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| by Jasmine Kamal

Why Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships? Yasmin Abdel Razek, a Psychotherapist, Answers All of Our Questions

Most of us have probably seen Maid on Netflix, and if you haven't, gurl, go watch it because it's such an eye-opening series. *Spoiler alert* they talk about women who stay in abusive relationships. Did you know that it takes about 7 attempts for a woman to permanently end an abusive relationship? 

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I know it's shocking. But we don't know how difficult it was for them to end the relationship. That is why I decided to contact psychotherapist Yasmin Abdel Razek to discuss the violence against women represented in marital violence and violence in relationships in general to which women are exposed, as well as how they can protect themselves and why they do not escape these harmful relationships.

"The issue is that it is a vicious, dangerous cycle that will only continue to repeat itself."

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What exactly is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a method of helping people suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapy can help a person eliminate or control troubling symptoms, allowing them to function better and increase well-being and healing. 

Let's get to know Yasmin Abdel Razek a little better...

Yasmin is a registered psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist who is Egyptian-Canadian. She has a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and is very passionate about helping individuals in feeling more connected in their relationships. Yasmin works with individuals, couples, and families to overcome a variety of challenges by leveraging their unique strengths. 

Yasmin uses clinically tested and evidence-based interventions to improve relationships and overcome personal obstacles in a gentle and compassionate manner. She can help people affected by a variety of life issues. She strives to help her clients in exploring ways to make positive changes in their lives that will empower them and give them hope for the future.

Now, let's get to the questions that are on everyone's minds because Yasmin has already answered them all.

1. Despite the constant talk and awareness about violence and its signs, many women find it difficult to distinguish, if not realize the violence they are exposed to in a relationship. Why is that? 

Experiencing violence from someone you love and are romantically involved with can lead to confusion and a complicated dilemma. Should I stay or should I go? Although it may appear to many to be an easy choice, there are a number of issues that make it difficult for women to leave or even recognize that they are being mistreated or subjected to violence. When the stakes are high, many women will, unfortunately, accept or normalize the abuse as part of their normal pattern when there is conflict - almost as if it is expected, natural, or, sadly, even deserved.

Many women also grew up in homes where they witnessed violence between parents. Or were exposed to violence in previous relationships, leading them to seek out similar types of partners. This makes it more difficult to recognize that there is violence in the relationship, that it is undeserved, toxic, and unhealthy.

Some types of intimate partner violence (IPV) or abuse may not be as obvious as physical violence. Many women also experience emotional abuse in their relationships. Further complicating the question of whether this is a "valid" form of abuse. When shame is combined with emotional abuse (which is often the case), many women may become trapped in negative belief or thought loops that range from normalizing the abuse. Agreeing with their abusers that they've deserved it, to believing no one else would want them, or that they are "damaged" and should stay with the partner who "loves" them – even if they're causing them harm.

2. Does violence from a partner in a relationship appear suddenly or are there indications that are visible and ignored?

Some red flags or potential warning signs can appear early in a relationship. With that said, some signs may be more subtle than others and therefore be missed or ignored. Especially when there isn't immediate physical harm or when abusers tactfully mask their true nature, initially appearing as a "nice guy" to many, including their partner.

It can be difficult to believe that our partner is capable of such hurtful or harmful behavior in the early stages of a relationship. Then, as feelings develop and we become more invested in the relationship. The warning signs blur, making it more difficult to leave and easier to justify or rationalize the destructive dynamics and violence. Because some abusers are skilled at masking some of the red flags, they can simply provide "reasonable" explanations when confronted with some unusual behavior at first.

3. Why do women constantly make excuses for the violence they face by their partners? 

There are multiple reasons for this. One of the most common reasons is familiarity with the cycle of abuse or violence. Especially if the survivor has experienced it before in their lifetime: it can become rationalized, accepted, believed to be deserved, or normalized in relationships.

Another reason is that there is a multitude of myths and misconceptions about what actually occurs. Resulting in the dismissal or minimization of violence in relationships, as well as shame around sharing or seeking help. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they lack resources or are financially dependent on their aggressor, fear for the safety of their family, children, or pets, or fear of losing their home, or fear of cultural or societal consequences if she reports it.

 In many cases, the end of the cycle of abuse is both relieving and rewarding: there's closeness, intimacy, and repair. The issue is that it is a vicious, dangerous cycle that will only continue to repeat itself.

4. How can a woman be more aware of the signs that she is subjected to a violent/abusive relationship? 

There is a number of resources, research, programs, groups, and therapists available to help you become more familiar with potential signs of IPV or abuse in a relationship. Please remember that your feelings are always valid: if you're scared, humiliated, disappointed in them, hurt, angry – it's all valid; you're not "too sensitive," even if they tell you so. If you ever wonder if something is abusive or violent, it most likely is. If you're still unsure or want more information, consult a professional. Psychological abuse does not always leave physical evidence, but it can lead to depression, isolation, loneliness, despair, or anger.

Do you notice a pattern? The honeymoon phase is over, and things have changed. Do you notice the same tactics used by your partner? Being remorseful after the violence, promising to change, only to have the cycle repeat itself?

Learn about the warning signs. 

Some of the warning signs include: 

  • very demanding/possessive behavior 
  •  Extreme jealousy 
  • Attempts to control all aspects of their partner's life rather than treating them as an independent partner 
  • Attempts to isolate partner from their social or familial circles, 
  • Privacy violations 
  • Bullying/insulting/blaming/shaming/shaming/put-downs 
  • Threatening harm to themselves or their partner if they don't get what they want 
  • Punishing behavior 
  • A lack of communication

5. It is commonly believed that as long as there is no physical abuse or violence in the relationship, then it does not qualify as violence. Is this true?

Unfortunately, this is a very disturbing and widespread myth. It is important to note that perpetuating these myths about what "qualifies" as abuse or violence. Not only encourages social acceptance and apathy toward the issue. But also leads many women to justify, minimize, or even deny the violence in their relationship. The truth is that abuse appears in a variety of ways.

It can range from sexual abuse, physical abuse or beating (any act that causes the other person physical pain or injury), to emotional abuse (any extreme exertion of power and control from verbal insults or threats, intimidating or fear-inducing behavior, destruction of property or belongings, humiliating or degrading comments, minimizing/denying/blaming tactics, harassment, denying or restricting access).

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6. We tend to find or hear of a lot of emotional abuse among women in relationships, does this mean that the majority of women are exposed to violence in relationships in one way or another? and not even aware of it?

In many cases, this is undoubtedly true. Many women are not aware that they are being abused (or would not classify it as abuse), especially when it is not physical (which is often the most recognized form).

7. Is it possible for a violent person to change on his own? We always hear of stories of men 'promising to change'.

While I believe (and have seen firsthand in my therapy practice) that people can and are capable of changing with perseverance and commitment. The cycle of abuse is unlikely to end on its own without abusive partners taking responsibility and receiving adequate professional support. And perhaps, at a later point, the couple seeking help to repair the impact of violence on their relationship.

It's understandable for survivors to be skeptical of their abusive partner's "promises to change". When the cycle simply repeats itself once the "honeymoon phase" is over. If an abusive or violent partner promises to change without a plan in place and steps in place, it is unlikely that things will change or improve on their own. Even if change begins to occur, survivors must ensure the ongoing safety of themselves and their children before returning to the relationship. This can happen in couples or family therapy.

8. If the woman chooses to stay in a violent relationship, for any reason for example her kids, does this encourage the partner to continue to practice violence? 

While I don't want to blame a survivor for staying in a violent relationship for her own reasons. Such as the safety of her children. It does sometimes mean that the cycle of violence or abuse will continue to repeat itself.

9. Why do women stay in abusive relationships and refuse to leave or end the relationship? 

There are several important factors that influence a survivor's decision to leave an abusive relationship.

Some of these factors include:

  • The cycle of violence and hope for change: commitment to the relationship and guilt/sympathy: wanting to help abusive partner, for example, if the abusive partner has a history of neglect or childhood trauma
  • Fear of the abuser becoming more violent or causing harm to them or their children if they leave (leaving can be dangerous)
  • Financial sources of stress
  • Concerns about custody
  • Having a disability, which an abusive partner is prone to -lack of adequate resources
  • Isolation: family and friends may be unaware or unwilling to support them in their decision to leave.
  • Pressure from society, religion, or family

It's also important to remember that leaving is a process in and of itself. Many women may leave and return multiple times. According to research, it can take up to 7 attempts for a survivor to permanently end an abusive relationship.

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10. Lastly, what would you like to say to any woman before entering into a relationship, so that she does not end up being a victim of an abusive relationship?

Familiarize yourself with the qualities you seek in a partner. What are some of your own red flags that you'd like to remember for future partners? What are some examples of specific acts or behaviors that you consider to be problematic? What kind of safety plan can you put in place?

While you cannot change what occurred in an abusive relationship, you can heal and repair the damage it caused in your life. Abuse is never acceptable. It has an impact on our self-esteem, confidence, trust in ourselves and others, individuality, and autonomy.

Finally, if you have been a victim of abuse or intimate partner violence. It is never too late to seek help. Although you have no control over your partner's violence. You can increase your own (and your children's) safety by developing a safety plan with the assistance of a therapist. Even if you feel trapped in the relationship, unable to leave, or unable to find support from others, please know that you can seek professional help and that you do not have to go through it alone.


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Tags: Relationship advice  Relationships  Relationships 101  Relationship problems  Abuse  Marriage problems