You’ve struggled in some of your relationships before, but this time it’s different. You somehow feel like you, of all people, are the abuser. Is that even possible? Can you, the one who hates the abuse, be the one mistreating your partner?
It’s not your fault, darling, you’re going through something called reactive abuse. If you’re not familiar with this term, we’re about to explain it in detail, going through its forms and making it clear why abusers use it. Also, at the end of this article, you’ll find some tips on how to endure it. Let’s dig in!
What is reactive abuse?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the other person was constantly bullying you or pushing all your buttons simultaneously? Was your partner’s behavior towards you triggering because of a trauma you experienced when you were younger?
Your fight or flight response was activated and you’re not particularly proud of your reaction. You clearly didn’t expect to start screaming, slamming the door, and flinging insults at your partner. That was so not how you imagined a relationship to be, yet here we are.
That right there is reactive abuse.
When a person intentionally provokes a reaction by treating you in an undeserving manner, you end up reacting in a way that’s nothing like you.
There are three typical stages of reactive abuse and almost every case goes through the same pattern. There can’t be any evidence of abuse if there was no antagonism beforehand, and you can’t be manipulated if you don’t feel guilty, right?
So, here are the three stages of practically every reactive abuse incident.
1. Physical or verbal outburst
After the person constantly abuses you (physically or verbally), you reach a breaking point – you have an outburst. We’re talking about screaming or insulting your partner, usually accompanied by frantic crying.
You may even lash out at your partner, scratch him, or push him away. You may throw objects at him, lock yourself in another room, and do anything in your power to stay away from him. Don’t worry, this is a natural defense mechanism and you’re trying to avoid danger.
2. The abuser shifts the blame to the victim
The second stage in reactive abuse is that the abuser blame-shifts. You’ve hurt him, hence you’re the abuser. He’s the one feeling threatened and needs protection.
He tries to find his way out by simply accusing you. Most people don’t remember what exactly happens during or after a heated argument, so he uses this to his advantage. If the police get involved, or anyone else for that matter, he tells them how you lost it for no reason at all.
Also, don’t put it past abusers to harm themselves while you’re in the other room or away. They won’t have problems presenting that as evidence that you are the abuser in the relationship.
3. You feel bad because of your reaction
Naturally, you’re going to feel bad about what you did, even though you can’t clearly remember that you injured him. This is going to make you overthink everything that happened and may lead to some serious mental health issues.
Some signs of depression may show up, or the person with lower self-esteem may want to physically hurt themselves. In some extreme cases, reactive abuse can lead to PTSD. The real victims may stay in abusive relationships because the guilt simply eats them up.
This can also lead to a trauma bond if an abuser shows even a little bit of remorse and the victim believes that he can change. Staying in a toxic relationship is never the right choice, but sometimes it seems like the only one.
What causes you to react?
You have to keep in mind that these above-mentioned outbursts are not a conscious reaction – you barely can control them. Some people react outwardly to abuse, while others shut down completely and show no visible emotions.
There are a couple of reasons for ending up reactively abusing, but none of them has to do anything with you. Here are two main causes.
1. Narcissistic abuse
Narcissistic personality disorder is, I assume, familiar to you. The person who suffers from this mental condition needs a lot of attention and at the same time lacks empathy for others. Narcissists have a big problem maintaining strong and healthy relationships.
People with this condition tend to find their way out of tricky situations by intimidating others or lying. They are usually good actors and this kind of abuse gives them a chance to manipulate you. An abuser with ASPD doesn’t feel remorse for hurting you or putting you through difficult situations.
Why do abusers rely on reactive abuse?
What is so “special” about this type of abuse that makes abusers rely on it? Well, they get the chance to do it all over again. While you’re busy overthinking your reaction and guilt-tripping, you forget to pay attention to the main cause of it.
Let’s dive deeper into why abusers embrace reactive abuse as their way of mistreating their victims.
1. Reactive abuse is one of their methods of manipulation
When you react and have an outburst, it’s easy for them to manipulate you. Not only do they gain control over you, but it is a perfect excuse for them to keep abusing you. Even though you may not realize it sometimes, they persuade you that everything is your fault.
They may use your guilty feelings to make you do things for them. Blackmailing you is something this kind of abuser won’t hesitate to use.
2. People see them as the victim
If the argument escalates and someone from the outside gets involved, your abuser will play the victim. In everybody else’s eyes, you’ll be the torturer and you won’t be able to shake off that feeling of culpability.
They will play the main role in this scenario they’ve created in their heads, you being the main villain. Narcissistic abuse can leave some serious damage and it’s not going to be easy to recover from it, but you can do it.
3. Gaslighting is their weapon of choice
Yes, gaslighting is their weapon of choice. They will make you doubt your sanity and convince you that things happened exactly as they say it did. And well, in their story, you’re the abuser, remember?
He’ll present you with his narrative and you’ll slowly but surely lose touch with reality. You’ll start questioning your behavior, even hate yourself for your actions, and he’ll have more “material” to continue the abuse.
How to get through reactive abuse cool-headed?
This may seem like a difficult task, but you can actually get through it cool-headed. We’ve mentioned earlier that some people simply stay in shock and don’t react at all. This is, believe it or not, an efficient way for the abuser to stop in his tracks.
However, your lack of reaction may provoke him to become ruthless and opt for other forms of abuse. So how can you prevent it from happening?
1. Don’t react, respond
First and foremost, don’t react, respond. It may be easier said than done, but when you don’t react to provocations, it confuses your abuser. He definitely didn’t expect you’d have an outburst. This way you’re reclaiming the power over yourself.
If you stop for a second to think about the whole situation while it’s happening, you’re choosing to respond properly. You have control over your reactions and that is something he doesn’t want. When you’re thinking about your reaction, he can’t manipulate you anymore.
2. Try to stay calm, even if they’re pushing you towards the breaking point
You have to recognize the signs that you may have an outburst. Most people get hot flashes, start trembling, and their palms get sweaty. You may feel lightheaded, your voice may crack at a certain moment, and you may start stammering.
Some people, when faced with abuse, end up fainting and their abuser will use that as proof that the victim’s being dramatic. As soon as you notice any of these signs, try to stay calm and don’t let him push you any closer to the breaking point.
3. Make them realize that you can see through their manipulative tactics
The worst thing for a magician is when someone knows his trick, right? It’s not alluring anymore. This is the same with an abuser who chooses reactive abuse. Once you show him that you can see through his manipulative tactics, he may back off.
But, be aware. In those moments of silence, he may be looking for other ways to torture you, so use that calm period to leave him for good and take time to heal.
4. Stay away from the abuser – physically and emotionally
The best way to get through reactive abuse cool-headed is if you don’t go through the abuse at all. Stay away from your abuser both physically and emotionally. The sooner you distance yourself, the better.
It’s not going to be easy, especially if you love him, but you have to realize that the relationship you have is far from a healthy one and it’s only caused you pain. Nothing good has come out of it and you can’t fix it. He won’t change, no matter how many times he said he would.
5. Don’t hesitate to ask for help
Last but not least, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You may decide to go the professional route, or ask some of your close friends and family members to help you – both are good choices. Nobody is going to blame you, you’re the victim here, so delete thoughts of guilt and shame from your mind.
Let me remind you one thing in the end. You are the victim here, so you shouldn’t feel guilty. Take your control back and go live that life of yours to the fullest. Savor each moment and be grateful that you’re alive, breathing, and surrounded by people who love you and support you unconditionally.