Reactive Abuse

Reactive abuse is a term that describes coercive and abusive relationships in which an abuser provokes reactive displays of emotion from their victim and then exploits the reaction.

Manipulation, control, shame and blame

This kind of abusive pattern of relating is built on complex manipulative and controlling behaviours.  Each time the abused person reacts and tries to complain about their situation it is taken as further proof that they are the problem. 

Reactive abuse is insidious, destructive, and emotionally destabilising.

The victim is shamed into thinking they are to blame.  At each turn, at each reaction, the victims’ confidence is further undermined, their position weakened.

  • Reacting to things that we don’t like is natural, it is important to know what we don’t like or want, it helps us to know our own minds and to assert our independence. 
  • It makes it clear to our partners what we are prepared to put up with. 
  • When we start to lose confidence in our reactions we become vulnerable and confused, we lose track of who we are and what is important to us.

Reactive Abuse is a form of Gaslighting

The weaker partner is continually being made to feel that they are creating problems, when in fact the reverse is true.  The abusive partner is creating problems and undermining the confidence of the victim.  Over time this kind of abusive bullying can have very serious consequences, it’s a form of brainwashing. 

The more the victim stops trusting themselves the more they can find themselves becoming pushed to dangerous emotional places.

Reactive Abuse is part of a Toxic way of Relating

The victim is effectively marked out as the problem, and all the while the abuser hides the pressures and problems they are creating.  

The victim, having reacted, is then positioned as the unstable person. Their actions are held up as proof that they are the reason there are problems in the relationship.  Meanwhile, the abuser can continue their abuse without fear of repercussion or consequence.

The abuse the victim suffers is hidden, while the headline story remains that the abused person is the problem, is unstable, hysterical, crazy. 

When the abused person reacts to being abused they are further criticised for being the problem.  It is an emotional catch 22.  If you complain about being abused it is taken as proof that you are the problem.

In Reactive Abuse the abuser complains that they are the one that is being abused. 

These kinds of abusers feed off reactions, they take a perverse pleasure from seeing their victim become more unstable. If the victim complains about the way they are being treated it only serves to strengthen the position of the abuser.

How to manage Reactive Abuse – How to start breaking the cycle?

This is a complex problem that can damage confidence.  Reacting only makes it worse.  Like an animal caught in a trap, each time there is a reaction the net is drawn tighter, the victims’ options narrow.

  • One option is to try to notice that you want to react, but to keep your reaction to yourself. 
  • If you react in a public way it will be used against you and make your position more difficult and complicated. 
  • If you can notice that you are about to react but instead keep the reaction to yourself then you start to change the dynamics of the situation. You can start to take back some control.

The abuser thrives on seeing the reactions occur, these reactions weaken your position and strengthen theirs. 

If you can notice that you are about to react, but find a way to count to ten, and keep the reaction to yourself, then you change the position. 

Instead of the abusive partner feeding off the victims’ reactions, now the victim has the chance to keep their feelings to themselves.  Each time the victim practices this approach they weaken the abusers’ power.

Learning to keep your reactions to yourself, at least in situations where there is an abusive power in play, is a habit that needs to be practiced daily.  Perhaps many times per day as you learn to make it yours.

By containing your reaction you are strengthening your own position.

It might be worth starting each day by reminding yourself that today you are going to keep your reactions to yourself.  A simple affirmative statement like this can become the basis for a new way of living.  It can become the basis of breaking the chains that bind you within your abusive relationship.  You might be surprised at how effective it is, but you will have to practice.

It may also be helpful to contact someone that you can trust to treat your concerns with confidence.  Someone that can help you sense check your reactions and regain a healthy perspective.

Refuge: Refuge – For women and children, against domestic violence

VS: Victim Support

Samaritans – Helpline

Citizens Advice

Domestic violence helplines are very experienced in helping victims to talk through what they are going through.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often key to developing a clearer understanding of our reactions, it can be a way to build up a helpful picture of what is going on, of what we are reacting to.  By giving yourself a safe space to speak you may start to recover confidence in yourself and your reactions. 

The chance to reflect on your memories, feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative.  Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.

Mobile: +44 7980 750376
Email: toby@tobyingham