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Domestic Violence

6 Ways People Excuse Toxic Behavior

2. They think, "Other people have it worse."

Key points

  • Many survivors learned to excuse unhealthy or abusive behavior in their family of origin, and later excuse bad behavior in adult relationships.
  • One common way survivors excuse unhealthy behavior is to convince themselves they are the cause of their own abuse.
  • Stopping excuses around toxic behavior can begin with reminding oneself that no one deserves to be mistreated.

Most toxic relationship survivors look back on their relationship with a figurative magnifying glass, going over all details, big and small, hoping to find "the moment when “they just knew” that something was wrong and should have left.

Unlike the movies, there usually is no one moment where you look back and think, "That was it. That was the unhealthy moment." Instead, there is usually a gradual buildup of disrespect and a breakdown of the glue that binds a couple.

Even with all the knowledge we have today, victims still struggle to find support when they try to escape an unhealthy or abusive relationship. This can start internally by excusing behaviors or grappling with the ability to recognize abuse. This reaction is common for survivors of family trauma, who were conditioned to believe that maltreatment is normal, or members of some cultures and faiths that do not recognize actions as being abusive.

Common ways that victims are conditioned to excuse unhealthy behavior include:

  • Intellectualizing. They explain away the behavior using logic instead of understanding that harmful behavior is harmful, no matter the reason for it. Some excuses might be: “They had a bad day” or “They’re going through a lot.” Survivors stuck in relationships with abusers who are unable to act rationally end up projecting that rationality and empathy onto their partners, undeserved. They forgive the bad times with phrases like: “They’ll stop,” “It won’t get that bad,” “She's just mad,” and “Nobody could be this cruel.”
  • Being desensitized. They diminish their emotional reaction to abuse or violence. This is often seen in people who grew up in homes with domestic violence: “It wasn’t so bad” or “Other people had it worse.”
  • Denying. They invent ways to deny the reality of their abuse.It wasn’t like that, I’m remembering it wrong” or “He wasn’t angry, he was just tired.”
  • Accepting. They accept their position as an inevitable lot in life, due to pressures from society, culture, faith, or other sources. They explain the abuse as “my role,” and may say things like, “We all have our burden to bear.”
  • Bargaining. They try to reason or bargain with their abuser to convince them to stop instead of leaving. “Maybe if I try to do better about making sure the house is clean, they won’t be so stressed when they get home."
  • Self-blame. They convince themselves they are the cause of their own abuse. They may tell themselves or others the abuse would stop; for example, “If only I didn’t make them angry.”

If you find yourself using any of these methods or others to excuse abusive behavior, you can take steps to stop these thoughts. Here are some tips:

Remind yourself that what happened is not your fault. No matter your gender, faith, history, or role in society, no one deserves to be mistreated.

Ask yourself, “What would I tell a friend if they were experiencing the same behavior?” The answer is likely something comforting, supportive, and non-blaming. Try telling yourself what you would say to a friend to support them through the same experience.

Get ahead of it. If you feel yourself habitually making excuses, get one step ahead of it. Write it on a sticky note, save it on your lock screen, or set a reminder in your phone that reminds you: “Stop excusing. It was not your fault.” There is no shame in doing whatever works.

Adapted in part from It's Not High Conflict, It's Post Separation Abuse: When Abusers Weaponize the Courts as a Form of Retaliation.

If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, call 800-799-7233.

Facebook image: Dikushin Dmitry/Shutterstock

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