The slow and painful progression from a loving spouse with hopes and dreams has taken the enabler-victim to a place where she has been compelled to ask for help, acknowledge that she is living in an abusive relationship, build a support network and do what she must to protect herself. After years of emotional assault, she is exhausted but determined to demand change.
Many women lack the strength to face their abuser or would clearly be unwise to do so. Physical violence is one short step beyond the verbal, and it may be safer for the victim to simply leave without abuser’s knowledge, taking children out of harm’s way, as well. This is where it is important for abuse victims to have a plan. In developing a support network, she needs to consider safe places where she may stay and get legal protection (such as a legal separation or a restraining order), if necessary. Threats or retaliation should be taken seriously.
The abuser will not let her go so easily. He will feign shock and disappointment at discovering her discontent or departure. He will tell her that she is overly sensitive or question how she could possibly be unhappy, lay out his manufactured history of his sacrifices on her behalf, contend she is foolish since no one will ever want her, or tell her that he’s sorry for everything and “it will never happen again.” She must be prepared for all of the potential magic words, buy-offs and hooks he will use to try to draw her back into his world. Manipulation is deceptive. Talk is cheap. So are gifts. The enabler-victim should never consider these as signs of change, only efforts to reassert his position and secure his dominance.
Unfortunately, often the victim is so eager to believe that her abuser really does love her that she will take hold of the slightest favorable overture, graciously accept his apology and convince herself that he really does care, and he intends to do whatever is necessary to make her happy. She wants to believe it – the first time around. In many instances, she will return to him (probably within days) and cling to the smallest signs of attention and affection as signs of heartfelt change. As he may initially fawn over her, she will embrace these overtures with gratitude – what a joy it is to feel loved and appreciated. This is what she has always dreamed of.
Will it last? The abuser wants her back, but he also wants to be in control. Which does he want more? Only time will tell. He’s an abuser, remember? He can’t afford to give her any ground, because he may never get it back. He needs to re-assert his dominance and re-train her to accommodate his will – as soon as possible. He cannot waste much time on niceties.
Perhaps the next time she leaves – if she leaves – she will wait to see if there is legitimate, long-term change, or she will get out of the relationship for good, begin the hard work toward personal healing, and discover what it means to live again. Unfortunately, if she is living with an abuser, that may be the most favorable option. The abuser may never change; but she can.
It’s not easy. But the possibilities are endless after taking the time to work through our own feelings of inadequacy, questioning what love is really supposed to look like, and reclaiming our own sense of value
For those trying to survive in abusive relationships — refuse to be abused. You deserve better. You really do.
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