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I Was In An Abusive Relationship — But You Have No Right To Victim-Blame Me

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Abusive Relationship
Heartbreak

Abuse is and will always be the responsibility of the abuser.

I was in an abusive relationship. I never thought I would end up in this situation. I was so happy, confident and outgoing, and I thought my education and independence were barriers against something like this.

I studied gender-based crimes and sexual assault in college, so I knew all the signs of an abusive relationship. And yet, here I am. For years, I couldn't even call it abuse because I didn't want to admit that that’s what it was.

No one sets out to be the partner of someone who ends up exploiting and abusing them. Now that the relationship is over, I’m coming to terms with what occurred and trying to understand it to make sure nothing like this ever happens to me again. 

If you've never been in an abusive relationship, I understand how difficult it can be to comprehend how someone gets involved in one and why they stay in one for as long as they do. If you are willing to be compassionate and open-minded to listening, instead of victim-blaming, you can become a great ally for the millions of men and women who are trying right now to leave one of these relationships and may need you.


RELATED: 15 Undeniable Warning Signs That Your Relationship Is Abusive


So, how exactly do people become victims (and survivors) of an abusive relationship? There is a cycle of abuse that occurs:

1. You are vulnerable and inexperienced.

I had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship I entered when I was very young. Because of that, I was relatively inexperienced at the whole dating thing, but being "on the market" these days was an entirely new world from the last time I was single. There had been no such things as dating apps, explicit photos, or Snapchat.

I was pretty innocent about what people were doing, so I had no gauge for what was considered normal or acceptable. And I had never come across anything worse in my dating life than a couple of garden-variety jerks whose worst offenses were annoying but forgettable.

I was unprepared for a relationship like the one I was about to get into. This may have been one reason I was personally "targeted," but the reason will be different for each person in a relationship like this one.

2. You are love-bombed and end up falling hard.

Part of what no one talks about when it comes to abusive relationships is that most of the time, by the time the abuse takes place, the person being abused has already been psychologically manipulated into loving that person — and that can be abusive too, especially when the abuser purposely holds it over the partner’s head and twists that love into a weapon.

In my case, he began to spend all of his free time with me, flattered me incessantly, and started to tell me he had never felt for anyone the way he felt for me. The way he looked at me and touched me felt so real that I got comfortable letting down my guard and trusting him. We became very close.

3. You want to believe everything is okay in your relationship, so you ignore the red flags.

When things happened that seemed off, I projected my own lack of experience in relationships onto him to explain it. He had mirrored innocence back to me and made it seem as if he hadn't had much experience either.

Because the things that happened were small — such as little lies about things I'd seen or heard, or jealous comments he made about my male friends on Facebook — I'd just let it go. There didn't seem a point of making a big deal out of it because it seemed harmless at the time. 

4. You are gaslighted and start to lose your ability to trust yourself.

This is really where I began to lose myself. Gaslighting is when someone lies or intentionally feeds you false information that directly contradicts information you gathered yourself through your own senses. 

He would tell me that certain women from his past were crazy or obsessed with him and he had blocked them, and then they would appear on his own list of friends in social media accounts. When I would point it out, they would disappear again and he would insist I had imagined it.

Time after time, there were dozens if not hundreds of instances in which he would say I was over-analyzing or being too sensitive, that I had seen wrong or heard him wrong. He’d subject me to anger or accuse me of not trusting him, even walk out of the room and refuse to talk about it.

I developed cognitive dissonance trying to figure out whether to trust myself, or this person who loved me. Since I had no proof most of the time and he was so insistent, I would start to doubt my own memory.  

5. You may then become a victim of verbal abuse.

I didn't know it at the time, but the gaslighting had already eroded my boundaries. Over time, as the trust in myself disappeared, it was replaced by his control over me. 

When he started to accuse me of cheating without cause, called me names, or flew into a rage, I normally would not have stood for that, but my self-worth had already been diminished and I was filled with doubts about every judgment I tried to make. I was consumed with confusion over his conflicting actions and unable to see that I just needed to leave.

All I wanted was for things to go back to the way they used to be, and I didn't know why any of this was happening. I thought if I could just explain to him how he was making me feel, he would stop.


RELATED: 5 Signs He's SERIOUSLY Controlling You — And You Don't Even Know It


6. Your partner lives a double life.

The abuse escalated further and I became even less myself, anxious and paranoid... until I finally discovered that he had several other relationships also going on at the same time. I was shocked and devastated. 

7. You try to end the relationship, but become trauma-bonded instead.

We were living together at the time and there were financial and legal reasons we needed to stay in contact for a few more months. During this time, he asked me for multiple chances to try to make things right between us. Nothing about what had happened had sunk in yet, and because of what had already taken place psychologically between us, I was not mentally strong enough to understand that his attempts to come back into my life could not work.

I wanted answers. I could not reconcile the man who had at first come into my life, with the man who had done the horrible things to me. But my brain kept trying to make sense out of it anyway.

Nothing ever changed. Through our continued contact, I developed a trauma bond with him. A trauma bond develops when someone has inflicted cruelty on someone but has also provided intermittent kindness toward them. The person becomes dependent on that kindness because it’s the only thing that puts an end to the suffering, even though the sources of both the pain and the pleasure are the same. 

The phenomenon is similar to Stockholm Syndrome and occurs because the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin become deregulated in the brain. The brain of the victim begins to sync up with the harmful cycle of abuse and can only release the two chemicals when the abuser performs the "rescue," which makes a victim feel addicted to the abuser.

8. You finally break away.

It took a long time, but I'm proud of myself because I was finally able to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, and pull away enough emotionally and psychologically to cut him out of my life. I had to do it the same way he gained control over me: a little at a time.

His influence had to wane and I had to grow strong again. There had been a fog in my brain for a long time that had been a part of the confusion generated by the mind games he played with me. It started to lift almost immediately and my mind became clearer.

I've started to become myself again, although there have been a lot of residual emotions and questions, such as why people stay in abusive relationships. It's important to understand the following things:

1. People in abusive relationships are trapped there for reasons they may not be able to use words to explain. 

This is what I'd like people to know. When someone in an abusive relationship acts against their own best interest, it's not because they chose to do it willingly. It may appear to outsiders as if the victim is just allowing it all to happen, when internally, the victim may actually be fighting for his or her life through a mental fog purposely generated by the abuser. 

The abuser is doing his or her best to ensure the victim never resolves anything and puts it together that he or she is being abused.

2. Victim-blaming attitudes are harmful and keep people in abusive relationships. 

There are ways that others can be supportive and help a victim of abuse leave faster or to recover when they do leave. But assuming that they are inviting it or doing something to cause it, is not one of them. In fact, those ideas sound a lot like what my ex-boyfriend wanted me to believe too. 

There were times when he offered up excuses such as, “If you’d hadn't done [x], I wouldn’t have cheated.” It was another form of minimizing that fed into the same confusion about what was happening in the relationship that the gaslighting did: Was I, in fact, to blame somehow? Was I overreacting? Did I deserve it? Was it cheating? Is this abusive? 

As someone on the outside of the relationship, if you say similar things or have similar attitudes to the victim, you're actually reinforcing ideas that make the victim keep doubting her own agency to kick the abuser out of her head.

Abuse is and will always be the responsibility of the abuser. For my part, I'm not going to let him put that on me anymore, and I refuse to let anyone else do it. My sin was loving someone who didn't deserve it, but my job is to understand and accept that not everyone is equally deserving of my love and trust.

I can own that. I refuse to be a victim any longer, and accepting blame would just be another type of victimization that I don’t deserve.


RELATED: Why Some Women Are Addicted To Abusive Men


Kristen Milstead is a writer, researcher and advocate in the area of toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse. She's passionate about empowering people who have been in psychologically and emotionally abusive relationships, and about raising awareness about hidden abuse. Follow her blog

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