Reactive Abuse – What it is, and how narcissists (and manipulators in general) take advantage of it

Reactive abuse is the reaction to abuse caused by one or more people. Imagine this: your partner insults you, pushes you, controls you for days at a time. Weeks. Months. You go on suppressing, holding back. Eventually, you snap – you’re human after all. You retaliate, insult or attack the abuser. This is reactive abuse.

With that defined, we can move onto the complexities of the dynamics of the relationship:

Abusers see reactive abuse as a golden opportunity and use the moment to gaslight you. They make you out to be the villain of the story. When you finally explode, the abuser usually says things like:

-You’re acting crazy!
-Look what you do to me. You are a monster!
-You are sick, your head is not right!
-You need to take your “medicine”
-Do you see what I have to put up with?
(in short, they make it seem like you are to blame for everything)

The victim, who is already fragile from being the target of an emotional manipulator for a while, blames themselves. They may say that they don’t know what happened to themselves, that they have become a monster. In their eyes, they are the abuser of the story. For the real abuser this becomes ammunition for the future, and that includes excuses for further aggressions and holding the victim in the relationship.

A note here: I am by no means saying that exploding and reacting in such a way is right, but it is an understandable (but again, wrong) reaction in context. Abnormal situations generate abnormal behaviors.

If you can distance yourself from the situation, you will see that emotional manipulators like getting this reaction from the victim. Not only for the reasons mentioned above but also because while they are the only ones who attack, they know that they are losing and that they are wrong. Almost every manipulator stops attacking only when the other person explodes because this is the moment they can take on the role of a victim. It is at this moment that the relationship has a brief period of calm, only to resume the conflict soon after.

In such cases, when the victim themselves feel as if they were the villain, how can they identify who is the abuser and who is the victim? Is there a possibility of mutual abuse?

Mutual abuse is extremely rare (or non-existent, according to some researchers).

The victim tends to blame themselves for everything, for all the acts they have committed, and sees them as inexcusable. The abuser rarely admits guilt, and when they do, they create a reason for his or her action – that is, the old “I love you, I did attack you, BUT… ”. In the emotional manipulator’s apology, there is an attempt to decrease their guilt and a subtle accusation of the victim.

Emotional handlers and psychological/diagnostic problems:

Another way that manipulators control the situation is with mental problems. If the abuser has a diagnosis or trauma, they may use it as an excuse to abuse (“I have problems and you will have to understand that I am like this”). On the other hand, if the victim has a psychological issue, the abuser might use that against their victim: the drugs are not working, the therapy is not working, the person is crazy (and the abuser is an angel for putting up with everything) etc. However, when the abuser REALLY sees that they are losing power in this dynamic, they might say that they need to change their medicine/therapy and that they will get better.

Bringing the focus back to the victims:

You can forgive yourself for lashing out and commit to reacting more calmly. Look back on the moments when you reacted to the abuse, and think about what you could do differently. Really imagine yourself in those scenes, and think how you could have reacted in a better way.

If you feel like you have become someone that you’re not, reflect on what you were like before this all started. Also, reflect on the following: if you have become so much of a different (and aggressive) person just to survive with someone, is it worth continuing the relationship?

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