How many of you out there have had friends or loved ones who dated someone who was abusive to them? You recognized that it wasn’t a healthy relationship and kept telling them they deserved better, but for whatever reason they kept going back to them.
Maybe you yourself have experienced firsthand what it’s like to be in a verbally abusive relationship. You might have even recognized that your partner was abusing you, yet you chose to stay with them.
But, why? Why does this seem like it’s part of human nature?
Because to some degree, it is. And, as with so many conditions, problems, and disorders that crop up later on in life, it starts in our earliest years when we’re children.
When we’re neglected or mistreated as children, we often develop issues with attachment that stem from insecurities. When we have this insecure attachment to another person, the more we are likely to tolerate different forms of abuse.
Unfortunately, it’s not just our experiences as children that allow this to happen. People from all walks of life--from the poor to the affluent, from the educated to the uneducated, from the employed to the unemployed--can choose to ignore the red flags of an abusive relationship, even when they know it’s happening.
So, we have to try to find some universal cause that is the culprit, and it comes in how each of us form a theory of mind. A theory of mind is basically our expectations, assumptions and beliefs as to how another person should act or behave. And each of us develops a theory of mind based on our experiences over the years, from childhood until now.
When we look at people who have secure attachments, we see that they typically exhibit sound and logical theories of mind. These are the people who weren’t exposed to neglect or maltreatment as children, yet continue to stay in abusive relationships. Why does this happen?
Because our theories are based on people acting logically and rationally. When someone starts to act illogically or irrationally, our whole theory gets disrupted and tossed out the window. Suddenly, we don’t know what to think or how to act.
One example of this is when a partner exudes charisma and charm when out in public, but instantly turns into someone mean, degrading and abusive once they’re in the privacy of their own home. They have very short fuses and come unglued over the smallest of things and they often blame their partner for everything--even their own terrible behavior.
If you have a sound theory of mind, this illogical behavior is going to cause you to make inaccurate assumptions about the person over and over again, which is why we see so many people returning to a partner who is so abusive. You keep expecting them to behave in a way that aligns with your theory of mind. You keep expecting them to change.
Sadly, the only certain thing about abusive types of people is that their behavior will be anything but normal and expected. They’re angry when they shouldn’t be, they place blame in all the wrong places (and never on themselves), and criticize others even when it’s completely unnecessary. They’re basically entirely backwards.
The best thing that we can remember when we come across someone who is verbally and emotionally abusive is that they’re not like normal, everyday people. So our expectations and assumptions about them--our theories of mind--do not apply to them.
Whenever you start seeing someone new, whether it’s romantic or platonic, pay attention to early signs of abuse. It’s one of the only ways to protect yourself.
h/t Psychology Today