Source: lovesicklove.com, used with permission
The partner is conditioned from early childhood not to trust her feelings and not to recognize the irrationality of verbal abuse. All verbal abuse is irrational. In the context of war, the rationality of which is questionable, there may be a certain rationality to a verbal attack. In the context of a relationship, verbal abuse is irrational, and the verbal abuser is behaving irrationally. The partner’s belief in the rationality of her mate is a primary assumption arising from and maintained by complex and diverse factors, not the least of which are her early childhood experiences. Deep in her own psyche there is the conditioning of generations. […]
–Evans, Patricia (2009). The Verbally Abusive Relationship (p. 112). Adams Media. Kindle Edition.
As Evans here points out, an individual who is verbally abused often is verbally abused because she adapted to it in early childhood or later in life. As a result of her upbringing, she came to see herself as inferior to others or was implicitly trained to be submissive. She might have had parents who often put her down, blamed her or criticized her. She might have had peers who would let her know one way or another that she wasn’t good enough and deserved to be treated badly.
A verbally abused person might never realize that she is verbally abused. If she finds out, she might stop and think “Why me? Why not the nasty neighbor’s wife? Why not the girl in the cubicle next to me? Why me?” She might end up concluding that she was unlucky, that she ran into the one occasional bad and abusive person.
This is no doubt part of the answer. But it is not the full answer. A victim of verbal abuse may manage to get out of an abusive relationship and feel relieved, but then meet someone new who is also an abuser. Or she might manage to get out of a relationship but then realize that her colleagues or friends are verbally abusing her too.
This is a costly lesson. Once she sees abuse all around her, she is likely to think it is her bad behavior that causes the abuse, that the abuse is warranted by her misconduct. How couldn’t it be if it happens again and again?
Well, it can. The reason abuse victims very often go through a series of abusive relationships is that they have been conditioned during childhood or later life experiences to be enablers of abuse. They let the abuse happen, they never put an end to it, they just put up with it. They forgive and forget. This doesn’t make the abuse less gruesome and horrific, and it certainly doesn’t justify the abuse, but it does provide an answer to the question “Why me?”
The enabler of verbal abuse lets the abuse happen because she did not learn to appreciate herself and to stand up for herself. The first time her abuser raises his voice at her, criticizes her, blames her, belittles her or threatens her, she does not say “Stop!” She does not recognize that her abuser’s behavior is wrong. Instead she looks inside herself to find a reason for her abuser’s bad behavior. She believes she must be the cause of the madness and that her abuser must be justified in doing what he is doing.
Many of the people around her worked with, befriended and dated people with an abusive personality. A large number of them were never verbally abused despite this. At the first sign of abuse, they would put their foot down. They would stop dating men who showed signs of abuse. They would complain to their abusive bosses’ superiors. They would confront abuse friends or simply end the friendship. They would lack fear of the consequences of saying “Stop!” because they prioritized their own mental sanity over almost everything else. And it worked for them.
The victim of abuse who realizes that she is not to blame for being abused still struggles with fear of the consequences of standing up to her abuser. She fears losing wealth, comfort, children, job, career, friends. She fears the reactions from her environment, her peers, her colleagues, her parents, her children. She fears these consequences because she hasn’t yet realized that her own well-being matters more than most external factors. She fails to see that a brilliant career, a well-paying job, a marriage or the occasional cozy dinner with friends is worth nothing if she has to feel miserable.
Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love