Why do victims of abuse return to their abusers?

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

This blog lists the twenty most common reasons women return to the men who abuse them so brutally that they end up in the hospital. But the list, while poignant, misses the point

Pervocracy highlights the reasons most commonly heard in an emergency room, but these reasons are more verbalizations of symptoms not problems.

The reason victims return to their abusers is a fear of the unknown.

It is often said that victims of childhood abuse (verbal and physical) are predisposed to enter into relationships with people who themselves are victims of abuse. What makes one the abuser and the other a victim is a function of their coping mechanism in response to that. The simple coping mechanisms are along a spectrum from exaggerating the weakness in the hopes that the abuser takes pity, or feels shame in picking on someone so helpless, and on the other extreme to internalizing the abuser, reflecting his (or her) attitudes in the hope that the abuser comes to identify the victim with himself.

What makes this vicious cycle so acutely depressing is that there seems to be enough of a supply of abuse victims in every generation to perpetuate the cycle. Abusers and victims seem to have no trouble finding each other. And this gets to the heart of the matter, I think. For people from this background, it is impossible to understand how people who never experienced abuse think. From the standpoint of the abused, the unabused are alien with a worldview that at times seems baffling and at times nonsensical.

And in part because of this, the abused see no common ground with the unabused. They can’t communicate with each other effectively. The words are understood, but their contexts and connotations are not. The abused, given their history, assume everyone is an abuser given the right circumstances, but with this group, you don’t know just what kind they are.

So why return to the abuser? Because I know him (or her). I know what will set him off. I know his patterns and his triggers. And that is infinitely more comfortable a feeling than being in a relationship with someone who you assume will also beat you, but whose triggers and patterns are totally unrecognizable. Better the devil I know, then the devil I don’t. But everyone is a devil.

The difficulty in treating abuse victims, and getting them to leave their abusers, seems to me to be to get them to recognize the fallacy of the underlying assumption. Not everyone is an abuser. Not everyone is like you. 

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41 Responses to Why do victims of abuse return to their abusers?

  1. Neex says:

    Right. Abuse victims stay because they know the badness they feel inside is the same as the badness that the abuser feels inside. They know they are the same– and that the abused person, with their history of abuse and shame and horror and feeling themselves have arousal over horrible things happening to them… they know they don’t ever really belong in normal society with healthy people.

    they know they either belong alone forever and ever or with other bad people. Whether you choose to be alone or to be with the other bad people, the emptiness follows.

    As my ex once said, “You will always be a rape victim and I will always be a very lonely man.”

    • Neex says:

      So basically what you’re saying is that we should ship kids who experience childhood abuse off to concentration camps and keep them away from the good people. Good plan? I hope you can plan for these camps to be nicer than the Nazi camps. Like keep us alive and stuff.

      • DataShade says:

        …what the fuck?

      • Neex says:

        I’m certain you didnt have this intention Pastabagel (yes concentration camps are the worst and craziest interpretation of your point possible). Bill Zellers story felt exactly my suicidal ex’s story with the exeption of my ex repeating the cycle in more deliberate ways than Bill Zeller described. Bill was not lucky, luck would have delievered a better outcome. There’s just a lot of people in the world with a lot of pain– and limited resources and know-how to make it better. Meaning that some people never make it to whatever thing/support whatever it would be that would actually generate things being better. I am honored to have spent time with my ex. I am so sorry that he carried out bad things and I am sorry if any of my involvement made his life worse. I don’t regret my time with him. I still love him. I am still glad that he is alive and I still believe in him. And when I realized my presence made things worse I left but it’s been ten years and I haven’t stopped caring about him. And I don’t regret believing in him or spending time with him or trying to talk through all the stuff in his life or appreciating the ways he did the same for me. He had a lot to offer even though it was mixed up in bad stuff. I don’t even look back and see an abuser or a monster. I see a scared person who ran away from home and didn’t know what they were doing and were going insane from the inside out. A person kind of like me. But in looking back and seeing it like that– I am ignoring that this guy actually did abuse people. Myself of course and so I guess that could be my right to just “wipe the slate clean” but he abused others. So is it even fair for him to have love at all? And if I am the same as him…

  2. Neex says:

    … and you wonder why Bill Zeller killed himself.

    • DataShade says:

      Who wonders that? I can’t be certain, merely confident, when I say: not Alone, and not Pastabagel. They were both doing more to offer advice to prevent future suicides than to publicly question motives.

      • Neex says:

        How is that supposed to work out? Because you were abused and feels this darkness inside— you are an abuser. Everything will be fine, so cheer up, abuser! I don’t understand how you would say, “Not everyone is an abuser, not everyone is like you” in reference to abuse victims and NOT mean that they are an abuser by sheer existance of having been abused. And no you can’t say that, you are talking about kids in your post and it’s not kids fault. Yes I have compassion for kids who can’t help it and they abuse, but just being abused and then accepting a place as being abused is not the same thing as being an abuser. And if it is then we need to save everyone from this because it’s no ones fault. It’s just broken people who are falling apart under horrible lives and don’t want anyone to be hurt and don’t why everything is broken inside. I don’t know why he did those things I don’t know if there was will or if he just couldn’t help it but he still matters to me as a human being. And I wish I could have known how to save him in a different way or what to do or if walking away would have made his life better. I wanted him to know that there could be people in the world who loved you no matter what and I couldn’t. I couldn’t love him no matter because there was too much horrible stuff and I’m sorry that I gave him hope that I could. But I do still care, but I don’t understand.

        • DataShade says:

          Sorry, I missed this comment when it was still time-sensitive, hopefully you check back and get this: Would it make more sense if the two clauses were semicoloned instead of comma’d? Two separate, but similar, thoughts; running in parallel, never touching.

  3. Neex says:

    When people abuse you in certain ways, especially when you are young and don’t understand what they are doing, they can turn everything inside you into a weapon against yourself. They can destroy everything that is in you. They can make you implicitely involved in your own abuse in a way that they put everything evil in them inside you and it becomes part of you. You can feel their malice and their rage and it twists everything in you.

    It can break you and you can never be the same again and you can never have a place with normal people again. And soemtimes, sometimes a break from the aloneness– with someone who is fucked up and hurts you, it feels better than the unspeakable aloneness that will be the rest of your life. Because you have to protect the good people, they don’t deserve to ever have to be around so much pain and so much unspeakable misery.

    Bill Zeller is the one who is lucky. Fuck living with this shit.

    • Erin says:

      Please don’t hurt yourself, if that’s what you’re thinking of, which it sounds like. If you need help, call a hotline, seek out a counselor…..there are all kinds of people out there who are willing and able to help you and are waiting for you ask.

      Pastabagel talks about the fallacy abuse victims believe that ‘everyone is an abuser.’ You listed a few more which I think need to be examined:

      1) It’s impossible to get better.
      This can’t be true. Every competent psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, teacher, will be able to list troubled people they once counseled who with work and guidance succeeded in substantially recovering from abusive or traumatic pasts. If these patients did it than we can’t accurately say it’s impossible for anyone, including ourselves.
      If you were a victim of abuse and you’re still trying to get better, you’re already DOING better – you already are at a higher level of health than your abuser was because you are trying to help yourself rather than destroy yourself or others.
      You say abusers ‘can destroy everything that is in you.’ They believe they can, and they try to make you believe they can. Obviously they affect their victims deeply and for life. But I don’t think everything good in you is destroyed. You’re writing, you’re trying, the essential goodness and humanity is still there, even if you don’t see it or feel it right now.

      2) An unbridgeable abyss exists between abuse victims and healthy people.
      There is a whole spectrum of mental health, from the truly insane at the bottom to the very happy and healthy at the top, the majority of us being in the somewhat miserable but semi-functioning middle. It’s not so clear-cut.
      A person who was not abused in their upbringing has difficulty understanding the point of view of someone who was, and vice versa. But this doesn’t mean that those in each group are able to associate and have relationships only with their own kind.
      This sounds like something an abuser would try to make her victim believe. ‘There’s something wrong with you’ and ‘You don’t want to admit it, but you’re just like me.’ Training their victim to believe she is in a world of two, cut off from everyone else. And probably when no one comes to the rescue, it does start feeling that way. But if you believe it, you’re believing your abuser, whose perceptions were, shall we say, just slightly fucked up, and whose motivation was not exactly to tell you the truth.

      3) Abuse victims ‘either belong alone forever and ever or with other bad people.’
      There’s a grain of truth in that, because until a person who’s learnt and developed messed up ways of relating to herself and others because she was abused, figures out how to change those patterns of thought and behaviour, she will likely keep on ending up in abusive relationships and attracting/being attracted to others with similar problems. But how can we say she belongs forever alone or with other ‘bad’ people? That’s like punishing someone for having let themselves been punished (and the punishment was unfair and unwarranted in the first place)!
      This is a false choice. Bad relationships or miserable solitude are not the only possible options. What really is needed is that the lower-health person creates a relationship with a higher-health person who models healthy thinking/behaviour for them and helps them learn it and apply it themselves. If therapy’s the only way for most people to do that, than if you need that kind of relationship, do it. Interview therapists until you find a good enough one. I’m not sure how you assess therapists, but maybe one who has worked successfully with abuse victims, and who can describe to you what improved health would look and feel like and how you and she are going to get you there.

      4) You have to protect the good people.
      I don’t want to get into the fallacy that the abused/abusers are ‘bad’ and the healthier people are ‘good,’ – all I’ll say is that in this context those terms don’t seem accurate, or helpful. But if you are a victim of abuse you have enough on your plate in just trying not to do harm to others, and to help yourself – don’t worry about protecting ‘the healthies’ from your ‘influence.’ On the contrary, seek out THEIR influence! The more an abuse victim can associate with healthier-functioning people, the more exposed she is to alternate ways of relating and behaving, and the more examples she can work from in improving her own health.

      Please hang in there. Things can get better.

      • Neex says:

        Erin— I am in no danger of checking out. I’m in this. It’s just hell. Therapy and meds don’t fix everything that happens in this life. Even among people in pain people can’t handle the pain I’m in. People have manic episodes or go nuts and I’ll drive them to the mental hospital and I’ll hang with the intense shit. People can cry all over me. But when I break down, it’s not like normal crying. Reality melts. And then I have siezures. Which is scary. And I can stop it. But that requires not feeling anything. Which I can do. Which leaves emptiness.

        Clearly I’m fine. : P

        Pastabagel asserted that abuse victims are abusers— did you catch that Erin? Was that your intent Pastabagel?

        • Neex says:

          Because if you are stating abused people are abusing their abusers then you really answered the question of why people stay in a very different way than you meant to.

          Abuse victims stay because they are abusers and they are just unhealthy/socially unacceptable/impaired however you want to frame it “nicely” as their abuser. And once you get abused you intrinsically are the abuser. Therefore if an abuser can get you consent to the abuse in any way, even in achieving submission through fear/domination/psychological manipulation/exhaustive amount of time invested in assaulting someone until they crumble psychologically under the experience— then they have achieved bringing you to their level. You are them.

          Leaving wouldn’t even make sense at that point because you are now tainted with submitting to your own humiliation. And that’s the goal. The abuser wants to see the abused person at the level of shame and guilt and humiliation and horror and terror that they feel/felt inside. And depending on how young and how long they can come at you with this stuff, they can bind you to their experience of suffering to the degree that to cut them off is to cut off your very self because you are bound to their outcome of life. Because in MAKING you feel their suffering, by forcing it on you, it also means that you know their unbearable suffering and isolation. And inso feeling that, a young inexperienced person (or a psychologically young inexperienced person) will innately want to care for someone in that much pain. Because when we are very young empathy appears for all those who become trusted and close to us.

          It does become the two of you vs everyone else, by virtue of everyone else thinking that you are basically both abusers anyway. But that logic also begs the question— if two people are both “abusers” but are both doing things to gain what they need— couldn’t it simply be defined as too people meeting needs, albeit very different needs than the general population— rather than abuse at all?

          In order for it to be abuse it would indicate an imbalance of who is benefitting and who is suffering– and an interference of one party to achieve personal determination.

          I went back because I was 16 and he said he wanted to kill himself because he had bad feelings. And at 16 I thought the solution was to tell him he was not bad and to not feel bad and everything could be ok and everything was ok. Everything is ok.

          If I say everything is ok, it’s ok, right? If I had the understanding of an adult, I would know that a 21 year old groping you up and saying he wants to die because he’s making you scared and he hates it when he makes people scared is a sign to get away… for BOTH peoples benefit. But I was a 16 year old virgin who had never done anything at all with a guy and didn’t even have any friends and had no family interaction or anyone to talk to or process anything with. What the fuck did I know about how to respond to a 21 year old suicidal guy?

          Yes, I wish I would have known that staying away would have prevented suffering for both of us. But then again neither of us had anyone. Maybe it could just be looked at as a situation of two people meeting needs facing difficult circumstances. I just wish that hadn’t involved horrible shit happening. Like, my god if you’re going to force sex on a 16 year old whose curled up in a ball in terror in front of you at least use a fucking condom.

          • DataShade says:

            When you’re abused, you can either die or cope. Aside from dying, the two unhealthiest ways to cope are to overcompensate and become the abuser, or to internalize it in all the ways you have described. Whether or not there are even any other ways to cope might even be debatable, but the point is: once you accept that it’s you and him versus the world, you’ve locked yourself in. In order to defend their ego, their sanity, people have to believe that things like what you’ve described could never happen to them. They put those fears – and the people who embody those fears, or wear the scars too loudly – as far out of sight and mind as possible, but that’s not because they’re against you, it’s because they’re trying so hard to keep lying to themselves.

            “Abuse” becomes a kind of language, a social argot, that both abusers and abusees become more fluent in than the lingua franca; once you swap out all the social interaction you once knew in favor of the abuse/abused spectrum of conduct, then you misinterpret verbal and non-verbal queues from everyone around you, you read into what they say or do to find the abuse/abused subtext you’ve become accustomed to – perhaps, as an example, mistaking a rhetorical device for a one-way ticket on a cattle car.

    • DataShade says:

      I dunno, I always liked being alone. It was always easier than figuring out how the next person was going to be a hypocrite and how their self-serving blindness to their own faults and the battery of flattering lies they tell themself would corrupt and destroy everything good in their life making them restlessly unhappy and looking for a scapegoat.

      At some point, tho’, I realized there were so many fucked-up, quietly unhappy people with bizarre secrets and unsettling fetishes that there was no such thing as “normal people” – just weird ones, secretly weird ones, and really boring ones. So who cares about having a place with normal people? They don’t even have a place for themselves.

  4. xiphoidmaneuver says:

    I’ll bite Pastabagel. Whoops; forgot my comma!

    Why do you think some of the reasonable sounding things abuse victims say in the ER, like “he’ll kill me if I leave” are less ‘the reason’ than fear of the unknown?

    Why does staying with an abuser need some special explanation anyway? Why do I procrastinate on my homework, never ask for a raise, drink, smoke, gamble, vote [your least favorite political party], keep a dirty house, and stay in on Friday nights even though the alternatives are better? Fear of the unknown sounds just as good.

    It seems in the last paragraph like you’re saying abuse victims think similarly to abuse perpetrators. Is my reading of that correct?

    • DataShade says:

      Obviously, I’m not Pastabagel, but…

      Why do you think some of the reasonable sounding things abuse victims say in the ER, like “he’ll kill me if I leave” are less ‘the reason’ than fear of the unknown?

      Because if someone tells you “I’lll kill you if-” who cares, the next part of the sentence doesn’t really matter, does it? They’re thinking about killing you, it’s fight or flight time. Maybe you supress those urges for a while – no use bringing a brick to a gun fight – maybe you cooperate to live, but when they put the gun down you pick up that brick, or you call the cops, or you run like hell – unless you’re more afraid of the unknown than the abuse and death.

      Why does staying with an abuser need some special explanation anyway? Why do I procrastinate on my homework, never ask for a raise, drink, smoke, gamble, vote [your least favorite political party], keep a dirty house, and stay in on Friday nights even though the alternatives are better? Fear of the unknown sounds just as good.

      Uh, what? The only one of those that makes sense re: FotU is staying in on a Friday night. Well … wait, how dirty is your house? Are you going to find sewer crocodiles in the bathroom and rabid rats under the couch?

      But if you can gamble, I’m pretty sure you’re not afraid of the unknown.

      But, to answer your question: there needs to be a reason for a few reasons:
      1.) humans have a psychological (and practical) need to be able to explain phenomenon at least well enough to make a reasonably reliable framework for predicting future behavior
      2.) some day we might want to stop an abuser or save an abusee
      3.) people tend to fear what they cannot understand, hate what they fear, and, without restraint or conscience, destroy what they hate; it’s always preferable to understand, to know the truth (‘the truth’ being enough factual information to make you stop killing stuff; amount of fact may vary, offer not available in all areas)
      4.) everyone wants to be able to say, about anything we might (under any circumstances) interpret as sub-optimal, “oh thank god, I’m OK, that could never happen to me, or if it did happen to me, it wouldn’t be my fault, or if it was my fault, it could be fixed”

      It seems in the last paragraph like you’re saying abuse victims think similarly to abuse perpetrators. Is my reading of that correct?

      It’s the last panel that’s relevant: http://mnftiu.cc/blog/images/war.203.gif

      • philtrum says:

        Because if someone tells you “I’lll kill you if-” who cares, the next part of the sentence doesn’t really matter, does it? They’re thinking about killing you, it’s fight or flight time.

        Well, true: but there is some literal truth there. The fact is that abusers are more likely to kill a victim who is trying to leave or has just left.

        That’s why victims of serious abuse need a lot of will power and a lot of help, and often need to plan as if they’re making a prison break. I’m not saying these other dynamics don’t exist or aren’t important, just that there are some practical realities too.

        • DataShade says:

          The fact is that abusers are more likely to kill a victim who is trying to leave or has just left.

          Yes, which is why I went on to say “maybe you supress those urges for a while – no use bringing a brick to a gun fight – maybe you cooperate to live,” and I agree on this too:

          That’s why victims of serious abuse need a lot of will power and a lot of help, and often need to plan as if they’re making a prison break.

          BUT that’s why I focus on the “they want to kill you, it doesn’t really matter what they say,” because you cannot afford to waste any time now, you cannot afford to be convinced that they’ll get over it, you need to start planning your escape or find a weapon or whatever.

  5. sunshinefiasco says:

    I think this is what Pastabagel meant:

    It is often said that victims of childhood abuse (verbal and physical) are predisposed to enter into relationships with people who themselves are victims of abuse. What makes one the abuser and the other a victim is a function of their coping mechanism in response to that.

    So when he writes “Not everyone is an abuser. Not everyone is like you.”, he doesn’t mean abused people=abusers.

    An unabused person has a style of communication/interaction and a point of view that is fundamentally different from the styles/POVs of an abused person or a formerly-abused-now-abusing person, which are closer together.

    How are they closer together? They’re coming from a context where the definitions (of love, family, a crime, support, stability, relationships, boundaries, etc.) are warped. Even if the specific details of the definitions change from person to person, they are alike in differentiating from the mean in a similar direction.

    If I understood it correctly, PB meant “Not everyone is an abuser. Not everyone is embedded in that world.”

    Also, Neex, I understand that this a hot-button issue for you, but many of the people who abuse other people were abused themselves. The flip side of that sentence is that that some abuse victims are abusers.

    • Neex says:

      Yes they are. And I think the fact that I have a deep compassion for the fact that abuse victims are often abusers is also part of why I stayed. He was horrified by his behavior, he was “working on it” and he was “going to get better.” He promised. I needed to trust him. He was so sorry. God he was so sorry.

      I know. His sorrow was real. His lack of control over his own behavior was real. Honestly I still feel a deep compassion for him and I would argue the validity of his humanity within that. But that’s also part of that slope that allowed me to stay. That makes everything gray and binary definitions of “right” and “wrong” a blur.

      • DataShade says:

        That makes everything gray and binary definitions of “right” and “wrong” a blur.

        Yes, your choices and the mindset/worldview that you adopt can make everything *seem* a blur, but that doesn’t mean reality is blurry, it’s means you’ve deliberately misfocused your lenses. Maybe the problem is that overuse “right” and “wrong,” but that’s a fault of our language, that’s our fault, that doesn’t change the fact: mores change, moral absolutes don’t.

        There are some things you can’t do or say in some situations that are perfectly acceptable in others; most people have a pretty solid intuitive grasp over things like that for the culture in which they were reared. Failure results in shame; seeing how someone reacts to shame (embarassment, rage, confusion) can be quite telling, especially if they only ever react the one way.

        More importantly, if you ever find yourself having to explain why what you did was socially acceptable, then it obviously wasn’t. It may only have been unacceptable to one in a hundred, while you and the other 98 thought it was great, but that point – that time when you find yourself being challenged over the appropriateness of your behavior – is where you should stop and make sure you’re not crossing a moral boundary.

        Most importantly, if I think you did something capital-W wrong – morals, not mores – and I call you on it, then you just start explaining, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve either decided it didn’t violate your moral compass, you didn’t think to check, or you don’t even see a difference between morals and mores. Either way, in the next ten seconds I’m either walking away or calling the cops or punching you in the neck before you can stab me and eat my liver.

  6. Neex says:

    Uh, ok fine. Punch me in the neck for explaining why I stayed with the dude. I still understand why I was there. I was there because in some complex weighing of all the pain and the shittiness that was my life, somehow being with him felt better than anything else I had had. I stayed because I didn’t see a monster when I looked at him, I just saw a fucked up scared person who didn’t know what was happening or why he was even doing what he was doing, that had had the shit beat out of him all his childhood and run away from home and never had anyone on his side. And I related because I was a fucked up scared person who couldn’t figure out how to function or get through school and didn’t have family that wanted much to do with me. I stayed because I genuinely liked who he was when times were good, and he actually worked hard to not be physically violent, somehow raping didn’t get put on the “not do” list and he was physically forceful there, and somehow waving guns around and shooting them you get angry didn’t get put on the no list, and it was really freaking scary. Somehow self harm didn’t get put on the not do list. And everything spiralled and became more and more scary and as it became more apparant that I needed to leave because my presence was not going to help anyone, shit was completely crazy. But that’s still all I saw. Someone who was totally mentally destroyed by a really fucked up life. I wish that I could have made it better. I didn’t stay because I feared the unknown– I stayed because I already knew what was on the table and I wanted to make it better for him and me. I wanted everything to be ok, I wanted to make things that weren’t ok be ok by sheer will. Obviously I couldn’t, I have no idea how to fix mental illness/past abuse history/early life adversity/aggressive tendancies etc etc. I still sit around and read about it because I still want to find something better than what we have now— because people are falling through the cracks and I can’t bear that people fall through the cracks and are left completely on their own and in pain. I still want to change that albeit not by dating people who are in too much pain to behave in a responsible way to others.

    And yeah when someone tells you shit like, “Don’t worry I’m not going to stalk or kill you or anything if you leave” and they happen to also have told you that they have stalked and killed people… it’s really fucking scary. And when after you do leave they then sit in your parking lot every night FOR FOUR YEARS talking about wanting to die and how they are so sorry and they just want to die and maybe they can change, knowing they have a loaded gun and that if you report them they will lose it and try to shoot themselves/and or you— doesn’t make it feel like there is much that you can do.

    You can want to punch me in the neck for explaining that but saying you want to punch people who have experienced violence for explaining why they stayed doesn’t make sense to me for some reason?

    • Fifi says:

      Neex, you seemed to have fallen prey to the idea that “curing” someone else’s pain will resolve your own. What I get out of your story (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that you were young and naive, you identified with and had compassion for your abuser’s suffering that led him to be abusive (understood the causation and identified with it) and naively though that just being there and being loving would be enough. You matured, you got over this, you’re focused on yourself now. Seems like a pretty healthy progression to me (and you don’t even have to be from an abusive home to fall prey to abusive relationships as a teenager because our media/society present an idea of love that has more to do with abusive relationships and obsessive behavior – aka infatuation – than it does love).

      I’ve observed (both within myself and others) that if one grows up in an abusive environment that one tends to have an idealized image of “perfect family/love” that doesn’t match up to the reality of what healthy love is. And, hey, sometimes life is painful and shitty (including for people who had wonderful nurturing families, they may just have better and more constructive coping mechanisms…or not). Don’t beat yourself up because you’re a twisted tree, everyone is – it’s what makes us interesting as individuals. You know, a bonsai is just as beautiful as a mighty oak (if more fragile, so you may need to find a partner who understands plants and appreciates bonsais…or be your own gardener for a while).

  7. Neex says:

    I’m thinking that I misread the “if I accuse you of something capital W wrong” and heard, “I am accusing you of something capital W wrong”. Did I hear that incorrectly?

    • MattK says:

      Neex – I read DataShade’s words as the first version rather than the second.

      One of the nice things about the internet is not everyone has to be a jerk all the time.

      I read this conversation and I was impressed by how a bunch of strange pseudonyms are offering deep pain and responding with love. I’d like to also show you some love – I think you are trying to get better. I hope you make it.

    • CubaLibre says:

      I read it the same as MattK. I thought DataShade was addressing the hypothetical abuser, not the abused.

      • Neex says:

        I’m sorry Datashade if I read that totally wrong. (It seems like I did?)

        • DataShade says:

          I think you did read it wrong; I wasn’t accusing you of secret atrocities. When I wrote the mores/morals test, I shouldn’t have used second-person, I should have used first-person, since they’re things I put myself through at one point, I’m just used to explaining it one-on-one where it flows a little better as ‘you’ instead of ‘I.’

          I was trying to do two things:
          1.) Highlight that suffering abuse can skew your views to match those of your abuser, in ways I feel are pretty similar to what’s discussed in the articles here and at TLP that touch on “the cognitive kill-switch” or “framing the debate.” I’m of the opinion that, in order to be free emotionally after you’ve gotten free physically, you have to tear down what you’re left with and recalibrate both your sense of moral absolutes and social mores; common folk use the words “right” and “wrong” for both morals and mores, but the morals should be way more important and the mores that conflict with your morals should be discarded.

          2.) Gently chide you that when someone else makes an Unequivocal Pronouncement From On High about a social mores issue that sounds like crazy-talk, it’s safe to disregard their comment; they’re probably overcompensating for some kind of shame. If their mores come into direct conflict with your morals, and you’re sure your morals are of the absolute variety, and you call them on their shit and they don’t even acknowledge you have a valid point, that’s when you get all runny-away or neck-punchy, preferably before they can set up a burning cross or blow up a clinic somewhere.

  8. pageantry says:

    While I understand Neex’s feelings of horror at the implications here, this, for me, is the most useful thing I’ve ever read to describe my own experience. It’s taken me years (and a LOT of psychiatrists, the family doctor, psychologists, counselors, local clergy, and older friends of the family telling me this) to begin to say that maybe I was the victim of religious abuse. And now I am processing what that means and how to end the cycle NOW so maybe I can become a person who can help build a good and happy family one day.

    I’m rarely satisfied by the constipated nodding of therapists, but I really like (and use) clear actionable plans, so books like Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and your post on narcissism have been very helpful. I wondered if you could offer similar instructions for changing this internal structure/narrative that keeps drawing me (and others like me) toward unhappy, victimizing, self-punishing experiences. Or, if there’s no time, maybe you know a book I could read that would address this narrative specifically? I trust your B.S. detector way more than mine.

    Even if not, thank you again for your help. Your writing’s done a lot for me.

  9. Neex says:

    So what abobut abusers? The reason it gets grey to me is that I see socially rejecting people as a big deal. For a lot of people it’s as easy as “Ok they behaved violently once, we’re not associating.” And that’s a healthy attitude. But is it morally wrong to want to give people more of a chance than that?

    What about for example my cousin with aspergers who behaved violently in his youth but did a lot of therapy and takes meds and what not and MOSTLY is non-violent? I witnessed him hit his mom once when he was fourteen and I recognized that it was something that had happened on other occasions.

    So what is our ideal? Would it be wrong for him to ever date having hit people in the past? And if we feel that “Some day” he could be safe in a romantic relationship, what would be the requirements for that to be morally ok? How many years and how much therapy before he is morally cleared to date? And if he goes through lot’s of therapy waits the appropriate x number of years— and then gets a girlfriend and becomes violent on one occasion, what then? Obviously we assume morally, they should break up right? So more therapy etc etc….

    Should he pressume he can never date after having hit in a relationship once? And if not, how do you enforce that if his mental capacity and understanding is not the same as other peoples? What if a girl who has a similar problem and is socially ostracized for problem behavior WANTS to date him? What if they have fun together and like each other and iprove each others lives? What if he is occasionally violent and they dedice to handle it the same way my aunt did? Working through it with therapy and as much good intention as can be mustered?

    Is that inherantly wrong? And if that in and of itself is something we don’t think is wrong, then what if she starts to leave and he suddenly becomes extremely violent and dangerous?

    Do we retroactively go backwards and say, “wait NOW the whole thing was wrong.” What?

    And if she does wind up leaving, then in what way should she be viewed by society? Is she “an abuser” and should she be ostracized in general? Is it morally wrong for people to interact with her even though her problem behavior never even involved violence? Is she the same “risk” to society as he is? Is she now a DIFFERENT threat to society than she was before by virtue of having entered that relationship for a period to see if it could work? I.e. she wasn’t an abuser before interacting with him, but now, by virtue of trying to have a relationship she is now an abuser? Or was she an abuser all along?

    And further more, was it wrong for his mother to tolerate the hitting and continue to care for him inspite of it and should she have sent him to live in an institution? And what about people who work in the instituation? Is it wrong for them to work with people who might hit because they are putting themselves at risk of being hit and that is inherantly wrong? And if it’s not wrong to assess the risk of being hit, take appropriate precautions and decide to be involved in someones life anyway, as a professional or as a mother— why would it inherantly be wrong to make the same assessment and want to continue supporting someone in the context of an otherwise mutually beneficial romantic relationship?

    I’m just not seeing absolutes with this.

  10. Neex says:

    And then what if you throw kids in? What if there’s a marriage that seems relatively healthy and then after kids the guy loses his job and freaks out and winds up yelling. Ok yelling happens right? So is she wrong if she stays after he goes off and yells a bunch of insults at her? Is that the point when she needs to take the kids and run? And really the courts are going to keep a man from visiting his kids over one yelling fit?

    Would that be right? And then it happens again and he throws in a slap. A light slap, so not a big deal, right? Does she take the kids and leave then? But wait, we already established that if a woman chooses an abusive partner she is abuser? What should happen now? He slapped her so now they are both abusers and they should… have their kids removed?

    You think slapping doesn’t happen in foster homes? Really shits got to be BAD for foster care/foster adoption to be an imporvement for a kid. Have you read outcomes for foster kids? They suck even more than the outcomes for kids of single moms who have abuse histories.

    So the abuser and the abusee are the same, who gets the kids?

    • CubaLibre says:

      All of your posts are based on a misreading of PB. He didn’t say, “abuser and abused are the same,” he said, “abuser and abused have the same warped perspective, to which the abuser reacts by abusing and to which the abused reacts by not leaving the abuser.” Same warped perspective interfacing with different personalities produces different actions: one evil, one sad and regrettable. That doesn’t mean the people, their moral responsibilities, their appropriate place in society or the justice system, etc. are interchangeable; on the contrary. (TLP: you are what you do.) It does mean, however, that anything that addresses that root warped perspective for one can also probably be profitably used to help the other.

  11. Neex says:

    And if you’re going to say, “Well it was one slap, he should do some therapy and still get to be in his kids life, he can recover”– why would it be morally wrong for the husband and wife to have that same view about working out their relationship?

    • Neex says:

      And if the abuser and the abusee are the same— how can you NOT say the abuser can recover and ALSO say the abusee CAN recover?

      They are both abusers and they are both the same– either they can both recover or they can’t…
      How can you say to a woman, “Hey you guys are both abusers and the same, but I don’t believe your partner can recover and I believe you can” You’ve got to believe in the abusers ability to recover in order to say that abusers and abusees are the same and both have the possibility to recover.

      But that belief in the possibility of recovery is part of what keeps people in abusive relationships…… “We can work it out, we can make this better, s/he’s trying, s/he’s going to therapy”. If as a society we think abusers can recover, and we believe at some point after doing therapy and inner work or whatever they can be given second chances at friendships and romantic relationships and relationships with their kids—

      we are doing the same thing the woman who stays is doing. Right? Why is she wrong for it and we aren’t?

      • pageantry says:


        I hope you don’t mind me butting in, but I’ve been coming back again and again hoping for a response to my post, and your thoughts are interesting.

        What I think I’m reading is that you’re rejecting the idea that you could ever be considered abusive, and you’re also angry that you feel judged for your compassionate attitude in having stayed, and you’re also afraid for women who might be unfairly judged as incompetent and damaged people simply because they stayed with an abuser. Is this accurate?

        I totally get that. I have a great deal of compassion for the guy I let push me around. He’s suffering and he only means to help me. I really believe that, and believe he believes that, and I feel good about my own sense of sticking up for his potential for human goodness.

        What I don’t understand is, what do you get if you win these arguments you’re fighting? Do you want your experience and pain to be acknowledged? It is, it has. Do you want to be held blameless for your being abused? You could certainly find a lot of women’s groups to support you in that, but not everyone’s going to agree. Would that be more helpful to you than this post?

        For me, those things used to be things I wanted, but now I just want to find a way to get better, so I don’t stop doing this to myself, and so I don’t accidentally teach these attitudes to my kids, if I ever have any. That’s why I’m confused. Who cares what people think of us for having been abused? Let’s get BETTER. I’d like to feel free of the crushing sadness, the insecurity that keeps me from looking people in the eyes and flirting with handsome men (who I know are interested in me, but I’m scared.) I’d like to lose the heartache and the longing for a person who only offers me pain. I’d like to have a genuinely caring and fun love, like the love I think I might be able to give someone else, with practice. I mean, I assume that’s what everybody wants,

        What do YOU want for yourself? I’m really asking, woman to woman, because you might not be just like me, and you could help me learn something. Do you know what you want from this conversation? From your life?

        I really appreciate your openness with your struggle, Neex. I just want you to know that.

        • Neex says:

          Me personally I’m scum. I agree with Pastabagel that some abuse victims are just the same as the abusive people they’re with. I just don’t see how on earth that would make an abused person want to leave. Yes there is a whole world full of wonderful nice good people who are better than me. If I could just be like them. Oh all the different drugs, all the therapies, they could make me be like those people… and then some day I could have friends and somehow a relationship will work out really wonderfully and everything could be ok. Yeah. Someday it’ll be like that.

          I just think about all these kids I know whose families were so broken and did so many horrible things to them and yes many of them turned out to be abusive people themselves at times and had to struggle with that but I still love them, and you can’t make me not look back and see good people who had love in their hearts even thuogh everything was broken and everyone was hurting and no one knew what they were doing. I want to make everything better and I can’t make everything better.

          And I don’t want to leave people behind. I don’t want to leave everyone behind. And I had to because I couldn’t help them. Everybody acts like when you’re couch serfing, living in slum housing working food service and you can barely make rent and somehow you’re supposed to know how to find great therapy. Because it’s not like free therapists aren’t so overwhelmed with so much pain they barely have anything to give out but some meds here and there a few conversations.

          I worked for homeless services the streets my friends hung out on. I saw some of my friends there crumpled and insane. The life behind their eyes I once knew, I can’t see it.

          I won’t stop caring about people who have been broken by this world. But yet… if in being broken… it means that the unspeakable pain continues because they go on to abuse others— it has to be stopped. If that is me, it has to be stopped. If by virtue of having been abused I am an abuser and inherantly the world will have abuse because of me, then yes, I should be locked away somewhere. Maybe somewhere nice where I could paint. That would be nice.

          • Neex says:

            I care what people think because societal perspectives affect how we handle issues of poverty and family violence on a societal level.

            And I want to change these things. And I don’t want to do it by placing more burden on abuse victimes, I want to do it by improving family services and finding better ways to enhance family cohesiveness and well being– and create safer places for kids to be kids, and find better ways to get kids into support when they are facing hard lives— or rather be smarter about what kind of support will really be empowering and meaningful, because extensive support can in and of itself feel overbearing and soul sucking— I don’t know the answers, maybe shaming people for being in abusive relationships will help too. I sure as hell want people refusing to be in abusive relationships when there are kids involved and maybe looking at the parents as equals would help– then again how could it? Then they are both warped and tainted so why should the non-violent parent leave with the kid?

          • pageantry says:

            That makes a lot of sense. Although I can’t speak to the scum part. At least you’re trying.

            If it were just me, I would probably stick tooth and nail by the broken people too. Like you, I don’t want to leave anyone behind. It’s the worst feeling (shame, guilt, memories…) And, the fact is, I enjoy brutal, crushing relationships. They make me feel strong and alive, when they’re not, you know, brutal and crushing. I get to take some of that brutal crushing strength and use it (gently…?) on others. And I am so grateful that between the two of us there is, if not respect, genuine understanding. But I do think I give him a willing doormat at times. I do think I let him question my sanity, and make me question it. I do think sometimes I lose my temper and fire back and things get extremely ugly.

            And I have an irrational hope that one day I’ll have a family of my own. So. I think I have to work on getting out of these behaviors (which, if not aggressively abusive, may well be passively so).

            It sounds like your priority is sticking by brutal-crushing people (to try to help), and you’re okay with staying in the pain, and you’re not talking about a family, so I guess you’re kind of fine?

            But I don’t understand where you’ve got this dichotomy that says your options as an abused person (you use the word “broken”) are to either 1) abuse others or 2) be locked up. Isn’t there a third option where you could get, so to speak, fixed? Or even fix yourself (for a more active way to phrase it)?

            This post by Pastabagel doesn’t really address that possibility, and that’s what I’m hoping to hear about.

          • pageantry says:

            What if we said both are warped and tainted. But the abusee, by dint of having developed warped peacemaking coping mechanisms, at least has the more socially acceptable coping mechanism…? Ergo, on his or her own, they would hopefully at least be teaching a child things like “no hitting or screaming” and with therapy might learn how to find a better partner?

            I mean, I think that’s why the women usually gets the child. People just assume even if both parties are screwed up (and who isn’t, really?) women place a greater priority on social values.

            I hear you when you say you don’t want people heaping even more shame and guilt on the abusee, but maybe the word “responsibility” is where we need to go? If the abusee doesn’t ever get told that they have responsibility within the relationship too, that they DO have agency and power to change things, why should they ever try?

          • Neex says:

            No, I am not sticking by anyone. And it aches. I just don’t know what to do. I worked at the homeless shelter filling out case management forms and getting people with heroin habits into an apartment for a month knowing they’ve set it up to be a shady deal where they getting the money back from the landlord… and handed people cans of food… and watched really beautiful bright kids who aged out of the foster system and were just dumped on the street or kept running away anyway. Good people. Kids with disabilities and blindness and deafness and no ability to fill out forms or get a drivers license or fill out a job application.

            And what scribbling with crayons and being silly with me and being given a can of food, does it matter.. ? I got to where I felt like all I had to offer was my presence in that moment and I wasn’t even sure if that mattered.

            I have other obligations. So everyone gets left behind. Including something in me.

      • DataShade says:

        Did you see when I posted this? http://mnftiu.cc/blog/images/war.203.gif “‘Good ol’ Healthy Dose of Fear and Violence!’ – ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if people could hear a language, but not speak it?'” The point of the post is that if you suffer enough abuse, you learn Fear and Violence as a language – then, almost everyone who learns F&V as a language also either learns to speak it, or continues hearing it every time someone speaks.