Struggles and Scars

Reasons why we return to our abusive partners

Why do some people keep returning to their abusive partners despite the suffering?
Hands of a woman tied with rope

Throughout the ages, human life has been about survival. We’d hardly find any soul who hasn’t been through something difficult – the magnitudes may vary – and emerged from it. That’s survival. And it’s through the same process of survival that we discover love, kindness, affection, generosity and trust in ourselves. Any kind of struggle therefore brings out that primordial part from within, which wants to survive; which knows that it has survived once and so it will again.

Any kind of survival is only possible when we have the key to our own grit and determination. But what if we have no idea that unknowingly we have given it to someone else and we keep hoping that we will emerge victorious and survive? That’s when we call it abuse.

Because every time we return to an abusive partner we make them stronger by giving them the very power that would have not only made us winners, but also allowed us to heal.

But why do we do this? Let’s look at some reasons why we return to abusive partners.

For many of us it’s home. We have lived in abuse for so long, that now everything else feels alien. In such situations, we find ourselves somewhat similar to the dog in Pavlov’s experiment. We return to our abusive partner because that’s been deeply conditioned into us. Any other environment is nothing but a threat. An extreme, but logical example can be Stockholm syndrome where the victim starts feeling affection and trust towards the captor in cases of kidnapping.

Fear coupled with low self-esteem could be the blocked door. Abuse has a permeating effect on every aspect of our personality. It affects our self-esteem in such a way that it steals away all our access, power and control. In such situations people are prone to have a lot of questions in their head, almost always fuelled by fear: what will happen if I leave this person? What if the world outside never accepts me? Here I’m abused I know, but what if I walk out and fail to find love ever in my life? What if it’s worse?

abusive relationship
‘it can be worse’ (representative image) Image Source

You think they need saving and you may misidentify that as love.Almost obsessively you convince yourself of the fact that he/she is going to change. All this is going to stop one day. It’s only because our partner has been a victim of abuse himself/herself that they go through such phases, but we know we love them and therefore only we can save them. This is completely false. They can never do justice to your love or even treat you well. For the sake of self-preservation, you have to leave them and let them survive if they can.

Social pressure and embarrassment are lesser known but equal contributing factors that may prevent us from moving away from our abusive partners. We may think that no one will listen to us, or even believe in our stories. If the partner is different in public, treats you with the best of care in front of people and is quite popular among your friends and relatives, you may very well assume that you are at a dead end.

Irrespective of others believing in your story or not, you have all the option to walk away. And it is imperative that you exercise it.

The idea of failure too is a dangerous one. Guilt could fuel you into believing that because you had invested so much into this relation, now that it isn’t working, it’s completely your fault. You may feel a sense of personal failure. And just so that you can redeem yourself in some inexplicable way, you may want to return to an abusive partner – which in truth is the worst kind of failure you bring to yourself. Save yourself, first!

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You may fool yourself into believing that you like the pain. This, while hard to accept, may not be so rare. There’s a hidden masochist in all of us. It may start with slight sexual rough play, irrespective of our gender. We may even begin to like it. But sometimes, these boundaries are transcended and spill over into other areas of our lives, causing us physical and emotional pain. We may then tag that part of us as the masochistic-giver, but are almost always unaware of the dangerous aftermath it can manifest within us.

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