Definitely not! Nobody likes abuse. And no one is responsible or at fault for their own abuse. However, there are reasons why we may seek out abuse that have to do with the ways in which we have learnt to build attachments. So, why do we seek out abusive relationships?
There can be a number of reasons. One of the most prominent reasons is because of past trauma. People who have experienced trauma, especially from an intimate partner or a trusted person, are likely to expect pain and suffering as a part of their relationship. This rationalization of abuse and normalization of the subsequent agony leads to a lot of people trapping themselves into abusive relationships. This can look similar to Stockholm Syndrome, also known as trauma bonding, when the person who inflicted the trauma is also the abusive partner. It can also be a future relationship. These victims of trauma may even lose sight of the knowledge that there is a better life out there for them.
Another common reason is low self-esteem. The sense of self-worth of individuals can be lowered by a multitude of reasons. Their upbringing, their friends circle or other predispositions might be some causes. In any case, such a notion may lead to the people believing that they are not worthy of being loved or that they are undeserving of affection. In these instances, they consider the suffering they face to be something that they invited upon themselves, and something that they should be happily accepting as part of their life. Abusive people generally seek out people who already seem vulnerable and play on their emotions to manipulate them into such harmful dynamics.
Some people, especially those who are already vulnerable, may go on to become codependent on their partners too. This means that they rely upon their partner for their everyday functioning, and their absence is a big cause of their anxieties and stresses. In such dynamics, the abusive partner can seek to use their influence over the vulnerable partner to do things that they may not necessarily consent to under other circumstances. However, by leveraging the fear of losing the abusive partner, they are able to extort any types of favors, actions or concessions.
In many instances, codependency can take the form of something called the savior complex. It refers to the condition where a person thinks they can “save” their partner, or “better” and “improve” their abusive side. This can lead to a cycle where the abusive partner shows superficial signs of guilt and improvement for some time, before resuming the abusive behavior. Oftentimes, this can also lead to narcissistic behavior from the side of the abusive partner who will shift the blame of their poor behavior onto other circumstances, situations or conditions. Then, they will play the victim card from that position and seek empathy from their partner rather than own up to their flaws.
On the flip side, the abusive partner might also act as the savior. By placing themselves on a pedestal of good faith and intent, they may criticize their partner’s behavior as faults that the victim needs “saving from.” In the attempt to “fix them,” they can manipulate them and mold a lot of their behavior. This process can lead to plenty of emotional stress in the best case. In the more likely, worst cases, it can lead to meltdowns, self-harm, and even worse.
Familiarity is also a big factor in how we determine our partners, at least subconsciously. From a young age, we learn how to respond to our parents, caretakers, siblings and friends. If any of these influential actors were abusive in our formative years, we are likely to seek partners who can make us suffer in similar ways. Because of familiarity and the association to trauma, as aforementioned, such hardships within the relationships may not only seem inevitable but also natural or beneficial. Recently, this type of abuse has gained a lot of traction in pop culture, with notions of “daddy issues” and the “Oedipus complex” steering into the limelight with popular books, shows, movies and other entertainment platforms.
Finally, accepting the abuse and suffering as a subordinate member of a relationship is often engrained in many cultures. For instance, even talking about divorcing your spouse is considered taboo in places like Nepal. If someone grows up and lives their whole life in a community where every husband hits their wives, that person will never learn to identify that form of abuse as being out of place. Even if the victim is able to identify the abuse they are being put through, there are still many factors that do not let them leave. They can be religious coercion, family duress, financial dependency or a combination of multiple factors.
Sometimes when we are stuck in abusive relationships, it may be hard to recognize. Even when we can recognize the abuse, it might be hard to get out. In such cases, the best thing to do is to reach out to concerned institutions for help. It could involve calling national helplines for domestic violence, abuse, or coercion. If possible, it could also include physically leaving the relationships or seeking legal help. These measures are not always feasible though. However, there are measures we can take to break the cycle of seeking, or at the very least, settling for abusive partners.
The process of resetting this pattern can be long and strenuous but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The first step of the process is identification. We need to learn not just that we are prone to seeking abusive partners, but also the reasons behind why. This may involve acknowledging past trauma, issues with self-esteem, recognize that our comfort zone may be unhealthy and even look at ourselves to see if we have subpar traits such as a savior complex. Resolving unresolved issues, developing healthy coping traits, setting and maintaining boundaries and developing safety plans are the next steps. These steps will alter depending on the individuals’ history, issues as well as personal capacity for introspection and correction.
This process can be made so much simpler and more effective through professional counseling and therapy. Firstly, the counselor that you meet is well equipped in handling such cases because of their education and experience in the field. Secondly, they can also hold us accountable in the process of breaking the cycle of seeking abuse and provide us with the motivation that we need. Since they are unbiased, they will identify our problem areas and abusive partners without any room for manipulation too. Finally, therapy can help us learn to communicate effectively and become assertive when needs be.