Being in an abusive situation can bring on a variety of different emotional reactions and those experiencing the abuse may even shift from one state of mind to another, quite rapidly. With many abusers, there are periods of calm where the victim can almost believe that life has returned to normal, only to be brought right back to the monster they know so well.
It is difficult for those outside of the situation to understand just how deep the abuse may run in most circumstances, as outsiders typically do not witness the sometimes small periods of abuse but rather see the periods of calm. The abuser is also likely to hide their behavior in the company of others. The one being abused can come across as exaggerating to others and end up feeling even more alone and confused. Outsiders will respond to their claims with, “but they have never acted like that to me” or “maybe you’re just being sensitive, they seem like such a nice person”. The victim may start to doubt whether what they are seeing and experiencing is really abusive behavior or just a normal person having a bad day. They doubt themselves and their observations.
During the periods of calm a victim will often try to rationalize what has happened and convince themselves that maybe it was not what they originally had thought, that maybe they are being sensitive. They start to perk up, to move forward with their life and bam! That is just when the storm hits once more. Most abusers have a need to keep their victims in some sort of misery, so that as long as they can tell that the victim is still frightened or upset, they are capable of behaving in quite a sensitive and even kind manner. But the moment that the victim believes that everything is or will be all right in the future, the abuser senses the shift and the underlying tendencies surface.
The cycle of abuse is going to be different for each situation but it will usually cause a great deal of emotional damage both during, and after the abusive situation has ceased. While the victim is still in the midst of living with someone who treats them in this manner, they are likely to develop depressive moods ranging from mild to severe, as well as self-esteem issues, feeling as though they are not good enough nor are they capable to handle life on their own. Abusers take it upon themselves to make their victims feel very small. The victim does not know whether they will be coming home to a happy dinner or someone lashing out at them, whether this be full on physical abuse, a shouting match, or passive aggressive behavior in which the abuser does their best to belittle them indirectly.
The person living in this environment has their fight or flight response activated and their body experiences large amounts of stress hormones coursing through it. The stress in their system can cause physical health to be fragile, making them more susceptible to disease and infections, as well as prolonging the viruses and diseases they do encounter; stress is an enemy to one’s immune system. Anxiety may also become prevalent. Imagine never knowing what sort of situation you will be entering into? Will there be violence? Name calling? Or will you walk in quietly and be greeted with a smile? Who knows! They NEED to be ready at all times for anything that may come, and being always on guard and at the ready, bracing themselves for the worst, which does not make it easy for their system to optimize health.
Beyond depression, anxiety, and physical health, there is also a great deal of loneliness that a person experiences during this time. They do not feel they can speak to others about what they are going through, isolating themselves from the world internally if not externally as well. Most will not understand or even believe them, and even if they did the outside person is unlikely to WANT to hear about it. The victim is branded as negative or whining, or at the least they do not fit in-- and they know it.
Those who are lucky enough to escape from the abusive circumstances for good will likely never be fully free from the impact of the events. The longer the conditions endured or the more traumatic the situation, the harder it will be for that person to completely move on. Anxiety and fear will likely plague the victim when meeting or trusting others. In fact, many may have difficulty ever fully trusting anyone again. They may keep people at arm’s length, ruin relationships with their constant need for reassurance, or go the exact opposite route and open up in a no-holds-barred, unhealthy manner due to being starved for the love they never received, letting everyone in even when they shouldn’t. It is possible that they may also use self-harm as a way to cope with their past.
Regardless of how the consequences of abuse are manifested, it would be best for the person to speak to a qualified therapist who they feel they can talk to openly. If such a person is not available or the situation has become severe, there are hotlines in your area that can help. Some of the resources are here, though they do not cover all areas and a simple internet search can guide you. If it is an emergency, call emergency services and help will be provided for you. Researching what others in similar situations are going through or how they have made it past their troubles can also help a victim feel less alone and perhaps find ideas on how to help.
No matter what you or someone you love is going through, there are many out there who are going through similar circumstances as well as those who have made it to the other side and now live a happy life. Do not give up; it is not hopeless regardless of how it may feel in this moment. Just take it one day at a time and start the steps necessary to resolve the abuse or the effect that the abuse has had.
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!
Author Bio - Anna Czarska is a writer and actor who has 15+ years of experience dealing with various situations of abuse. She has pursued business ventures and creative pursuits as well as spending time to study psychology in both formal and personal education. For more information, you may find her Linkedin profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kasiakraut/