, and the power of choice is eroded. Partners of abusers may experience clinical depression, denial, chemical dependency, extreme codependency, and suicidal ideation or attempts. The abused partner frequently clings desperately to the abuser, believing that it’s all they deserve or will ever get.
Partners of abusers experience denial of the abusiveness, both from their partners and internally. This denial is very much like the denial experienced by addicts, and just as life threatening. Denial and the loss of self esteem often cause the abused partner to remain extremely loyal to the abuser. (Until the denial about the abusiveness is broken through.)
Chemical dependency in one or both partners is extremely common in abusive relationships. The isolation of abusive relationships provides an ideal climate for the progression of addictions.
There is a way out! Read What to Do about abusive relationships.
The following passage is from the book The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel, MFCC. Although the book is directed at women, it applies equally to both sexes.
Emotional abuse is any behavior that is designed to control another person through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults. It can include verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased. Emotional abuse is like brainwashing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in her perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it be by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance” or teaching, the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient loses all sense of self and all remnants of personal value.
Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be longer-lasting than physical ones. With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations slowly eat away at the victim’s self-esteem until she is incapable of judging the situation realistically. She has become so beaten down emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to the abuser.
Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them.They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their ultimate fear is being all alone.
There is a way out! Abusive relationship recovery is a long and painful process. The first step is realizing that you cannot change your partner’s treatment of you. If they are unwilling to seek help or acknowlege the abuse remove yourself from the situation. Find a shelter or move in with safe friends. Sever all ties, as the abuse may escalate when you leave. Ongoing contact with the abuser can throw you back into the shame spiral and keep you from moving forward with recovery. (One of the tactics of abusers is to grind your self esteem down so that you remain with them, believing you can’t have or don’t deserve better treatment.)
Working with others who have experienced what you’ve been through can help break the denial and rebuild self esteem. Honor yourself by refusing to allow the abuse to continue. Remember that by staying you condone the abuse and enable abuser in staying sick. Read more about What to Do to take care of yourself.