Do you suspect someone close to you is affected? Are you perhaps even certain? But you feel powerless because they do not open up and don't leave her/his partner? Have they started lying to you? Making excuses, canceling meetings, showing anxious behaviour in daily situations are all signs of an abusive relationship.
As outsiders, relatives and friends these situations are quite frustrating. Most probably you experience a mix of feelings of being scared for your friend/relative, but also being shocked about their powerlessness and perhaps even angry that they are lying to you. Read on to understand the context of what the person you care about is finding themselves in.
The spiral of violence
Psychological abuse, manipulation or also “mindf*ck”
A relationship does not always change from one day to the next. Often it is a spiral of violence that slowly builds up and then repeats itself.
It often starts with little things and psychological violence that build up a tense atmosphere. Usually the affected person feels responsible for the tension, as the abusive person makes the abused person responsible for their behavior. For example, “your behavior made me cheat on you” or “I would be nicer to you if you were nice to me and do more of the things I like you to do.” Other occasions may include ridiculing or disrespecting the person for simple behaviors and daily tasks, for instance “This is really the food you cooked? It tastes horrible. That is the food you make me eat? You cannot even cook!”. Such kind of aggression is targeted to undermine self-esteem and diminish self-confidence in the victim.
And that is how tension increases until there is a first outbreak of physical violence.
After the first incident of physical violence
After the first attack, usually shock prevails. This is the most crucial incident, where the spiral of violence still can be stopped with the least amount of damage. It is often the first (and only) time where some victims manage to take steps to protect themselves or others, such as their children, and open up to friends and family. But often only temporarily, because …
Remorse and Promises
Typically, the perpetrator shows remorse after an attack and seeks reconciliation. Often there are loving apologies or promises. Sentences like "that will never happen again" or "that was an exception" are uttered. Others say “I hate myself so much, I do not know how I could have done this to you.” Sometimes, perpetrators bring gifts and shower the victim with gestures of apologies and alleged love.
This gives many victims hope and leads them to give the relationship a new chance. Perpetrators also often promise change and betterment. “It will never happen again, I promise.” That’s why most of victims miss to leave the relationship at this point, where it is still the easiest.
If the promises and apologies are convincing (which they usually are), a loving reconciliation phase follows, also called the "honeymoon phase". Why are the apologies so convincing you might ask yourself? Well, think about a moment where something really bad happened to you, and you are in shock. While being in shock, what is it that you really want? Most of us want to delete or cancel the experience, so that they do not have to endure the pain that comes after the shock. A victim that has just experienced a violent attack is in shock. All they want is to make this incident “unhappened”. Apologies and promises serve exactly this purpose. They provide the alleged relief our psyche is longing for at this moment.
And this is how after a short honeymoon phase, when the perpetrator feels the abused partner is back in their dependency, everyday life returns, and perhaps the perpetrator starts justifying the incident or plays it down. That marks the beginning of a new phase of psychological manipulation.
After some time, the spiral of violence resumes. The mood becomes more tense again, with incidents of manipulation and psychological abuse addressed and successful in diminishing the self-esteem of the victim, until it escalates into violence once more.
Here the spiral usually continues, after the initial shock and possibly protective actions by the victim, there are loving offers of reconciliation from the perpetrator. The more frequent this happens, the lower the self-esteem of the victim at this point and the deeper the spiral.
How long the spiral continues is up to the victim. If you or someone in your environment is affected, please seek help. Get in touch with our experts by booking a meeting with our psychologists and lawyers who will assist you in understanding your options.
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If you are in immediate danger call 100 (Hellenic police).