Why Do We Love an Abuser?
Falling in love happens to us — usually before we really know our partner. It happens to us because we’re at the mercy of unconscious forces, commonly referred to as “chemistry.” Don’t judge yourself for loving someone who doesn’t treat you with care and respect, because by the time the relationship turns abusive, we’re attached and want to maintain our connection and love. There may have been hints of abuse in the beginning that we overlooked, because abusers are good at seduction and wait until they know we’re hooked before showing their true colors. By then, our love is cemented and doesn’t die easily. It’s difficult to leave an abuser. It’s possible and even probable to know we’re unsafe and still love an abuser. Research shows that even victims of violence on average experience seven incidents before permanently leaving their partner.
It can feel humiliating to stay in an abusive relationship. Those who don’t understand ask why we love someone abusive and why we stay. We don’t have good answers. But there are valid reasons. Our motivations are outside our awareness and control, because we’re wired to attach for survival. These instincts control our feelings and behavior.
Deny to Survive
If we weren’t treated with respect in our family and have low self-esteem, we will tend to deny abuse. We won’t expect to be treated better than how we were controlled, demeaned, or punished by a parent. Denial doesn’t mean we don’t know what’s happening. Instead, we minimize or rationalize it and/or its impact. We may not realize it’s actually abuse.
Research shows we deny for survival to stay attached and procreate for survival of the species. Facts and feelings that would normally undermine love are minimized or twisted so that we overlook them or blame ourselves in order to keep loving. By appeasing our partner and connecting to love, we stop hurting. Love is rekindled and we feel safe again.
Projection, Idealization, and Repetition Compulsion
When we fall in love, if we haven’t worked through trauma from our childhood, we’re more susceptible to idealizing our partner when dating. It’s likely that we will seek out someone who reminds us of a parent with whom we have unfinished business, not necessarily of our opposite sex parent. We might be attracted to someone who has aspects of both parents. Our unconscious is trying to mend our past by reliving it in the hopes that we’ll master the situation and receive the love we didn’t get as a child. This helps us overlook signs that would be predictive of trouble.
The Cycle of Abuse
After an abusive episode, often there’s a honeymoon period. This is part of the Cycle of Abuse. The abuser may seek connection and act romantic, apologetic, or remorseful. Regardless, we’re relieved that there’s peace for now. We believe promises that it will never happen again, because we want to and because we’re wired to attach. The breech of the emotional bond feels worse than the abuse. We yearn to feel connected again.
Often the abuser professes to love us. We want to believe it and feel reassured about the relationship, hopeful, and lovable. Our denial provides an illusion of safety. This is called the “Merry-Go-Round” of denial that happens in alcoholic relationships after a bout of drinking followed by promises of sobriety.
Due to low self-esteem, we believe the abuser’s belittling, blame, and criticisms, which further lessen our self-esteem and confidence in our own perceptions. They intentionally do this for power and control. We’re brainwashed into thinking we have to change in order to make the relationship work. We blame ourselves and try harder to meet the abuser’s demands.