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

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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?

To schedule an online consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

When you’re the only one fighting for the relationship: the lonely partner

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A relationship should, at least in theory, have more or less equal involvement and effort from both partners. However, we know that “what it should be” is seldom the reality.

It is very common for people who really want to save their relationship or marriage to appear in my office. Partners who are definitely willing to negotiate and solve the problems with their other half, in their microcosm. However, many times after a few failed negotiation attempts and seeing themselves at risk of losing their difficult partner, they begin to simply accept inequality in the invisible (but extremely important) balance of the relationship.

The truth is that the acceptance of inequality, even though done with good intentions, will end up lowering the possibility of survival of the relationship. It is very common for resentment to grow within the person who wants to save the relationship at all costs. As much as the person tells themselves that they accept what is happening, their mind gradually keeps a tab on everything they are conceding. We can consciously accept the situation and try to rationalize it as being “for the couple’s future”, but something deep in our mind cries out for justice. And little by little, small passive-aggressive acts, small tantrums, even emotional breakdowns start to appear here and there. The smiles start to turn sour. Indifference starts to show in the lonely partner’s eyes. For a partner who never wanted to negotiate to begin with, this is usually seen as more ammunition for injustice.

The truth is that accepting everything for temporary peace is no use. You are enabling the behavior of a partner who does not see your side, and you are also slowly destroying the relationship with the (justifiable) anger that brews inside you. The partner who does not want to negotiate is even more comfortable with the situation because you have stopped fighting for balance. Thus, being silent for the sake of the relationship becomes a cycle, which only increases in toxicity. You are not enjoying the situation and clamming up to save a relationship that, without conversation, will not improve. So think ask yourself these questions: for how long are you going to be able to keep quiet? Why are you not voicing your needs? What is the real gain from all of this?

Of course, nothing prevents a partner from finally understanding you and reconciling. Sometimes it takes time and millions of baby steps, and often even couples therapy is necessary. But what about the cases that are not successful? The cases when everything possible has already been tried, but nothing has improved?

Maybe it’s time for you to ask yourself:

If there was a balance, which is exactly what you are looking for, would your partner still be interested in being with you? Are they still in the relationship because they are the person with all the benefits? And what if that’s the case? Do you want to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t respect you?

And, if you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you, why do you stay? Why do you stay, even though you know that nothing will improve, and that nothing will be equal in the relationship? Why do you stay, knowing that the frustration is not temporary, and that you are trying to accept injustice as a new way of life? Is there a fear of loneliness? Fear of trying again, with a new person? Or is it a pattern of unhappy relationships created throughout childhood that makes you stay, trying to change it? Of course, these questions can and should be addressed in therapy.

Remember that a healthy relationship means two people who like each other and want the best of each other. They want to bring happiness to each other. When a partner sees that you are unhappy and that the relationship is unfair but they are comfortable with the situation, is that the relationship you deserve? A one-way relationship? Where’s your value in all of this?

To schedule an online consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

Should I mention divorce?

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Unfortunately, divorce happens.  Even married couples who have bought a house together, have kids, share all of their business and possessions, and look perfectly happy, break up more often than you might think.  It’s sad, and the saddest of all is that in many of these situations, divorce could be avoided.

I do not want to make anybody announce the thought of divorce at the first moment it crosses their mind in a fight, as many do – because this is not a subject to be discussed with a hot head.  It’s a subject that should be discussed calmly.  Many people mention divorce in all the fights that they have with a partner, and like the story of ‘the boy who cried wolf’, the subject loses its gravity, and the ‘threat’ of divorce becomes a rehearsed speech without any real value.

However, during consultations, I see many patients who, by the time they come to therapy, the damage has already been done, and it’s already too late for any hope of repairing the relationship.  Lack of appropriate communication is a serious problem in a large percentage of relationships.  Communicating about considering divorce before giving the “final warning” is essential.  Here are some reasons:

-It is important to communicate with your husband/wife about important concerns you might have about the relationship.  Your partner has the right to know your thoughts and desires, and to have a chance to think on the situation.  A final decision on divorce does not appear from nothing, and until the moment in which it is announced the idea could have passed through the head of one partner thousands of times, while the other doesn’t suspect anything.  It’s unfair to attack them with a final blow without them having any idea what’s happening.

-When you or your partner is communicating about the seriousness of the situation, he is much more likely, and more motivated to change, and can demonstrate how he plans to do something (or not) to salvage the relationship.

-Having a conversation about divorce with your partner not only will it make them think about it, but it will also help you think more clearly about the subject.

If you can’t express yourself easily in a relationship when it comes to divorce, marriage counseling is a good place to converse with each other, with the help of a therapist.  Don’t leave therapy for the last minute, when the divorce is already final.

To schedule a consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
(21) 99742-7750