Why do victims make excuses for their abuser?
Why do abusers blame their victims?
Whatever you feel, your brain tries to justify the intensity of the feeling.
So if you feel very angry, your brain comes up with reasons why you are so angry. If you feel very loved, your brain comes up with reasons why the person who makes you feel that way is so wonderful.
Our brains excel at coming up with excuses, justifications and rationalizations for our emotions. However, our brains are not necessarily so good at understanding whether our emotional reactions actually match reality.
For the abuser, they are angry because they are not getting their way. But their brain, of course, cannot admit that it’s just a power struggle. When the victim says no, disagrees, or tries to set boundaries, the abuser emotionally only feels that they “lost”–they didn’t get what they wanted. The abuser then concludes that the victim makes them angry. So to the abuser, it feels like the victim is controlling them.
As the abuser gets more angry, their brain comes up with ever more absurd justifications for that anger. And the more resentful the abuser gets, the more they feel the victim is controlling them. They think the victim pushes their buttons, sets them off, “offends” them, or “disrespects” them.
On top of all that, which absolutely everyone experiences to some extent and must guard against, there is an abuse mindset. Not everyone has an abuse mindset, but anyone can fall into an abuse mindset if they are not careful.
The abuse mindset sees people as all-good or all-bad, with no ability to see people as they are, a mix of good and bad qualities. In the abuse mindset, everything is black and white. In addition, the abuse mindset makes it impossible to retain positive feelings towards loved ones while angry, frustrated or disappointed.
So abusers usually “love-bomb” at first, because they genuinely see their new relationship as being perfect (or at least, perfect for “right now”). Then, they get disappointed with something. It’s usually something pretty small. But they can’t see people as a mix of good and bad qualities and they can’t retain positive feelings when disappointed. So their resentment grows. Their brains then find ways to justify the resentment.
The other problem is blame. Since someone with an abusive mindset can only see people as all-good or all-bad, they cannot admit to any faults or negative qualities in themselves. Thus, everything going wrong must be the victim’s fault.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, abusers usually don’t deal well with conflict or confrontation. (If they did, it would be hard to view people as all-good or all-bad.) So they tattle and they gossip. Empathy is not always good. The people the abuser gossips with usually empathize with the abuser, thus reinforcing the abuser’s focus on blame. This fuels their resentment, which their brain then justifies.
The point is they usually have no awareness of any of this. They truly think their resentment is justified.
The victim, on the other hand, remembers the love-bombing, which happened because at first the abuser really thought the victim was perfect (or at least, a massive upgrade over their “crazy” ex). While the victim was being made to feel special or loved, their brain justified those feelings by never blaming the abuser for anything. No matter how bad the abuse gets, the victim may make excuses for the abuser because the victim’s brain is still trying to justify and get back to the love-bombing stage.
These excuses usually involve either talking about the abuser’s intentions, bringing up the abuser’s own story of being a victim, or coming up with reasons why the abuser had no choice but to act the way they did.
The excuses are nearly always true, or at least plausible. Everyone has been the victim of something at some point. Everyone is a mix of intentions and motivations, so it’s always possible to find some good ones to focus on. And everyone deals with limitations and external pressures.
When I talk to abusers and victims, it is very common for victims to not only make excuses for their abusers, but to repeat their abuser’s excuses word for word. Our brains excel at finding excuses for people who, at one time, made us feel loved, safe or special.
If the victim wants badly enough to return to the love-bombing stage, then even if they leave their abuser they will just end up with a new abuser. (And the old abuser may still be around, seeking revenge.)
This is a big part of how victims end up in repeated cycles of abusive relationships. They want that love-bombing stage, when the abuser thought they were perfect. The only problem is that only an abuser will think you are perfect despite barely knowing you! A person who has known you for years might think you are an excellent match FOR THEM. But only someone with an abusive mindset, who can only think of people as all-bad or as all-good, will think you are perfect right off the bat.
But even labeling people as “abusers” and “victims” can be deeply problematic. Why?
ANYONE can become a victim. I fell for love-bombing at least the first three times I experienced it. I think I’m immune now. But I can’t be sure of that. In my experience, every single person who experiences love-bombing for the first time falls for it.
And ANYONE can become abusive. In my own experience, I literally have never met a single person who premeditates their abuse. No abuser that I know has a plan. They really believe the victim is wonderful at first. Then the victim dares to win an argument or to say no, and the abuser spirals downwards into blame and contempt.
For a long time, when I was deeply mentally ill, I didn’t date anyone. When I started dating again I had no idea what to do. So I tried to copy what I thought (from movies) “worked”. I love-bombed. You know, that’s how the romance goes in film. The girl stares at the guy with adoring puppy-dog eyes. The guy sweeps the girl off her feet.
Did I become abusive? No. But only because I got disappointed so fast and ended the relationship before it turned into anything. It was only the third or fourth time I love-bombed and then prematurely exited the relationship that I thought–maybe the problem isn’t that I have “bad luck” in choosing partners.
Maybe the problem is me.
Well, the problem wasn’t even precisely me. It was my behavior, which created my mindset. When I put someone on a pedestal, when I tell them they are perfect despite barely knowing them, I am putting myself in the abusive mindset. I am putting myself in the position of seeing other people as either all-good or all-bad. That cannot end well.
The moment you “love-bomb”, no matter what your intentions are, you are setting yourself up to become abusive. And even if there is no love-bombing, the moment you conclude that whatever someone has done is so offensive that it justifies any retaliation, no matter how disproportionate, you have become abusive.
This is especially important in the context of families (using the word “family” very loosely here to mean any emotionally connected group of people.) In sick families it is common for people to play different roles depending on context and who has power or position in the family tree. Often the same person is a victim in relationship to one family member while an abuser in relationship to another.
Even worse, emotions are contagious. Often family members will spread an abuser’s anger, or spread a victim’s excuse-making. In a group context, you may find yourself making excuses for an abuser even though you never even got to experience the love-bombing yourself!
So anyone can become a victim, and anyone can become an abuser. And at the same time, anyone can stop being a victim and anyone can stop being an abuser. In fact, there is no need to label yourself at all, which is especially good news for those of you who find yourselves playing both roles.
There is no need to figure out who is the “real problem”. Instead of labeling yourself or anyone else, you can merely label the situation. Then realize that, with different choices and a different mindset, future relationships can be very different.