Why Is It So Hard to Recognize Abuse?


No really. Tell me more.

Recently I was talking to someone I don’t know that well and briefly referred to my previous experience in an abusive relationship. The person automatically responded with something along the lines of, “Well, maybe if you had realized what was happening sooner, you would have gotten out sooner.” After my eyes were done rolling out of my head (Please, tell me more obvious things about my own life, kind stranger!), I started to think about it. If this otherwise perfectly compassionate and reasonable-seeming person would react that way, this kind of thinking can’t be that rare. So I thought I’d talk a little more about why it is so hard to recognize abuse as it is happening.

I’ve already talked a little about this here: When Is It Okay To Call It Abuse? In addition to the pain of having to see yourself as a victim (and society definitely treats victims so well, amirite?), there’s also the difficulty in looking at your partner as an abuser. Abusers are monsters, and your partner is a human being, not a monster, so it can’t be abuse, right? Both abusers and victims have a huge incentive not to see view their relationship that way. The line is always just on the other side of what the abuser has actually done. Because if the victim admits what is happening, they are forced to uproot their whole world. If it’s abuse, they have to do something, like get therapy, find an apartment, or tell their abuse to kiss their entire ass.

But it doesn’t work that way. As you slowly become trapped, it is very much like the old metaphor of the frog in the pot. If you throw a frog into water that’s already boiling, it will do everything in its power to just back out and escape the obvious danger. But if you put them in cool water and slowly increase the heat, it won’t realize what is happening until it is already boiling alive.

thumbs up

It is not about this guy. Trust me.

And that is how abusers do it. No one smacks someone across the face on a first date. If they did, there would never be a second one. No. They slowly begin to isolate you from your family, friends, your favorite media, your talents, and everything else. Eventually the only choice you have is to invest even more into the relationship. It’s actually a bit like a reality dating show.

Let’s remove you from everything that makes you a full person. Your family, your pets, your hobbies, maybe even your job. Then let’s keep you isolated in a world where no one can be trusted. Let’s then dismantle your dignity by making you take part in strange, humiliating, and arbitrary challenges. But every now and then, in the midst of all the craziness, one person is nice to you. Not very nice, mind you. Just enough to remind you of the slightest shred of your humanity. Tell me you don’t become attached to that person, even if they’re also the one orchestrating it all.

And the way the contestants always cry when they’re kicked off? It’s not because they love Flavor Flav or Bret Michaels so much. It’s because they’re just had everything they are taken away from them, and now they’ve just gone through all this shit for nothing. But if they could have won, been handed the rose or the comically large clock, then maybe all this pain actually meant something. Maybe there was a purpose in the madness. Otherwise, they’ve just wasted a whole lot of time. They’ve taken on wounds that will take years to heal. And they have absolutely nothing to show for it.

Is it any wonder people stay?

Have you ever experienced those sunk costs? How did you cut your losses?

Consult with Midara.



Why Is It So Hard to Recognize Abuse? — 14 Comments

  1. As always a great and insightful post, Midara.
    The Stockholm syndrome really is a thing.

    I was in almost this kind of situation you describe in my previous serious relationship. Or, as I like to call it, the narcissistic abusive relationsh*t which made me so angry that I had to beat a pile of wood with a stick, screaming, before I lost some of my numbness and was able to feel the anger, the pain and the rage made it just a bit more bearable to breathe. Cleared a little piece of my heart to feel again. As you say: Pluto in the 7th – how bad can it hurt? A lot.
    It was like one, giant karmic pimple that gets all the crazy bagage out of you, because you adapt to do what your abuser does yourself and becomes a copycat of their behavior. Underway you see yourself, naked and raw, and what your parents left you with – their own misplaced anger, hurt and brokenness that they dumped on you.

    The rage after wasting so much time, having gained “nothing” to show for it (unless a deep self knowledge), is like one, big atomic bomb, clearing the space around it in the insane fire. It was like walking out of a burning pyre, clear and cleaned, burned down by the heat. The humiliation burn so brightly, your own shame over your own stupidity and naivité about a person strike you to the ground, and you become what they are: A self-loathing, self hating shell.

    I lost 10 stones, colored my hair red and forgot my “old” personality. Some heavy Pluto-Mars and Uranus-Moon transits was at play as well. I also didn’t want to be who I had been – I felt so stupid and naive about my own idiocy.

    So yeah, the cost of those years… they were harsh. But I learned a lot, even if that knowledge cost me dearly.

  2. I think every woman should read “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. It is so, so good at identifying signs of abuse and what’s more, it gives you your sanity back.

  3. Ya you are right.

    Also, I had to admit that he really didnt love me (was incapable whatever), because then it meant that my belief that I was unloveable was really true, and Id spent so much time trying to prove to myself and my parents and him and the world that I was loveable. That they were so wrong about me. So theres that loss of investment but also a core belief that I couldnt accept on its own terms. There was a schism in my mind, between being sent the message that I was not loveable and my inherent feeling of self worth.

    (Now, I understand a lot more about beliefs, so I understand that they change on the inside, not the outside).

    Also, wanted to say thank you for diving in to this topic Midara. Not just delving into it, but bringing a lot of your own self awareness into it. If you wrote a book on the topic, I bet it would benefit the world.

  4. It’s hard to recognize abuse because it’s conditioned and normalized in society sometimes. One example of social conditioning is: Men were taught that emotions are weak so when women requests emotional needs to be met, it’s usually rejected, dismissed or brushed off by men because they were taught that it’s weak! Women are labeled as too emotional, too nagging , too overreacting and NOT LOGICAL. Women always tend to question themselves and wonder if they are at fault or problem. How can you BE the problem or BE at fault when you are ASKING for your emotional needs to be met!??? That’s abuse!!!!!! Women get emotionally abused without knowing because it’s so normalized in society.

    Same goes for some religions where they start off with , “You’re a sinner! You’re bad! God will put you in hell!” then ends with “He is the only way for you to be saved.” God loves and forgives all his children.” FLAT OUT ABUSE if you’re verbally bullying someone and then claim that you love them at the same time.”

    No wonder we can’t tell what abuse is.

    • Well, women are not valued in some ways, and… just anecdotally, it would seem to me it partly comes down to feminism.

      I heard a drop dead gorgeous girl say the other day that she wanted a family. I have heard that said a few times. Now to really think about what that is, what she is offering… what VALUE she is stating she wants to give the world. It is near infinite. She wants to grow and nurse a child and give her husband/ child etc. her love into old age.

      But our society just isn’t poised to think like this, to value this. The girl is encouraged to not speak this kind of thing outloud because they guy might be afraid of ‘commitment’ and that she should want a career and be an ‘independent woman’ etc.

      Just my perception. In order to write off women in the manner you are summarising they have to first be devalued, and for them to be devalued any gifts they offer must be!

    • It’s also normalised through TV series, films, songs etc. A quick look at most creative works shows that emotional abuse is widespread, and it also makes money. I really hope that our species evolves past this.

  5. People who have never been in that type a relationship do not understand why you stay. Thanks for your input Midara. I am thankful that I got help through a domestic violence shelter. The people there understand and do not judge.
    I would like to encourage anyone who is reading this and is in this situation to contact a Domestic Violence Shelter for guidance.

  6. Great post, Midara. I would add there are many moments of confusion about what it all means to the abused. Perhaps having an aflicted chiron and/or moon or strong neptune/12th house dictates this. But at some point, just like with any other battle you fight in life (studies, health, career, etc), you kinda need to decide if the “obstacles” (a word i used to describe or how i perceived the abuse then) are what you need to endure/overcome to achieve happiness or, on the contrary, if it is in fact abuse. It wasnt for me a matter of having something to show for in the end. I strongly accepted it was part of the journey to healing both of us. Weird isnt it… ah neptune…

    • He has chiron conjunct venus natally. He wasnt abused as a child (although he inherited his narcissistic family psychosis from his mom) but, you know… chiron/Venus in the 6th in Gemini near the dc… I know he doesn’t feel worthy. I do know his demons. He could turn violent and verbally abusive. But he also has great potential (NN in pisces)… I feel sorry for him. Way too much money and drugs on his hands :/

  7. While that sounds like absolute hell what you went through. The fourth and fifth paragraph. especially the fifth; and it is a qualitatively different experience to other problem people have in relationships.

    I tend to think, as others have said, that it is partly the lack of education. Someone in my vicinity is dealing with a strange situation where there is evidence of subtle negative intent that has created a toxic environment in a workplace, probably for decades (I actually mentioned the boiling frog analogy but didn’t use the terms ‘boiling frog’ I mean… that’s just nasty). But the behaviours causing this are those someone might brush over, and, when I said to this person ‘I’ve been researching narcissits in the workplace and they do x’ the response is… ‘Oh my manager does that’ and then we both forget it, but no, it is important.

    If a person is not educated as to some of the types of people that do those behaviours they just can’t see it, and it can happen that no one believes them. A lot of people just can’t believe that others have a negative intent that is well hidden, especially if that person is nice to them.

    I have watched a woman called ‘Permission to exist’ who has a few hundred perhaps videos on narcissists. Quite a lot talk about it actually. I also, on her guidance, have one of the well known books in the area called ‘controlling people’ by Patricia Evans.

  8. Because some people aren’t that smart, LOL. I’m not talking about the person in the abusive relationship, I’m talking about the other people putting in their two cents about the relationship.

  9. Been through this scenario quite a few times, starting with my parents targeting me, then partners, employers, you name it. I cut my losses when it became way too destructive for me (physically, emotionally, financially) to remain in any of those relationships. It took a complete cut from all of them for me to finally start feeling good!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *