Millions of unhealthy individuals are drawn together every day. They may hurt one another and imprint these negative patterns on their family, friends, neighbors, and the children who witness the abuse; all sharing in the emotional turmoil. At some stage, we may trick ourselves into believing a partner is better than they actually are in order to allow ourselves to connect with them or to stay in an abusive relationship, because the unkown (and possibly healthier) can be scarier than the abusive and toxic environment you are in. At least you know what to expect. Because you only need to absorb all the punishment, and you can take it better than letting it loose on the world. Because you have genuine love for your partner, and this is the cost to make sure they don’t self-destruct or go on a rampage. Because deep down you feel unworthy of anything better.
To guard against self-deception, a clearer understanding of what happens in these events may help. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves why we may maintain and continue unhealthy and abusive relationships. We can easily point out other people’s flaws, but without a mindful understanding of our own views and attractions, many of these observations will go unaddressed. Over time, we each develop filters that influence our perceptions, information, and views. Like a series of mirrors reflecting each other, over time images become more and more obscured and distorted.
Below are some ways in which a person may be influenced into actions and decisions that are unwise and could cause distress.
The mind is designed to deceive. Generally, negative experiences diminish with time and fade, while positive images of a negative event are long-lasting. Memory is a reconstructive process that is prone to error and distortion.
Memories do not reflect actual events as time passes. Reflection of the past actually causes a new experience and may interfere with retrieval of the original event. In other words, memories are made of earlier memories, changing and evolving with each passing recollection of the past. This is why witnesses viewing the same event diverge in their recollections with time and why their own recollections will change.
While an unimpaired person may require dozens of memories to reshape experiences, sociopaths and pathological liars seem to instantly perceive a memory very differently from what actually occurred with just one or two reflections. That would explain why sociopaths and pathological liars can pass polygraphs- they really believe their greatly modified memory is accurate.
When something negative occurs in your relationship, you may wish that it never happened and each time you recall the event, this internal wish may slightly alter the memory you have of it. Eventually, the original memory is transformed and you have a brand new version that better suits your desire for harmony within your relationship. However, this sort of “re-vamping” can be dangerous as it will distort an abusive relationship and keep you from doing something about the behavior when you need to. Instead, you continue to lie to yourself and live in a world that enables your abuser to continue treating you in hurtful ways—and why wouldn’t they? They know you will turn it around and make them look almost honorable in their actions.
If you catch yourself in this situation, it would be best to write down the exact events in a diary as soon as they occur. Be as detailed as possible. Re-read these journals every once in a while to make sure that you are remembering things clearly. This will help you make a proper choice about whether or not your situation warrants intervention of some sort.
Feeling Is Believing
Someone you consider to be very attractive is responding to your attempts to initiate interpersonal contact. You find it a challenge to earn this person’s trust and affections. Being with this person would not only be a dream come true, but they are so good-looking and sexy.
When you are near this person something inside of you comes alive. It could be triggered by cologne or perfume, a certain way they smile, or just a good feeling you have when close to each other. You can’t explain it, but you are feeling drawn to this person beyond your control. Bottom line, you are going to try to make something intimate happen.
When negative issues and information about this person emerge, issues that normally you find distasteful and would fully reject, for some reason these no longer matter to you. Regardless of these flaws, you are committed to pursue this relationship. This is "believing in" them, and then seeing only what you want to see, while ignoring common sense. Oblivious to warnings, and discounting what normally would be irritating and unacceptable, this biological attraction is too strong to deny. This is Feeling is Believing.
If you believe you are experiencing this, give yourself some time before venturing any further. It might help to be away from this person and speak to a friend or relative. Someone that you are close to. Talk to them about what you normally look for in a partner and try to pinpoint how this particular person challenges your usual criteria for a good partner. Saying this out loud helps to clarify what you actually want in a long-term partner, while involving someone else can make you feel accountable for your actions. If you feel as though someone close to you is aware that this may not be the best match, you are more likely to keep your eyes open so as not to embarrass yourself. Allow yourself to be verbally open about this situation to someone close to you and it is likely that you will better judge the situation when you listen to your own words.
Bias to Affirmation
While “Feeling is Believing” is the term relating to physiologically driven impulses that ignore common sense, “Bias to Affirmation” relates to a predisposed set of beliefs and perspectives that override your rational judgment.
Let's say you are devout member of a religious group. You have been told or have come to believe that the most important quality a potential partner must possess is an identical faith perspective. Since no person of any other faith or perspective is an acceptable partner, even a person with negative and abusive traits is considered a worthy partner because this most important criterion is met.
The same concept may be applied to any primary criteria, i.e. political party, ethnic, racial, or even favorite sports team affiliation. Bias to Affirmation takes precedent of all other behaviors and characteristics that a potential partner may possess, which sometimes leads to attempting to create a solid relationship with no foundation other than one element of the partner's profile.
Be aware of placing such a high value on any one criterion that you fall in love with anyone who meets it, despite how terrible of a match they may actually be. If you feel yourself becoming obsessed, focusing on only one thing, take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities. Think about what standard is very high up on the list of must-haves in a partner for you. Is having someone who is very good at that one thing really worth being treated poorly? No. It isn’t. If you felt torn answering that question, then that is something you need to work on before considering a long-term relationship. Nothing is worth being treated badly for. Period.
When in the midst of an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.
Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!