Why Do I Keep Coming Back?
It's no secret that many victims of domestic violence go back to their abusive partners, or pick new ones that act just the same. This seemingly bizarre pattern causes much confusion in both the victims and their supporters. You wonder "why do I miss him, why do I want to come back to her, why do i keep falling for the wrong guys, I saw it coming yet still signed up for it, what's wrong with me, does it say 'abuse me' on my forehead," etc. Your friends and family question your sanity, attempt to "rescue" you against your will, or simply assume that you must be getting what you deserve and keep asking for. It's not your fault you're getting abused, but understanding why it's happening could help you prevent it from repeating over and over like a broken record.
Lack of planning
Leaving an abusive relationship is a complicated task that involves meticulous planning and preparation; spontaneous escapes aren't statistically likely to be successful. It makes sense: if I run off in the middle of a fight, I'm likely to come back once things calm down, simply because of having no place to go, no means to support myself, worrying about the pets I left behind, etc. To increase my chances, I need to plan my escape ahead of time, during the "calm" period, preferably with the help of a trained professional or at least a trusted friend. Read more about emergency escape planning and about leaving for good.
Violence isn't perpetual: there are "honeymoon" phases where, after reducing me to dirt, my partner calms down and might show signs of affection or even remorse. I (used to) love this person, so I feel a profound loss, like at the end of any other relationship. I'm prepared for it if leaving was my conscious choice, but am likely to go back to my partner if the escape was caused by circumstances or social pressure rather than my genuine desire. For example, if my partner is pressuring me to stay and my friend is pressuring me to leave - I'm forced to choose between my partner and my friend, and I'm likely to choose my partner.
Need for intimacy
Abuse crosses all boundaries, which makes the relationship intensely intimate, in the emotional sense. My partner might have been a jerk, but they were the the closest relationship I ever had, they knew things about me that nobody else does. Other people are much nicer, but my relationships with them feel superficial, because the degree of emotional intimacy I shared with my abusive partner just doesn't happen outside of abusive relationships. It's unhealthy, and most people avoid it - but I miss it and might be seeking it out, consciously or not. For example, when a healthy person discovers that their ex broke into their home and left flowers on their bed, they find it creepy and inappropriate, and call the police about stalking. Yet I might find it romantic.
Enmeshment and guilt
Just like my partner knew things about me that nobody else did, I also knew a lot more about them than about any other person in the world. This connection doesn't disappear overnight, so I still struggle detaching from my partner, separating their problems from mine: I feel bad about causing them pain by leaving them, worry about their wellbeing, want to make sure they are OK (especially if they're threatening suicide, binge-drinking, etc). They know which buttons to push, so I'm likely to end up going back to them.
Impaired social skills
Abusive relationships involve a unique style of interactions, and I grew proficient at it. I can guess how my partner feels by the speed of their blinking, know how much they had to drink without looking at the bottle, and can fake anything from excitement to trust. I don't want to continue living like this, but I don't know how to function outside of abuse. I don't know how do "normal" people argue, what do they do when they need space or want to be closer, how do they express love, anger, sadness, frustration, etc. I find it difficult to trust that if someone is mad at me - they'll tell me about it, that I don't need to guess these things from their body language, that everything is out in the open. I don't know how to be open about my feelings either: I'm not used to doing it, it's confusing and scary. As a result, I feel like an alien among people, and, consciously or not, choose abusive relationships for myself. Abuse is painful, but at least I know how to navigate it.
Fear of freedom
My partner used to tell me who I am, what I need, what I should be doing, what I like and dislike, and how I should feel about things. Now that I'm out of abuse, I need to decide these things for myself, and take responsibility for my choices. I'm not used to that, it's scary and uncomfortable, I keep doubting myself and seeking validation and guidance from anyone who is willing to offer it, down to anonymous strangers online. People with good boundaries don't do this, so I'm likely to end up in yet another abusive relationship.
Abuse was a constant ongoing crisis that took all of my time and focus, keeping me too busy to do anything else. I spent my whole life on surviving abuse, and now that it's over - my life is empty. I have no attachments, no goals, no career, no relationships, no home, no hobbies even. I don't know who I am, my very identity was destroyed by abuse. Facing this reality can be unbearable, so I might be distracting from it by seeking out one abusive relationship after another, just like people engage in drugs, promiscuity, or reckless driving - to avoid thinking of what my life has become. As one victim of DV posted on twitter, "He might beat me till I vomit blood n pass out, but at least I got a man!"
Domestic violence is embarrassing to admit and hard to break away from, but it doesn't have to last for the rest of your life. It's possible to leave it for good and to never come back. Please see our list of hotlines and other organizations offering assistance to the victims of domestic violence. You aren't alone. People care. There's help available.
~ Mark Twain
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