Guest post: Abuse isn’t actually a reaction to the other person

Originally a comment by ZugTheMegasaurus on She had been brought up to make the people around her happy and comfortable.

I have been, at various times in my life, a rape victim, a legal advocate for domestic violence victims, and a survivor of domestic violence. This “why did she stay” question crops up in virtually every discussion of any man-on-woman violence, and there is one fact sorely lacking from the conversation: “she” did not think like an abuser. It’s so simple, and it doesn’t stop within gender lines, and that’s probably why people don’t see it.

Anyone who has been abused will probably agree on one thing: the abuse doesn’t make sense. We know this is true from an objective standpoint too; abuse isn’t actually a reaction to the other person or their behavior, but is instead something that is internally-generated by the abuser. That’s why saying “It’s not your fault” is more than a nice platitude; it’s actually the reason that no amount of effort on the part of a victim to change will ever be enough to end the abuse: it wasn’t about her in the first place.

The reason abused women stay with their abusers is that they see their abusers as people who love them, and they expect that their abuser is pretty similar to other people in that category. When a person who loves you attacks you, it’s confusing. You don’t just move that person into the “monster” category and leave; you twist yourself in knots trying to figure out what the fuck happened, to pinpoint what exactly went wrong, to identify whatever element made things go so suddenly bad.

People frame this in a way that makes it sound like women are stupid or naive or unprepared, but that’s wrong. The victim is the one who is acting normally; what’s wrong is the situation that’s been created by someone who is sneakily operating on a totally different set of rules. It’s very easy to identify a “bad guy” after the fact and say, “Who would spend time around such a bad guy?” Somehow people forget at the same time that “bad guys” had to earn that reputation at some point, and usually get it by hurting somebody who had no way of knowing.

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