Abusers - why do we need them?

They put us down, criticise what we do, criticise what we don't do, call us useless, stupid, and lucky to have them, and sometimes hit us physically too, but still, we love them. What?!” every non-abuse victim asks in shock and horror.


Logically, we share their view but we don't stay with our abusers because of rational logic but because of wounds that hurt us long before our abusive partner ever did. Even after escaping an abusive relationship, many go right into another. Why? Because the same inner wounds are still there; whether rooted in suffering/witnessing abuse as a child or growing up feeling unloved or unwanted.

How do these inner wounds manifest themselves in adulthood? Let's classify them as three things: self-love, self-worth, and self-belief - the total lack of.

  • Self-love: We love and care about others more than ourselves. We can also be great, brave defenders of others, but not of ourselves. We don't feel we deserve to be loved so don't expect it so become smitten by someone who, even if only between bouts of abuse, makes us think we do, saying they love us.
  • Self-worth: We feel no value, no recognition of worth - except between the bouts of abuse when our abusers make us feel special, before abusing us again.
  • Self-belief: We have almost none, so feel we need our abusers - for the times when they compliment and praise us, even though contradicted when the abuse starts again.

All the time, we face the abuser cycle of praise and put down, then lift up and slam down. It is a psychological mind game and abusers are ruthlessly good at it. Escape? What for? Where would we go? Who would believe us? Everyone thinks we're the perfect couple - our abusers smiling charmers in public. Shouldn't we just be grateful for the good times and forget the bad - assuming we allow ourselves to think of the abuse as bad?

When abuse clients come to me as a therapist, the pattern of what they suffer is always the same, regardless of gender. From the media, we mostly hear about the physical side of abuse against female victims, especially on the likes of Channel 4 News, as if over 30% of victims aren't males. Very few seem to grasp the psychological reality of what is actually going on. The psychological issues the sufferer has that makes them tolerate the abuse in the first place.

I enjoyed the idea of being married and belonging to my family unit. We had two kids and a lot of really great times, even after the abuse became more than just shouts. Even after it became physical we still had a sex life - that is how good victims can be at separating the good times from the bad. Just leave!”, we hear all the never-been-a-victim readers cry. We simply don't believe there is any chance of anything better. And then, one day, something makes us wake up and decide there has to be. Then we do try.

I arranged to move into a rented room - my abuser replied they would kill our kids in a car crash. I went to social services for help, my abuser passionately lied that I was the abuser and they believed it, writing a report ready to have me kicked out of the house as such.

Can you imagine how empowered an abuser will feel by that, making their victim 'apologise for their nastiness' to even be allowed back in the house? Just leave!” Just leave? There is no 'just' with abusers - they feel entirely above the law and are experts at making their lies seem the truth to those who don't know the truth.

It is when we wake up and decide to leave that things can get most dangerous.

Abusers can't stand to lose their punchbags, whether physical or metaphorical. Kids become weaponised; threats of injury, death or total loss of custody are launched like missiles. Against the partner themselves there can be threats of ruin or death - directly by murder, by driving to suicide or, as in my case, openly declared attempts to make me crash and die at work due to severe sleep deprivation. It almost succeeded.

Did we escape? Yes, we would be dead if we hadn't. I got forced to go back to the authorities by a solicitor at Citizens Advice who told me: Either you do something about this or I will.” This time, I found someone, an officer, who was ready to really listen and, three months later, when my abuser said they would 'vanish the kids' that day, I had no choice but to ask this officer for help and trust enough evidence had been collected to let the truth breath this time.

The fact I am alive writing this shows it did. It later inspired the short book Narcissists – identify the abuser, to help victims and officials do exactly that.

Before that came, two years in multiple courts, family and criminal, with the abuser refusing to play ball with court orders or admit even a notion of wrong-doing on their part. Two six-monthly multi-agency meetings deemed us high risk. We were advised to escape while our abuser was in prison on remand. It was unbelievably awful. I quit my career, the kids' school, our friends, our home and everything else we had come to consider our world.

By court order, the kids came with me – no direct contact from our abuser. Escape required us to become homeless and we spent six weeks in one room of a hotel, before we were given hope in a new town, to rebuild our lives from scratch. And you know what? I didn't need my abuser to do it. When push came to shove, I was competent, capable, intelligent and strong enough to go forward without them.

That was in 2014. Today the kids are doing great, one at uni and one in content creation. As for me, I've gone back to my writing and also work as a therapist, helping others.

If you're being abused or you suspect you know someone is being abused, why not talk about therapy, to help shine the light on their inner issues keeping them there? While it is a natural reaction to just want to pull them out of the situation (and congratulations if this is achieved), unless the root cause keeping them there is at least partially dealt with, there is a good chance they will still go back if they leave.

It's not stupidity or weakness, it's a symptom of psychological damage. Invisible from the outside - to all but the abusers taking advantage of it.

So, back to the original question. Abusers - why do we need them? The answer is simple, no. We don't. We never did. Thinking we need our abuser is more to do with what we think they do for us, than what they actually do against us. Rather than abusers, what we actually need is therapy and support. Ironically, abusers need therapy too but, given most will be forever too busy abusing to accept this, don't hold your breath. Breathe.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9
Written by Brad Stone, Diploma in Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling - MBACP
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK9

Brad Stone is an integrative therapist and writer

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