Have you ever wondered why people stay in abusive relationships? Toxic love can be quite confusing to people who are watching from the outside.
People often say, why don’t you just leave?
After all, it’s clear to them that the toxic relationship is making the person unhappy – so they wonder why someone would stay in such a painful situation.
But this is a simplistic view – because the reality is far more complex.
I’m the author of the bestselling Prince Harming Syndrome and founder of a groundbreaking video course on managing and disarming toxic people. And so I decided to share 6 helpful insights as to why people stay in abusive relationships.
There are a lot of reasons why people stay in toxic relationships.
In many cases, they do not recognize that the relationship is toxic – especially where emotional abuse is concerned.
If you want to help a loved one that is in an abusive relationship, it is important that you understand all of the factors that are at play.
You must see things from the victim’s point of view.
Below are some of the most common reasons that people stay in abusive relationships.
When a person is constantly talking about the ways that their partner is hurting them, you may wonder why they don’t just leave. Well, often people in abusive relationships are addicted to narcissists.
Admittedly, this concept of addiction can very difficult for outsiders to understand.
However, in a lot of cases, a person’s entire mental space is taken up by their abuser. They are constantly thinking about them and trying to understand their behavior. They don’t have the energy to think about anything else.
When a person takes up so much of your mental energy, they become an addiction. It is almost impossible to imagine a life without them. And so people stay in abusive relationships.
In many cases, people need to go through a narcissistic abuse recovery program before they are able to break that addiction and see things more clearly.
In this case of addiction, it’s not always helpful to keep telling a person that they should leave. This can create more anxiety. They might even start to think about their abuser even more, strengthening the addiction.
Intermittent reinforcement is where punishments or rewards for certain behaviors are not consistent. They are given sporadically without any kind of pattern.
Actually, intermittent reinforcement is linked to addiction. It makes it very difficult for victims to build a clear picture of their relationship.
Let’s say an abuser becomes angry or violent any time that you have a disagreement with them. It is easy to see that the relationship is unhealthy. But if that punishment is inconsistent, the victim may then convince themselves that it was just a one off and it won’t happen again. Or they might even think that it must have been their fault rather than the fault of the abuser.
If an abuser is apologetic and nice after every outburst, it loses its effect. But if they withhold positive behavior and only display it sporadically, the victim may begin to crave it.
Intermittent reinforcement is often displayed through the circle of violence in relationships. Outbursts of abusive behavior are followed by a period of apologies, love and affection.
The victim then starts to think that maybe this time will be different and things will work out ok. Next time the abuser has an outburst, the cycle starts all over again. The victim follows the same pattern of thought because the abuse is not constant.
Studies into intermittent reinforcement show that it creates a similar response in the brain to gambling, so it can become very addictive.
Often abusers do repeated damage to a victim’s already low self esteem. They will constantly put their victim down and tell them that nobody else will want to be with them. They will warn their victim that if they leave, then they will be alone forever.
Over time, when this message is constantly repeated, the victim starts to believe it. They agree that they don’t deserve any better and nobody else will want to be in a relationship with them. So they begin to accept their situation, instead of looking for a way out.
In some cases, people with low self esteem find it hard to avoid toxic partners because they don’t feel that they deserve any better.
At the beginning of the relationship, people with low self esteem let abusive behavior go unchallenged. Things gradually get worse. Their self-esteem suffers more.
Trauma causes us to disconnect from distressing experiences. This response is common in victims of abuse.
This means that abuse victims often focus heavily on the positive things that their partner does. They downplay and disconnect from the abusive aspects of their relationship.
Even if the people around them are telling them that their relationship is toxic, they don’t see it that way because they minimize the abuse and maximize the manipulative acts of kindness.
The few good things that the abuser has done are built up in the mind of the victim. They see them as a wonderful partner that is so good to them, even if they are occasionally abusive.
When people are disconnected from the abuse, they can wind up downplaying it. As a result, they can often wind up feeling that they want to help their partner.
They become so focused on the positive aspects of the relationship, that they see the abuser as a good person who makes some mistakes.
So they then decide to stay in the relationship – with the hope that they can fix their partner – and believing the abuse will stop.
The victim values the abuser more than they value themselves. They feel that it is their duty to help the abuser, even if it makes them unhappy.
Abusers will often use financial control as a way to trap their victims in a relationship.
By taking control of their money, they make it a lot harder for the victim to leave. Even if they want to get out of the relationship, they do not have the means to find somewhere to live or pay any of their bills.
The victim may feel guilty about asking friends or family members for money. And so they end up staying in the relationship.
If a victim has children with their abuser, that makes things incredibly difficult for them. No parent wants to put their child through emotional turmoil. They worry that if they leave, then this will have a negative impact on the children.
The abuser will often reinforce this by accusing the victim of trying to take the children away from their parents or abandoning their family. They talk about the damage that it will do to the children. All of this feeds into tremendous guilt.
However, the important thing to remember is that children learn about relationships from their parents. If children see abuse happening, this will have a much bigger impact on them than a separation would.
It’s so easy for people outside of an abusive, toxic relationship to say that the victim should just leave.
But this kind of victim blaming is not helpful.
It doesn’t take into account all of the different reasons why somebody might stay in a toxic relationship.
If you want to help a loved one that is in a toxic relationship, it’s important that you understand the reasons why people cannot simply leave.
The best thing you can do: Do your best to constantly remind your loved one that they are worthy of healthy, happy love.