Why Do Abused Victims Stay?

By Maria Vera, PhD and Toby D. Goldsmith, MD
2 Feb 2001

It can be difficult for many people to understand why a person would stay in an abusive relationship. But there are many reasons. Strong emotional and psychological forces keep the victim tied to the abuser. Sometimes situational realities like a lack of money keep the victim from leaving. The reasons for staying vary from one victim to the next, and they usually involve several factors.

Emotional reasons for staying

  • belief that the abusive partner will change because of his remorse and promises to stop battering
  • fear of the abuser who threatens to kill the victim if abuse is reported to anyone
  • insecurity about living alone
  • lack of emotional support
  • guilt over the failure of the relationship
  • attachment to the partner
  • fear of making major life changes
  • feeling responsible for the abuse
  • feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped
  • belief that she is the only one who can help the abuser with his problems

Situational reasons for staying

  • economic dependence on the abuser
  • fear of physical harm to self or children
  • fear of emotional damage to the children who need two parents, even if one is abusive
  • fear of losing custody of the children because the abuser threatens to take the children if victim tries to leave
  • lack of occupational skills
  • social isolation and lack of support because abuser is often the victim's only support system
  • lack of information regarding community resources
  • belief that law enforcement will not take her seriously
  • lack of alternative housing
  • cultural or religious constrains

Issues specific to women

Women, in particular, can experience hesitant and contradictory feelings and thoughts about the abusive partner and the relationship. These are some common reactions of the victim toward the abuser's behavior├╣tions that can keep the woman in the relationship:

  • feels emotionally attached to the abuser, but also feels anger toward him which she denies
  • is grateful toward abuser for small acts of kindness and tends to explain away his violence
  • is very attentive to the abuser's needs with the mistaken belief that she will be able to anticipate his needs and prevent the beatings
  • believes that the abuser will change
  • believes that he needs her and feels guilty about leaving him
  • may use alcohol or other drugs to cope with the anxiety, fear or depression
  • justifies the violence and feels responsible for it
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Mar 2015
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