Why do I still love my abuser?

Experts have several theories for why victims of abuse still love their abusers, despite the pattern of behavior. If you find yourself in this situation, there is no reason to be ashamed. There is an explanation for why you feel this way, and there is help.  

The Cycle Of Abuse

The first step to understanding why you still love your abuser is to understand the cycle of abuse. After a while, a victim notices the triggers that cause their partner to enter an abusive episode. These range from stress to substance abuse. Sometimes it is plain cruelty and just seeing the victim happy. 

Experts have identified three phases that play out in an abusive episode:

  • Tension building phase
  • The phase of acute explosion
  • Honeymoon phase

Remember that domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior. The cycle of abuse is the best way to explain this pattern – one that every victim of abuse can quickly recognize from experience. A typical episode begins with the abuser nitpicking, withholding affection, and other aggressive behavior. The abuser is typically non-violent at this phase. In response, the victim seeks to appease their partner and deescalate the tension. However, the victim’s efforts are rarely effective or last for a short time.

In the next phase, the abuser becomes physical and may hurt the victim and their loved ones. Here, the victim’s typical response is still attempting to deescalate the violent episode and placate their abuse. Most victims of abuse do not call law enforcement at this stage.

The cycle ends in the honeymoon phase, where the abuser seeks reconnection with the victim. Many abusers use reverse psychology tactics to gaslight the victim. Some become romantic, attempting to make up for the outburst and making promises to change. Others are full of apologies and remorse. In any way, both partners enjoy peace for a while. But as in real life, a honeymoon does not go on forever. 

Stockholm Syndrome & Traumatic Bonding

The cycle of abuse often causes most victims of domestic abuse to develop Stockholm syndrome, a protective and survival mechanism. At this stage, the victim starts to have deep emotional bonds with their abuser. While this condition is more likely to develop in persons who have experienced domestic abuse as a child, it can happen to anyone.

An overarching event that happens alongside Stockholm syndrome is traumatic bonding. At some point, an abuser may share information about their past – stories of mistreatment and how that experience caused them to become abusive.

Moved with sympathy, especially if the victim shares a similar experience as a victim or observer of domestic abuse, the victim develops traumatic bonding with their abuser. Going further, he/she may even makeup excuses for the abuse, attempt to help the abuser change, or hope their abuser heals.

In both Stockholm syndrome and traumatic bonding, the victim takes the abuser’s perspective. Doing this makes it difficult to leave the abuser, especially if the victim already feels the abuse is their fault. Many victims even make tough decisions to restrict the violence to themselves. Some stop reaching out to family and friends, and some allow child protective services to take custody of their children.  

What can I do if I love my abuser

  • Understand that the abuse is not your fault.
  • Understand that there is little you can do to change the behavior of an abuser.
  • Understand that your safety and that of your loved ones are more important.
  • Talk with an expert about your situation and consider your options.
  • Call the hotline on (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or (800) 787-3224 (TTY).
  • You can also text ‘START” to (800) 799-SAFE (7233) and get a callback.