Most abused women do not know if they are in a "normal" relationship or if their expectations are unrealistic.
It can be difficult to know if someone loves you or is abusive. If your partner says they love you, gives you a lot of attention, pays for the groceries or rent, you may want to forgive their unacceptable behaviours. While it's hard to believe, abusive people can also act loving and supportive. However, they do this in order to keep control. It doesn't make their other behaviours okay.
Women in toxic relationships are often taught to feel loyalty toward their partners, especially those who offer kindness at times. The cycle of trauma bonding (see my Blog on Trauma Bonding) involves intermittent acts of kindness to counterbalance their cruelty. It is also their way of teaching us to accept abuse as "normal". They know it's going to reoccur at some point so they put a few shiny marbles in the jar to remind you that they aren't all bad. Their acts of love trap you into a repetitive cycle. You find yourself waiting to be loved again. We think if we just give them enough love and time, then something good will come of it.
Here is a list of EMOTIONAL and VERBAL abuse examples, taken from the "US Office on Women’s Health, 2021". Next to each of these you'll find justifications that women often cling to, allowing the abuse to continue.
He wants to know what you’re doing all the time and wants you to be in constant contact. You love that he cares and are flattered. Like a prized possession, you’re so precious and important to him.
He demands passwords to things like your phone, email, and social media and says it’s to protect you. You feel safe and admire his thoughtfulness and concern. You’re not savvy with technology and understand that things can go wrong, and he is making sure you're safe.
He acts very jealous, including constantly accusing you of cheating. You feel intoxicatingly attractive and grateful that he cares. He thinks I’m beautiful. Imagine having a partner who thinks I am that desirable and appealing to other men.
He prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family. This may be very subtle and you ignore it because he has a good reason for not wishing to travel or go out after work, he’s tired. My family do live a fair distance from us, and it is a long drive. Those friends he dislikes aren’t that close anyway and I am happy to spend the evening at home. He likes my company and I love that.
He tries to stop you from going to work or school. You are fortunate that he can provide so well and feel privileged that you don’t really need to work, like other friends. It is expensive to study, and we already have a mortgage. We don’t need HECS fees too.
He gets angry in a way that is frightening to you. This only happens if I’ve really pushed him, or something has upset him- he doesn’t do this all the time. He has a lot on at work and he’s just stressed. I was probably nagging him anyway and made him angry with my questions. He doesn’t yell all the time usually he just goes into his study and has a few drinks and watches TV. He will probably cool off if I apologise, I hate seeing him this angry and distant from me.
He controls all your finances or how you spend your money. He is the bread winner and is good with money and as he says.. I’m hopeless with all of this stuff and I understand this and accept that he likes to know where the money is going. He pays all the bills and I probably spend too much money on the kids and they don’t need new clothes when they already have plenty.
He stops you from seeing a doctor or counsellor. I understand because it is expensive and a luxury we can’t afford. He has planned a holiday at the end of the year, and we must save for that. Seeing my therapist is a indulgent anyway and I have friends I can talk to. I want him to have a break and he deserves the holiday he’s planning.
He humiliates you in front of others. He was a little drunk and he didn’t even remember saying it the next day. He doesn’t mean to hurt me, and he said it was only a joke. I did do something stupid, and I should learn to laugh at myself and not take things so seriously. I agree with him, I am very sensitive.
He calls you insulting names (such as “stupid,” “disgusting,” “worthless,” “whore,” or “fat”). He’s only done it a few times, it’s not all the time and he always buys me flowers on my birthday. I did ask him If he liked my new jeans and he had a few drinks that night, I know he meant nothing by it. I have put on weight recently.
He threatens to hurt you, people you care about, or pets. He didn’t agree to the kids to having a pet and he’s just annoyed because the dog poops in his garden and he loves that garden. He gets angry at the kids because they don’t walk the dog enough, he’s right and I can understand that this makes him very angry. He only jokes about letting the dog get run over. When he forgot to close the gate and the dog escaped, the kids knew it was an accident and that he was only joking.
He decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat). He hates Japanese food and likes pizza; I understand that he’s a fussy eater and I never get to decide where we eat out. He’s always willing to pay for take away and I will eat anything, so it’s not worth making a fuss over this. He's always happy when he orders pizza.
In each example above, the narcissist masterfully influences your internal dialogue in such a way that you end up not taking action against (accepting) their bad behaviour. As a result, you enable their behaviour to continue. For example:
You end up agreeing with the abusive person in the face of their abuse.
They act selfishly and disrespectfully, and we find a reason why it’s valid.
You cover up the domestic abuse because of feelings of attachment or loyalty.
If our friends or family try to intervene, you (might) withdraw from them.
You defend their actions saying, "he’s good to me but he dislikes other people prying into our personal lives."
If you find yourself in a bond with someone who abuses you, it can be difficult to break free.
The cyclical pattern is what allows the abuse to continue. You end up blaming yourself for triggering their actions. You suffer emotional problems like anxiety or depression. And the more you blame yourself, the more your abuser can prey on that guilt to keep exploiting what they have over you.
For those women who leave the narcissist and recover from abuse, they are shocked to look back on what their old self was willing to accept. They are ashamed and embarrassed to admit that they once believed they "deserved it" and that those behaviours were somehow acceptable. They stayed because they didn’t think that emotional and financial abuse was really abuse. Because words don’t leave bruises. Because they couldn't admit to themselves that what their partner had actually done to them was abusive.
They thought they would be the strong one who would never leave. They placed loyalty and partnership above themselves. Through their loyalty, they demonstrated their commitment to their family values or religious community. Because they thought they could fix their partner and teach them how to love. But they were wrong.