What is reactive abuse? It is when a victim of emotional abuse starts to exhibit the same or similar behaviors of their abuser. It is not uncommon for victims to develop negative adaptations to ongoing, long-term emotional abuse that look and sound like abuse. In other words, they have now become abusive themselves. Or have they? Dr. Lenne’ Hunt discusses whether reactive abuse is the same as the kind of emotional abuse that is used as a weapon to control another person and take away their personhood.
What is Reactive Abuse in a Relationship?
Relationships can be intricate and sometimes fraught with challenges. When emotional abuse is involved, it can lead to a particularly complicated dynamic. In this article, we’ll delve into what is reactive abuse in a relationship, shedding light on why it occurs and how it impacts the individuals involved.
The Blame Game: A Common Strategy
In the realm of abusive relationships, it’s not uncommon for abusive spouses to employ a specific strategy when confronted with their harmful behavior. They often resort to deflecting blame onto their partner, accusing them of being equally abusive. This tactic serves several purposes, such as attempting to downplay their own abusive actions and create a false sense of equivalence. It’s as if they believe that by saying, “You’re abusive too,” they can somehow cancel out or diminish their own wrongdoings.
This manipulation tactic creates a difficult dilemma for the victimized spouse. They are left grappling with questions about their own identity within the relationship – are they still the victim, or have they become an abuser themselves?
The Transformation Caused by Prolonged Abuse
Living in an abusive marriage marked by high levels of conflict and emotional turmoil over an extended period can profoundly affect an individual. The persistent emotional wounds inflicted on their heart can lead to a transformation, but not the positive kind. Victims often find themselves becoming someone they no longer recognize.
They may notice behaviors in themselves that were never part of their character before the abusive relationship. These newfound behaviors tend to be less healthy, potentially even damaging, and they cause dismay and inner turmoil. In essence, victims fear they are becoming like the partner who has inflicted so much pain upon them.
Understanding Reactive Abuse
What we are witnessing in this scenario is what can be termed “reactive abuse.” It occurs as a reaction to the cumulative hurtful experiences inflicted by the abusive partner. When victims reach a point where nothing they’ve tried seems to stop the abuse, frustration and hopelessness can bubble over, leading to reactive abuse.
This reaction is far from ideal, and it certainly doesn’t feel good for the person who engages in it. However, it provides the primarily abusive party with an excuse to further minimize their own actions, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
Seeking Help and Self-Compassion
The discussion of reactive abuse is vital for several reasons. If you find yourself in an emotionally abusive marriage and notice behaviors within yourself that mirror the abuse you’re enduring, it’s crucial not to beat yourself up over it. Instead, consider this realization as a wake-up call to seek help.
Allow your self-awareness to serve as a catalyst for change. Reach out for support, whether it’s from professionals, support groups, or trusted friends and family. If you don’t intervene and address this inner transformation, it can continue to warp your sense of self and identity.
Differentiating Reactive Abuse from Original Abuse
It’s important to differentiate reactive abuse from the original abuse you’ve endured. While the behaviors may appear similar on the surface, they stem from different places. Original abuse is an intentional act of control, manipulation, and cruelty. Reactive abuse, on the other hand, emerges from a sense of powerlessness, a feeling of being trapped, and a desperate attempt to make oneself heard.
Understanding this distinction can help you process your emotions and actions more effectively, allowing you to work on breaking free from the cycle of abuse.
Conclusion: Untangling Victimhood and Perpetration
In abusive relationships, the roles of victim and perpetrator can become tangled and confusing. Reactive abuse is a manifestation of the profound impact that sustained emotional abuse can have on an individual. It is essential to recognize the signs, seek help, and strive for healing and self-compassion. Breaking free from this cycle is a challenging journey, but it’s one that can ultimately lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life outside the shadows of abuse.
Also read: The Physical Impact of Emotional Abuse
About Dr. Hawkins:
The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.
Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.
He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.
In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.