Oftentimes, people often stay in cycles of hurt and abuse in the hope of having a corrective experience in the relationship.
They don’t know what they’re experiencing is abuse. This is more common than you think. Most abusive relationships didn’t start out as abusive, but as loving, passionate romance, almost perfect in a way. This anchors the “idealization” stage of the relationship and the abuser, so when the abuse starts, it’s easy for the abused person, friends, and family members to miss all the signs and red flags. Any complaint will be dismissed, minimized, and ignored. Sooner or later, the abused person will think they’re being overly sensitive, dramatic or emotional, and sweep the problem under the rug.
They don’t know what they’re experiencing is abuse. Its often perceived as actions of “love”
Others may only see or define abuse in a very narrow term, such as physical beating with visible evidence. Since mental and emotional abuse is harder to prove or recognize, the majority of people are suffering silently without even knowing it. In a way, mental and emotional abuse are more normalized and prevalent in our society under the guise of discipline, “love,” or protectiveness (which we all, arguably, experienced in one form or another from our either parents, caregivers, and perhaps even teachers).
Unfortunately, some people don’t know this and unconsciously continue to act out this pattern with their romantic partner, confusing love with many forms of abuse and even trying to fix their childhood trauma with their abuser, so they stay.
This is a natural defense mechanism. Even if they feel that they’re being abused or someone pointed it out to them, it’s not enough to convince them to do anything because no one likes to admit that they’re a victim of abuse.
It’s a stigma. To admit it would be to say they were stupid, wronged or needed help.
Also, most abused victims are intelligent and accomplished people. But this is where they can be too smart for their own good. It’s easy to rationalize: “I’m smart. It can't happen to me.” or “I know what abuse is. I’d leave if he/she ever abuse me.” But this is where being overly confident can sometimes blind people to the obvious truth, so they stay and keep the blinders on, even defending, minimizing, or rationalizing the abuser’s actions as well as their own.
This usually happens in chronic and long-term abuse cases. At this point, the victim has internalized and accepted the abuse (i.e “I deserve this”). That is, they stop fighting and have given in.
They’ve learned survival skills to deal with the abuser and believe that it’s better/safer to stay put rather than leave.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
It’s hard to get anyone to leave with this mindset unless something drastic happened that pushes them over the edge, they will stay.
For everyone on the outside, the decision is a no-brainer: leave = good, staying = bad. However, for the victim, it’s not that simple. Who knows what kind of psychological damage, manipulation, and brainwashing the abuser has inflicted already. The victim’s mindset, logical thinking, and emotional stability are not the same as “normal” people; therefore, applying logic or common sense to convince them to leave is futile.
They are constantly living in a state of fear and confusion. They can’t trust anyone and perceive everything and everyone around them to be harmful, regardless of what the reality might be. In most cases, they have been isolated by their abuser and unable to call for help or risk getting punished severely if caught.
Usually, the abuser will hold some kind of threat over them if they try to leave, whether that’ll be the children, physical harm, psychological (suicidal threats), emotional blackmailing (societal or familial judgment), stop or reduce financial support, etc. This is especially difficult when an abuser is a person of significant wealth, power, and influence. So until the need to leave is greater than the fear of staying, they have no choice but to remain.
Misguided hope and love
Even the abuser needs love too and there’s nothing more alluring than to think you can reform a bad partner with an unlimited amount of love. The idea is the more you love them, do, as they say, there is a chance that they can possibly change back to that amazing love that you first fell in love with…
But the truth is that amazing lover was just a mask, a bait to lure in his/her victims.
So when victims offer this kind of blind love to their abuser, the latter would chug it down like a soft beverage and ramp up the abusive behavior even more. This is why the idealization stage is so crucial to keep the (false) hope alive. Without the good times or memories, there’s no reason to put up with the B.S. or abuse.
When times are bad, it’s easy to rationalize to yourself: “They still love me. Our love can overcome this. I can fix us/him/her. We’re just going through a rough patch. Plus they promised to never do that again, apologized sincerely, and are willing to go to therapy. They just need one more chance. It’s only a one-time thing. They’re a good person deep down, I know it.”
The rationalization can be endless. Let’s not forget some people stay for the make-up sex too. It’s a dysfunctional dance that both people are addicted to. The cycle of high drama and passion. It makes them feel alive.
Lack of resources for those that leave
Believe it or not, the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when he/she decides to leave. It’s like a captured prey trying to get out of the spider’s web. Any sudden movement can be more dangerous than staying silent.
Even after they get out, they will be faced with continuous abuse from their abuser, especially if they have children together. The law can only help so much, so oftentimes it’s up to the victims to navigate this treacherous path by themselves. If the victims are unskilled, they will have a hard time supporting themselves and fall back into the abuser’s arms.
P.S. — This list is not meant to be comprehensive and I’m sure I might leave something out.
However, it’s important to note that when it comes to abusive (or any other toxic) relationship dynamic, there’s never just a simple one-answer solution. Every case is different as well as the people within them.
But if we really want to help the victims, we need to start shifting the conversation from the implied judgment and blaming question of “Why do you stay?” to validating statements like “I believe you,” and productive questions such as “Do you want to get out?” and “How can I help?”
Be the light at the end of the tunnel if and when victims seek to extract themselves from the situation.