Things That Abuse Survivors Know But Abuse Victims Don't

June 23, 2013 Kellie Jo Holly

What do you abuse survivors know now that you didn't when you experienced abuse? What would you most like current victims to understand?

First I need to clarify something. There are no domestic abuse victims reading this post. I know that because if you are an abuse victim, you're online researching troubled relationships and self-help information aimed at fixing a frazzled marriage. You certainly are not searching for information about any "abuse victim". In my mind, abuse victims do not know they are abuse victims. Abuse victims truly do not recognize the abuse as abuse.

If you know and admit that you're in an abusive relationship, then you are no longer a victim. You are a survivor of domestic abuse. Only survivors read this blog, pure and simple. That said, you may wonder why I am writing an article for an abuse victim who will never read it. Because I want to remind you, the survivor, just how far you've come in your efforts to end abuse in your life.

ONE: I know that I am not "The Problem"

Abuse victims think that they're responsible for their horrible relationship. They believe the abuser when s/he says "This is all your fault!" Victims look too deeply inside themselves for a cure to their mental and emotional issues instead of looking outward and placing the responsibility for abuse on their jerky partner's shoulders.

This isn't to say that I, the survivor, have no issues whatsoever and am as innocent as the baby deer born in the yard last week. No. I am human; therefore, I have issues. I am a survivor of domestic abuse; therefore, one of my issues could be codependency. I know that ABUSE is (was) a problem in my relationship and that my issue of codependency enabled my ex-husband's controlling behaviors to work.

However, codependency is an "issue" - not a life sentence. I don't have to react to abuse like I once did, and I don't have to feel the same way when it happens either. Which takes us to number...

TWO: I know that I control my actions and reactions

Abuse victims "react" to abuse habitually and rarely consider the fact that they are in charge of their actions and reactions to abusive behaviors. For example, back in the days of my victimhood, I remember "reacting" how my ex-husband expected me to react. I knew whether he wanted to fight or if he wanted to lecture stupid lil' me. I reacted to his abuse appropriately to avoid more pain. I thought I was clever, but I could not shield myself entirely from absorbing his hateful words.

problem for abuse victim

To play the game, I had to believe that he was at least a bit superior to me. His ability to "control his emotions" made him feel more secure in the relationship. My demonstrations of a lack of emotional control fed his ego, drove the beast back inside of him, and ultimately kept me safer than acting like a sane person would have.

No more. Now I know that when I feel angry, sad, hurt (or any other emotion) that I am able to run that emotion through the question, "What do I want to do with this emotion?" How do I want to express my anger? How do I want to talk about my sadness? Is the urgency of this emotion worth it to me to risk looking or acting like an idiot? [One time in the past year, the answer to the last question was "yes"!]

Also, as a survivor, I've learned that "What do I want to do with this sudden happiness?" is an important question to ask myself when I am speaking with an abusive person. Hint: Abusers will exploit happiness. Save that emotion for people who won't use it against you.

THREE: I know that I don't need "you" to be happy

The abuser convinces their victim that they cannot ever be happy without the abuser. Sequestered in that dome of a lie, the abuse victim does not consider leaving their partner. Instead, the abuse victim attempts to find happiness within the confines of their abusive relationship. Their attempt to be happy includes standing up to the abuser, submitting to the abuser, and manipulating the abuser. Anytime an attempt to create happiness fails, the abuse victim views it as a failure on their part of not being enough of something. Not smart enough, not funny enough, not good enough.

I know that I can be happy with or without any person. I may desire to be with you with all my heart, but if being with you isn't possible (or if "you" hurt me), then I can be happy all on my own. The moon is just as romantic and my world just as colorful whether you are in it or not. I may want you, but I don't have to be with you to feel happiness.

So, dear survivors, what else do you know that an abuse victim does not?

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2013, June 23). Things That Abuse Survivors Know But Abuse Victims Don't, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Russ Andrews
June, 23 2013 at 2:35 pm

Now that I clearly kwnow I was the victim of abuse and that my abuser was a sociopath, I'm finding the concept of co-dependence difficult to relate. Early in our relationship I was the strong direct one, the one that
Made decisions. My partner wanted no part of doing the things most couples do. Over time as his manipulation increased and he began to exert more and more power I became more and more dependent. It wasnot by choice but by his taking every single bit of me away.
People have said to me, "you were in a co-dependent relationship." I came into the relationship dependent on only me, good job, friends, a good life. When it was over after 22 years I was broken, broke and near death. I still cannot grasp the co-dependency part.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
June, 23 2013 at 3:29 pm

The first time I read Melanie Beatty's "Codependent No More" it ticked me off. Really bad. Although I shared many symptoms of the codependent, the idea that I was disordered and somehow "brought it on myself" didn't seem right. I think the term itself - co-dependency - put me off and put me down. Finally, in another book called Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of inevitable Harm With Psychopaths, Sociopaths & Narcissists by Sandra Brown, she stated that some mental disorders (like sociopathy) cause such damage to the people around the sociopath that those people lose touch with reality (in a minor way compared with the truly afflicted) and their mentality BECOMES distorted too.
You didn't go into the relationship as a co-dependent. It is POSSIBLE that living the abuser's reality as if it were "normal" caused you to have symptoms of co-dependency. Instead of "symptoms", I like to think of them as behaviors and thoughts. Instead of "being codependent" I like to think of it as "having taken on coping strategies that would work in a normal relationship (which is not exaggerated as an abusive one is), but cause nothing but harm in an abusive one."
In your case as in mine and many other play-toys of abusers, we are not codependent by nature. We learned it. That means we can unlearn it. You don't really have to grasp what "being codependent" is or even wonder for a second if you're somehow deficient. Just read the symptoms of codependency, see if your thoughts/behaviors are listed there, and use them as guides for change.

June, 24 2013 at 12:41 pm

I really needed to see this today. I've been away from my ex for about a month and all the consequences of being in that unhealthy relationship seems to be hitting me at once. I still feel like a victim and a fool for marrying a sociopath, so it's great to hear that I'm a survivor. Everyone keeps telling me how happy they are that I'm no longer in a co-dependent relationship but I never had this problem before my ex. It helps me feel less broken when you described some of the co-dependent behaviors as an adaptation to a distorted reality. How do you manage the feelings of loss associated with the time spent with an abuser? I feel like I lost 10 years of my life. I'm starting over with more issues and more debt because I stayed in a dysfunctional relstionship. I didn't realize that my ex's behaviors were abusive, I just thought he was being a jerk. Once I realized that I was being controlled and manipulated, I made a plan to escape but I truly did not have a name for what was occurring in my relationship.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
June, 26 2013 at 12:20 am

Minyonp, I don't feel like I lost 18 years of my life, but I know much of "me" was wasted during that time. I tend to look at my past as my education. I learned during the "education" but I can learn more from it now. I can squeeze every last drop of goodness out of my "failure" (as some would call it - not me, but some...) and apply it to my life today. For example, during that period of isolation, I learned that I can "hear" my angels, but even angels cannot tell you the future - the future is always up for grabs and created by my choices TODAY. I can make much better choices today than I did in the past, so my "past life" gave me wisdom.
Your past is a matter of perspective. How do you CHOOSE to use it? Will you use your past to enrich your present or to deny yourself the gift of the new life you have before you? I choose to enrich my present <3

June, 25 2013 at 10:56 pm

The abuser does a good job at painting a picture that they are the victim and that somehow the abused one caused the problem. I find in my practice many women making excuses and truly blaming themselves for "causing the abuse". They think they pushed the abuser too far or are in someway responsible for the abuse. They are scared to be alone so they tolerate the abuse. Please realize your worth and strength. No one deserves to be in an abusive relationship. Seek mental health therapy if you feel lost and confused and want to learn to end the unhealthy cycle of abuse.

July, 1 2013 at 8:34 am

Thank you for this post- After 25 years in what I am now Beijing to see as abusive marriage, all of this is so familiar. I was the one reading all the help books and told that it was all my fault. I was called names in public, meals scraped into the garbage because they weren't good enough.. but he was always the victim right down to the night he beat my adult son up for defending me... My grown children have been telling me to divorce their father for years- they saw what I didn't. I thought of abuse as constant hitting- he broke my finger once and ripped the car door off in a drunken rage- but I didn't see the rest... It has been over a month- I filed for divorce and am still struggling with the decision.

January, 11 2014 at 9:32 am

yes can anyone help me? I would like to talk about some of my experience?

September, 27 2015 at 12:52 pm

I am seeking help for the first time since my most recent abusive relationship. It is the first psychologist Ive seen and am finding that he is not really "hearing me" about the severity. The fact that I am not crying during the recount of the abuse is I think a factor. Does anyone have any advice to give me on how to speak to the doctor so that he will listen to me.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 28 2015 at 2:28 am

Hollee, it's time to find a new doctor. Not all are created equal.

May, 11 2016 at 4:30 pm

This article actually brought me to tears. It reads exactly like my marriage was. Nothing was good enough, clean enough, etc. I took my daughters and moved out after he tried to kill me. Every time my soon to be ex husband decides to threaten me again, I find myself back in the mind set described in this article. We have been separated since 2012 and he still won't sign divorce papers. Control over me is all he wants and signing the papers gives that control away. He doesn't care about our daughters unless it's convenient for him. I don't like to be touched by anyone because of him.

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