Why a Victim Stays or Returns
*None of these are being shared to provide victims with "excuses" for remaining with an abusive partner. These are being shared because if victims understand some of the reasons why they stay then those who do want to leave an abusive relationship can work on overcoming these:
Low Self-esteem/Depression: Self-esteem or self-concept is a measure of how we feel about ourselves. Low self-esteem creates feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness, taking away the self-confidence needed to make healthy, positive decisions and to solve difficult problems. When our own feelings and judgment cannot be trusted, solving even small problems becomes difficult. Low self-esteem and poor self-concept often lead to a medical condition called clinical depression which usually requires medication or therapy to be effectively treated.
Learned Helplessness: In abusive relationships, the abuser tries to maintain control of his/her partner's choices and actions by physically, sexually, financially, spiritually, and/or psychologically abusing him/her. If the victim tries to regain some control, any unsuccessful attempts at stopping abuse or violence can reinforce his/her feelings of helplessness. As a result the abused partner may give up trying to the cycle of violence or break free from the abuser altogether.
The feeling of passivity and paralysis which begin when a person is psychologically or physically battered can be reinforced by the response of family and friends who blame the victim or don't believe it really happened. The victim often has feelings of loneliness and inadequacy when facing the blank wall of non-understanding, unsupportive friends, relatives, and community members. Theattitude that family "problems" are private increases his/her feelings of isolation and fear. He/she feels there is no hope so no use trying to change anything. Often he/she has no experience in independent decision-making and is told by his/her spouse that he/she is crazy. Being dependent on the abuser increases the victim's chances of acceptance (at least partially) of this perception. He/she is extremely unsure of his/her ability to cope with the "outside world," and this increases his/her fear of insanity.
Learned Hopefulness/Conditioning: All abusive relationships have phases following the abuser's 'attacks' that are called The Honeymoon Phase, where the abuser is on his/her best behavior and 'rewards' the victim with affection, kindness, gifts, etc. These up periods can contribute to the victim becoming hopeful for positive change in the abuser, much like the conditioning of Pavlov's Dogs:
"Pavlov proved that all animals could be trained or conditioned to expect a consequence on the results of previous experience. For example, a child that is always given a cookie by a particular teacher will begin to expect that cookie every single time that they see the teacher. If the teacher always says the word 'yummy' before giving the cookie, the child will become conditioned to expect the cookie after hearing the word. The children would even begin to salivate at the appearance of the teacher or the word yummy after repeated conditioning."
A victim who is often enough rewarded after a verbally abusive or violent episode can become conditioned to remain and expect more rewards.
Denying and Minimizing/Guilt and Shame: are ways of coping with violence. Abused persons frequently deny being victims of abuse and assault, and that a pattern of abuse has been established. Most victims are used to looking after the emotional needs of their families. When the family's emotional well-being issuffering, as it does when abuse is present, the victim tends to blame him/herself as the victim believes he/she has failed in his/her role to look after the family. Some victims have hidden the abuse for years because of the guilt and shame they feel.
The abusive partner usually encourages this thinking by blaming the victim for the abuse. The abuser says the marital problems are the victim's fault and that he/she causes the abuser's problems. The victim believes this. He/she sees it as his/her failure to meet the abuser's needs and assumes the blame for the abuse, expending energy uselessly trying to determine how to avoid provoking the spouse. The batterer may also use guilt to trigger the victim - perhaps (addictive) love for him/her.
A false sense of responsibility for the violence and embarrassment prevent the victim from telling others about it. The victim can often find other excuses to explain away the violence and to renew his/her hope for the relationship. Often abused persons avoid accepting the reality that they are being abused by comparing themselves to others who have endured more extreme acts of physical and psychological abuse. Their own situations then seem much less serious and much less dangerous. This minimizing of the abuse downplays its seriousness.
Fear: He/she fears that the batterer will find him/her and become more violent; maybe even injuring him/her fatally if he/she attempts to leave. In many cases it is dangerous for a victim to leave the abuser, although many times it can be just as dangerous to remain. If the abuser has all of the economic and social status, leaving can cause additional problems for the victim. Leaving could mean living in fear and losing child custody, losing financial support, and experiencing harassment at work. At some level, victims weigh the relative costs and benefits for themselves.
Lack of Knowledge: The victim feels he/she has no place to go: He/she may beunaware of community resources and of his/her rights to use them.
Economic Dependence: The degree to which the victim is economically dependent upon the abusive spouse can be a strong factor in whether or not the victim feels he/she can exist independently. A positive attitude can mean very little without the means to live independently. Lack of training, skills, and not wanting to go on welfare can keep him/her in the relationship. If there are children, he/she will often feel that having both parents is more important than anything he/she can offer the children. He/she know the difficulties of single parenting in reduced financial circumstances and fears poverty - unsure of his/her ability to keep the children and support them on his/her own. In fact, his/her spouse may often threaten to take the children away if he/she attempts to leave.
Emotional/Sexual Dependence: Rooted in codependency and love/sex addiction in the victim.
Promises of Change: The victim believes his/her abusive spouse when he/she promises (over and over) that he/she will never say or do "it" again. Often the victim still loves the abuser and wants very badly for his/her marriage to work and for his/her life to be successful.
Avoidance of Personal Responsibility: If the abuser will change, the victim does not have to face the responsibility to make a change.
Fear: The fear a battered person experiences can be paralyzing; fear of staying, of leaving, of coping on his/her own. The victims fears that he/she is walking an emotional tightrope, and the more oppressive the fear becomes the more difficult to escape. He/she fears to even contact a helping agency, knowing this may prompt an attack. The abuser threatens to find and kill the victim and children if he/she leaves. Leaving does not mean that the fear immediately or permanently disappears. Sometimes it increases, since he/she never knows when the attack will come. Fear is a tremendous control.
Isolation: Many victims become isolated from friends and families either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to run. The more isolated he/she is, the more dependent on the abusive spouse the victim is for any input about his/her value as a person or his/her options in life.
Learned Acceptance: Abused persons may come to regard abuse as a normal part of marriage.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: When a person lives in unending terror/stress, their ability to resist gets worn away. They become confused, exhausted, and lack the energy needed to make changes.
Short-term measures consist of assistance programs that protect the individual victim who has been or is being abused. They often focus on the critical period after a victim leaves the home, providing him/her with food, shelter, and guidance. Unfortunately, there are few of these resources available to male victims of abuse. This is the period when a victim is most at-risk from the perpetrator seeking retribution, or when he/she might return to the home out of a sense of hopelessness.
Long-term measures seek to educate the public and empower the victim to reestablish his/her life free from abuse to stop the cycle of violence.
No one deserves to be abused no matter what their gender, age, race, culture, religious faith, sexual orientation, or ability.