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I had to take some time to think this article through. Abuse is not a subject to be taken lightly after all, and if you’ve been abused before then you already know, it’s complicated.

“It’s complicated.”

That’s what the abused always say. But why do we say that? Why is it so difficult for us to stand up to our abusers and say enough is enough? Because it’s complicated.

I’ve been abused before. I’m being abused now. I was just abused yesterday and if I’m lucky, today is going to be abuse-free. And the thing is, I know a handful of people who are going through the same thing. You see, abuse is common and comes in many forms. Violence is not just by our fists. It’s by our words, our demeanor, and our actions. But I’m not going to discuss the endless ways someone can be subject to abuse. Instead, I’m going to talk about why someone who is subject to abuse seems to accept it, often readily and willingly.

Could it be fear?

Fear is an awful thing, yet without it we are foolish. Our sense of fear is linked to our basic survival, as is the case with all other species of animal. It’s literally in our DNA. However, when it comes to abuse, fear is our worst enemy. It could be fear of another punch or a gut wrenching sentence. It could be fear of judgement from outsiders. It could be fear of ending up alone or losing love, being left stranded without family, friends, or a partner. It could even be fear of heightened abuse, because what if you stand up to yourself and fail? 

Could it be that we think we deserve it?

It is the true mark of an abuser to make you believe that you deserve it. You know that line, “you made me do it.” You are blamed for seemingly inflicting this violence, verbal or physical, on yourself. How does this then benefit the abuser? Their blame humiliates you, makes you feel ashamed, and finally, makes you believe that they must be right. And when you start thinking that way, you become even more submissive and the chances of you defending yourself weaken drastically. This is when the abuser wins.

Could it be that we are conditioned to accept abuse?

What is conditioning? Conditioning is a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement. To put it simply, conditioning is learned behavior, which is why this reason is especially complicated: It starts in the home and stems from culture and tradition. As women, we’re taught at an early age that we are inferior to men, that we are here merely to cater to their every demand. We are not equal and we do not matter outside the kitchen or bedroom. Even if it’s not our parents that are conditioning us to believe these gender roles, the outside world still has an affect on us that is difficult to grasp, let alone fight, at such a young age. As children, we are conditioned to obey authoritative figures such as our parents, older siblings, or our employers. So why would we as conditioned children living in adult bodies fight abuse when we think it’s perfectly normal? How is someone supposed to convince us that this is the exact opposite of normal?

Is it actually normal?

An abused person could very well believe that abuse is not only normal, but it is to be expected. Whether it’s our partners beating us or our friends tearing our confidence down, why would we question it when we grew up seeing it? A child who grows up in an abusive home where one parent abuses the other is highly likely to either be abused as an adult or become abusive themselves. If it’s all you’ve ever known, how could you be expected to know any better?

Could it be that we believe abuse is only physical?

“But Menna, how could someone be abused and not realize it?” Because some of us out there believe that physical violence is the only type of abuse, and that’s a common misconception. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is physical violence just one type of abuse, it’s also often preceded by the verbal kind. Verbal abuse isn’t just a few hurtful words put together that you’ll get over later. In fact, science has proven that verbal abuse literally alters a child’s brain, has the same effect on the human brain as physical abuse, and eventually becomes internalized, leading the abused to be riddled with self-doubt and hatred. So while verbal abuse might not cause any bruises or scratches or cost you thousands in emergency room bills, it does leave plenty of open wounds inside a person’s psyche.

Then we become stuck in our comfort zone...

The dreaded zone of comfort that is seemingly built to protect us from any outside danger or risk often turns around to reveal itself as what is hurting us most. Staying in your comfort zone isn’t just remaining in a dead end job or skipping a concert because of the crowd. It’s tolerating abuse because fighting back not only might prove frustrating, but also because it might be pointless or uncomfortable. You might have thoughts like, “she didn’t mean it like that” or “he was just angry.” Saying these things gives us permission to ignore the abuse and the damaging effects it has on us. It’s only fair to say that this specific comfort zone is one of the most difficult to get out of. Not only because of having to speak up and confront your abuser, which alone is scary, but also because speaking up isn’t the end of it. Recovering from abuse and learning from your experience is a long journey, one that proves to daunting to some.

Maybe we don’t know how to ask for help...

This is one of the most common reasons why people who are being abused don’t speak up. So many questions come up when we consider reaching out for help. How does one begin to tell their story and admit their truth? How do we reach out to the outside world, knowing very well that doing so might cause us to be judged or ignored? Who do we go to for help and even if we do, will they actually help? What happens if we reach out for help, only to be met with denial? Where do we even begin and how do we explain the amount of pain a few words or a punch might inflict? What if our cries are ignored, just because we don’t have bruises all over our bodies? A person who is being abused might be afraid of trusting someone with something they believe is humiliating. Remember, abusers make you feel like you deserve it. Even if you come to the realization that you don’t deserve this, those feelings of shame and guilt are planted so deep inside you that they might seem difficult to shake off.

Or could it be that we sympathize with the abuser?

Ever heard of Stockholm syndrome? This is kind of like it. Stockholm syndrome is when feelings of trust or affection are felt in cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards their captor. Do you see the similarities? Because while Stockholm syndrome occurs in cases of kidnapping and hostage situations, the victim begins to side with the culprit, as does an abused person with their abuser. “She’s just in a bad mood,” “he didn’t mean it,” “maybe he needed to say that to me so he can feel better”, “I made them do that.” It’s not necessarily that the abused person believes they deserve such treatment - it’s that they won’t speak up against it because they sympathize with their abuser. Perhaps the abuser is mentally ill or “going through a hard time right now.” Perhaps it’s how “they were raised and it’s all they know.” The underlying cause of sympathy could be love, guilt, or a feeling of duty and responsibility towards the abuser.

There are so many types of abuse, and so many reasons why victims don’t speak out. You could also have nowhere else to live if the abuser provides you with shelter. It could be finances or childcare concerns. There could be so many reasons why you don’t stand up for yourself, and while all of the above might be enough to make you stand still and accept abuse as reality, I have one reason that is strong enough to knock them all down. 

You don’t deserve abuse.

Main Image Credits: Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash