Abuse of any kind, whether verbal, emotional, or physical, is incredibly upsetting and painful for the person who has been victimized. Learn how to not only recognize reactive abuse, but to find ways to get out of that situation.
What Is Reactive Abuse?
A person being abused can sometimes lash out at their attacker during an act of violent assault. In response to the assault, they could yell, cry, insult the attacker, or even try to protect themselves physically. As a form of retaliation, an aggressor may accuse the victim of being the one who is abusing them to hurt them further.
This type of abusive behavior is reactive abuse, which is sometimes colloquially known as “gaslighting.” A victim of sexual assault who responds with reactive abuse puts themselves in a precarious position because it gives their perpetrators a reason to hold anything against them.
However, reactive abuse can occur not only in situations involving physical violence but also in situations involving verbal abuse and psychological abuse.
Emotional & Verbal Abuse
Have you ever been treated emotionally or verbally abusively to the point where you felt like you couldn’t take it anymore? This is an example of someone attempting to manipulate and control you, hoping that you will react with anger, blaming name-calling, and other behaviors that you would probably like to avoid.
This repeating pattern is known as the cycle of reactive abuse. The moment you give it up, the abusers have you exactly where they want you: in a position where they have the advantage. Everything you do or say will be used against you, and a tale will be fabricated to make it seem as though the abuser was the one you wronged.
It is essential to recognize this cycle because it can continue indefinitely if you do not recognize it and break it. To do so, you must first acknowledge your complicity in the situation and train yourself to respond rather than react to the abusive behaviors of others. It won’t be easy, but it can be done!
Why Abusers Rely On Reactive Abuse
Abusers rely on reactive abuse as evidence that the victim is unstable and mentally ill. The abuser will forever hold the victims’ responses against them as a form of punishment. Abusers will often use this reaction as a pretext to go to the police or even file protection orders to get back at their victims.
When an abuser says that they are the ones on the receiving end of abuse, they are attempting to manipulate you into believing that it is your fault that the violence is occurring. The longer this pattern of shifting blame continues, the longer you will continue to believe that you are responsible for the abusive outbursts, an eventually think you are the one who is aggressive and unstable.
Gaslighting and blame-shifting are two forms of projection that work together to divert your attention away from the true nature of the situation and lead you to believe that you are to blame. It might look something like this:
- They allege that you always accuse them of doing things; therefore, they conclude that you must be the one doing it yourself.
- They state that you are constantly being critical of them or nagging them somehow.
- The most important one is that if you hadn’t done or said what you did, they would have never behaved in that manner.
How to Deal with Reactive Abuse
Though reactive abuse is hard to overcome, there are some ways to slowly take back your life and get out of the abusive relationship you are in.
- Gray Rock Method — Do not respond or acknowledge the abuser’s interactions they have with you. This not only makes the abuser feel less dominant, but less in control of their victim’s mood which can cause them to shut down. Instead of changing your own actions, you are trying to change the abuser.
- Self-Soothe — This may seem selfish, but allowing yourself to release pent-up anger is essential so you do not internalize and eventually retaliate with verbal or physical force against your abuser. Some things you can do are meditate, deep breathing, and allowing yourself to feel angry or hurt.
- Talk to a Therapist/Friend — If you have the freedom to do so, do not hesitate to reach out to a family member or therapist to talk about what is happening, and try to find a way to cope or get out. There is no shame in asking for help when you’re well-being is in jeopardy. You deserve to have a happy life, and this can be the first step to realizing you are worth it.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
There are plenty of people out in the world willing to help you, and one of these great resources is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Not only can you call 800-799-7233, but you can text START to 88788, or visit their website.
If you have been in this type of relationship for a significant amount of time, you will need to disengage from the other person and give yourself time to heal. Reactive abuse might cause you to wonder whether or not you are sane, but there is always a way back and following some of these steps can get you to being happy and healthy.