Loving an Abusive Partner: Why Do I Love My Abuser? (2023)

Intimate partner violence may refer to any physical, sexual, and psychological violence between intimate partners.

This may include behaviors such as:

  • stalking
  • threatening
  • being physically and sexually violent
  • humiliating
  • using verbal violence
  • exerting financial control
  • performing other controlling behaviors

It can occur in all types of sexually or emotionally intimate relationships, and it affects people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.

Feeling love for someone who is abusive toward you is not uncommon. There are many reasons why this can happen, especially if the love came before the abuse.

You may have chemistry with them, or they may have qualities that you’re still attracted to. Maybe they make you feel a certain way or treat you kindly from time to time.

Once you realize some of their behaviors are abusive, these other feelings don’t necessarily vanish. This may lead you to wonder how you can be in love with someone who harms you.

Loving is not the same as wanting to stay in the relationship, though.

Still, you may have reasons for not leaving the situation. For example:

  • You’re afraid of being alone or experiencing revenge from the abusive partner.
  • You lack the financial resources to leave.
  • You have children with this person.
  • There are religious, cultural, or moral beliefs and expectations preventing you from walking away.

Besides these needs, it’s possible to love an abusive partner and have a difficult time thinking about leaving them.

(Video) Am I The Abuser Too? | What Is Mutual Abuse? | Can Both Partners Be Abusive?

Some reasons you may still love your romantic partner despite their abusive behaviors might include:

  • experiencing denial as a defense mechanism
  • being caught in the abuse cycle
  • having a personality disorder or attachment style that leads you to feel dependent on your partner
  • being confused by your partner’s manipulation tactics
  • seeing temporary changes in your partner that give you hope for long-term change
  • experiencing cognitive dissonance
  • feeling like you can heal your partner with your love and that self-sacrifice is worth it
  • experiencing trauma bonding, known as the Stockholm syndrome

These are some common reasons why you may continue to love someone who hurts you. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s how you feel, and it’s valid.

However, because abusive behaviors may jeopardize your personal integrity, it’s important to look closely at these factors. Seeing your situation clearly could help you make a decision that takes you out of harm’s way.

Seeking the help of a healthcare professional may also help you develop tools to take the next steps.

If you need support

For more information or immediate help, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online, or call or text “START” to 800-799-SAFE (7233). This resource is completely confidential.

Denial as a defense mechanism

When you’re in denial about something, your mind could be trying to protect you from uncomfortable and distressing feelings. It’s a survival response to pain. If you don’t see it, it may not affect you. But it does.

Denial can manifest in many ways. For example, you may believe “abuse” could never happen to you. As a result, you come up with other names or explanations for some of your partner’s behaviors.

In other words, you may continue to love and stay with a partner who engages in abuse because you can’t believe it’s happening.

Men in abusive relationships may be particularly prone to disbelief and denial. This could be due to cultural pressure and stigma about female abusive partners.

But males can experience abuse too. In fact, some studies suggest that males tend to stay in abusive relationships more often than females do. However, when disclosing this to family, friends, or authorities, research shows they often face ridicule, indifference, or shock.

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These social factors, as well as your feelings, may lead you to develop a state of denial where you inadvertently overlook that you are in an abusive relationship.

The abuse cycle

Abuse in a romantic relationship can sometimes occur in four distinct phases, referred to as the cycle of abuse.

These phases are:

  1. Tensions build, and the abusive partner may begin to show signs of anger and frustration.
  2. The incident of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse occurs.
  3. Reconciliation starts after the abusive incident, and the abusive partner apologizes or tries to justify their behavior.
  4. A state of calm begins in the fourth phase, and the abusive person may say things like, “It will never happen again.”

Although this cycle may not fit all situations, it’s the last two parts that may lead you to continue experiencing feelings for your partner.

You may often be reminded of the things you love about them and how different the relationship can be at times. This could also temporarily discourage your potential plans for leaving.

Personality disorders and attachment styles

Being on the receiving end in an abusive situation is never your fault. There’s absolutely no reason for someone to deserve being harmed in any way.

And although nothing you do justifies this treatment, there are some mental health conditions that may lead you to unconsciously engage in this type of relationship and fall in love with an abusive partner.

Research suggests that certain personality disorders may be associated with a higher chance of women being in an abusive relationship.

These include schizoid, avoidant, borderline, and dependent personality disorders. Some of the symptoms that may manifest in these conditions include low personal self-esteem, dependency, and submissiveness.

This is not the case for everyone, though. Not every person who loves an abusive partner lives with a mental health condition.

Childhood trauma and having an insecure or anxious attachment style may also increase your chances of establishing and staying in a romantic relationship with an abusive partner.

Manipulation tactics of the abusive partner

Some abusive partners may use manipulation tactics that could lead you to feel uncertain and confused about your emotions and what steps to follow.

For example, some people with narcissistic personality disorder may engage in psychological games that could make you fall in love with them and feel attached to the relationship. They may also play the victim at times, which could awaken your empathy and compassion.

Tactics, including gaslighting or projecting, can also leave you unsure of yourself and your feelings. This can make it difficult to understand why you love someone who hurts you.

(Video) Recovering Abusers: How Can an Abuser Change? A former, 30-year emotional abuser speaks

The ‘small kindness’ perception

The cycle of abuse can be unpredictable. You may find that your partner is caring and romantic one day, and indifferent or abusive the next.

In some cases, an abusive partner may show you small acts of kindness if they see you pull away. These acts can be a refreshing change if you’ve been going through a rough time. In fact, these acts can seem bigger than they really are because they occur so infrequently. Plus, they offer a glimpse of hope that change is near.

Sometimes, kindness may also lead you to confirm that your partner is capable of love and affection, and this could make you fall in love with that aspect of them.

Cognitive dissonance

When your beliefs and your experiences don’t match, you may experience a sense of discomfort. It’s natural to want to avoid such discomfort. This is why a natural response to abuse may be to engage in behaviors or activities that minimize this feeling.

This response can range from person to person. While some people leave the situation to avoid feeling distress, other people may ignore, justify, or rationalize it.

These actions may make it more difficult for you to distance yourself from the love you feel for your partner.

For example, rationalizing some of your partner’s abusive behaviors as “they had a rough childhood” may lead you to focus on how bad they may be feeling versus how you may feel regarding those behaviors.

Wanting to heal your partner

Circling back to how you may be focusing on your partner’s experiences, you could be leading with empathy in your relationship. This means you could assume the role of the healer or savior and want to stay around taking care of your partner.

You may also think that if you try harder or love them unconditionally, they will change.

Although empathy and compassion are extremely important in human interactions, assuming that role — particularly when you are hurting — may lead you to stay in a harmful situation.

Change is possible, but it may not be up to you. Your partner needs to want to change, and practical steps are needed to put that change in motion. This often means seeking out professional help and engaging in long-term treatment.

Stockholm syndrome and the emotional bond with an abusive partner

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If you’re experiencing a form of trauma bonding known as the Stockholm syndrome, this may also explain why you feel so close to your abusive partner.

This psychological response got its name from an incident in 1973 where two robbers took control of a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. They held, threatened, and abused four hostages for over 5 days.

However, when the hostages were rescued, they showed support for the robbers. One female hostage later became engaged to one of them, and another hostage raised money for their defense case.

Since then, the term is used to describe a psychological connection and bond that may be established between “abusers” and “abuse victims.” It is more often used in incidents of kidnapping and captivity.

This response doesn’t happen in every situation or abusive relationship. Experts are still not clear on what factors contribute to the development of this bond. But it does show that in some situations, a strong bond may develop between someone who hurts and the person they hurt.

Being in a relationship with an abusive partner may leave you feeling confused and uncertain. It may lead you to wonder why you love someone who hurts you. But you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to still experience loving feelings for someone who may act abusively toward you.

There’s nothing you’ve done or didn’t do that justifies abuse. And an abusive partner may need professional support that is way beyond your love and care if they’re going to change.

There’s nothing wrong with you if you love an abusive person. There are many factors involved in romantic feelings.

However, it may be a good idea to turn your attention to yourself and make decisions that help you feel and live better.

Even if it seems difficult because of how you feel, leaving an abusive relationship may be the next step to take if your mental and physical safety are in jeopardy.

If you need help reaching a decision and developing a plan, a mental health professional could help.

(Video) Why Do I Still Love My Abuser?😞 How To Recover After A Relationship With A Narcissist

These resources could also help in taking the next step:


What is the psychological term for loving your abuser? ›

Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time.

Why do victims become attached to their abusers? ›

Victims of abuse often develop a strong sense of loyalty towards their abuser, despite the fact that the bond is damaging to them. Conditions necessary for trauma bonding to occur include: To be threatened with, and to believe, that there is real danger. Harsh treatment interspersed with very small kindnesses.

Why do trauma victims return to their abusers? ›

Survivors sometimes want the abuse to end, not the relationship. A survivor may return to the abuser because that's the person she the survivor fell in love with, and she believes his promises to change. It's not easy for anyone to let go of hopes and dreams.

What is the root that causes abusers to abuse others? ›

Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner's lives, often either because they believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them.

What is Revictimization? ›

: to victimize (someone) again : to make a victim of (someone) again. "This scam revictimized families who were already suffering from the collapse of the housing market."

What is the psychological makeup of an abuser? ›

Abusers are possesive, although they usually deny their actions of blaming and controlling the victim, and on the other hand, are insecure and suffer from untreated mental health problems, including depression and suicidal ideation [1].

What are 3 signs of a trauma bond? ›

Signs & Symptoms of Trauma Bonding
  • An abuse victim covers up or makes excuses to others for an abuser's behavior.
  • An abuse victim lies to friends or family about the abuse.
  • A victim doesn't feel comfortable with or able to leave the abusive situation.
  • An abuse victim thinks the abuse is their fault.
Nov 23, 2022

What are the 7 stages of trauma bonding? ›

Breaking a trauma bond starts with identifying the 7 stages of trauma bonding, which encompasses gaslighting, love bombing, emotional addiction, criticism, loss of self, trust and dependency, and resigning to control. It is important to understand how these stages develop in a toxic and abusive relationship.

How long does a trauma bond last? ›

There is no set time for how long it takes to heal from a trauma bond, as each person is different. Some people may find that it takes months, or even years, to overcome the effects of being in a trauma bonded relationship. You can begin the healing process by cutting off contact and seeking therapy.

What happens to the brain when emotionally abused? ›

Emotional abuse is linked to thinning of certain areas of the brain that help you manage emotions and be self-aware — especially the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe. Epigenetic changes and depression. Research from 2018 has connected childhood abuse to epigenetic brain changes that may cause depression.

What kind of people do emotional abusers target? ›

Narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists may be drawn to emotional abuse because of the pleasure they take in having power over others or seeing them suffer (Brogaard, 2020).

Why do abuse victims push people away? ›

Pushing people away can be an instinctive way to protect yourself from further harm. Isolation can often reflect how a survivor acted during or after rape or abuse. The perpetrator might have forced you to keep it a secret by making threats or telling you its normal or that nobody will believe you.

Are abusers born or made? ›

It is important to note that the vast majority of sexual abuse victims do not grow up to become abusers. However, some scientists believe a biological predisposition to the condition, combined with the experience of being molested as a child, might lead to someone developing the condition as an adult.

Do emotional abusers know they are doing it? ›

Emotional abuse may be unintentional, where the person doesn't realize they are hurting someone else, according to Engel. And, “some people are reenacting patterns of being in a relationship that they learn from their parents or their caregivers,” adds Heidi Kar, Ph.

Which form of abuse is the biggest cause? ›

Physical Abuse

This kind of abuse is condemned by almost everyone and it is estimated that one in four women are victims of this kind of abuse. The most common forms of abuse include hitting, throwing and scalding, even suffocation is on the list.

What is the ten 4 rule? ›

Aims The TEN4 rule (bruising to the Trunk, Ear, Neck or in a child <4 months old) is used to identify bruises that warrant a physical abuse (PA) evaluation. We aim to determine whether TEN4 can distinguish PA from accidental injury or inherited bleeding disorders (IBD).

What are the 4 stages of victimization? ›

Casarez-Levison (1992) discussed victimization as a process where a person moves from a pre-crime state (Previctimization), to the crime event itself (Victimization), to initial coping and adjustment (Transition), and finally to a state where being a crime victim is just part of one's life experience (Resolution).

Are abused people more likely to be abused again? ›

It's nice to think that lightning never strikes twice, but that's simply not true. Being sexually assaulted puts you at higher risk of being assaulted again in the future. Experiencing childhood abuse or domestic violence also increases the chances of revictimization.

What are the 5 signs of emotional abuse? ›

5 Signs of Emotional Abuse
  • They are Hyper-Critical or Judgmental Towards You. ...
  • They Ignore Boundaries or Invade Your Privacy. ...
  • They are Possessive and/or Controlling. ...
  • They are Manipulative. ...
  • They Often Dismiss You and Your Feelings.
May 23, 2017

How does the mind of an abuser work? ›

Inside an Abuser's Mind

Abusers often feel they share an identity with their victim. They do not want their victim to have a life separate from them and see the victim as an extension of themselves. They will use isolation or threats to keep their victim from leaving, getting help or having any other relationships.

What does emotional abuse do to a woman? ›

What are the effects of emotional or verbal abuse? Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety.

Does a trauma bond feel like love? ›

Trauma bonds are bonds that commonly form as a result of abusive relationships. They are the surface-level feelings of attachment and intimacy that can result from an abusive cycle. In a trauma bond, partners think they have true love or connection even though the relationship is harmful.

What is trauma dumping? ›

Trauma dumping is defined as unloading traumatic experiences on others without warning or invitation. It's often done to seek validation, attention, or sympathy. While some initial relief may come from dumping your trauma onto someone else, the habit actually does more harm than good.

What breaks a trauma bond? ›

You can break a trauma bond after a breakup by doing things such as educating yourself on the topic of trauma bonding, cutting off your abuser, engaging in new activities, making healthy relationships, and taking a break from dating.

Do narcissists feel the trauma bond? ›

Narcissists do feel the trauma bond, but not in the same way that the people that they abuse feel it. A trauma bond makes narcissists feel remarkably well because the dynamics of a trauma bonded relationship are designed to help them regulate the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they've suppressed.

Can brain damage from narcissistic abuse be reversed? ›

Narcissistic abuse changes your brain

But, there is hope. There are reparative activities you can do to restore and rebuild your hippocampus and stop the hijacking of your psyche by your amygdala.

What are the stages of leaving a narcissist? ›

The relationship cycle typical of extreme narcissistic abuse generally follows a pattern. Individuals in emotionally abusive relationships experience a dizzying whirlwind that includes three stages: idealization, devaluing, and discarding.

What is narcissist trauma bond? ›

Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse with another person which fuels a need for validation and love from the person being abused. Trauma bonding often happens in romantic relationships, however, it can also occur between colleagues, non-romantic family members, and friends.

Why do Empaths end up with narcissists? ›

Empaths tend to desire validation and love from a narcissist, potentially due to their childhood experience of not having their emotional needs met by a caregiver or parent. Likely, an empath had a narcissistic parent, or experienced some kind of emotional neglect in which they learned that love is conditional.

How do I know if I'm trauma bonded? ›

Signs of trauma bonding

agree with the abusive person's reasons for treating them badly. try to cover for the abusive person. argue with or distance themselves from people trying to help, such as friends, family members, or neighbors.

Does abuse rewire your brain? ›

These changes are significant enough to have physical, emotional, and psychological effects that can last into adulthood. If you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, your brain might have become wired for fear, anxiety, and stress. And disorders such as anxiety, depression, or addiction can surface later in life.

How does narcissistic abuse affect future relationships? ›

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may experience extreme fear or anxiety in relationships with new people. Those who leave abusive relationships may experience separation anxiety, leading them to feel panicked and disoriented when they're not with their abusers.

What are 6 behaviors that indicate emotional abuse? ›

Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. Signs of emotional abuse.

What personality type is an abuser? ›

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is highly associated with verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and/or domestic violence often suffered by those who are non-borderline.

Which characteristic is most likely to be found in an abusive person? ›

Abusers frequently have the following characteristics: Often blow up in anger at small incidents. He or she is often easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really very angry. Are excessively jealous: At the beginning of a relationship, an abuser may claim that jealousy is a sign of his or her love.

Are emotional abusers narcissists? ›

Not every abuser has a narcissistic personality disorder. Abuse occurs in many different ways and every type, degree, and combination of abuse comes with its own unique spectrum. In this spectrum, we have a limitless amount of personality types of the perpetrators that are engaging in these acts of abuse.

What are three long term effects of abuse on the victim? ›

Maltreatment can cause victims to feel isolation, fear, and distrust, which can translate into lifelong psychological consequences that can manifest as educational difficulties, low self-esteem, depression, and trouble forming and maintaining relationships.

What is abuse victim syndrome? ›

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser. This syndrome was originally observed when hostages who were kidnapped not only bonded with their kidnappers, but also fell in love with them.

What are 3 examples of why a victim might not want to leave the abuser? ›

A victim's reasons for staying with their abusers are extremely complex and, in most cases, are based on the reality that their abuser will follow through with the threats they have used to keep them trapped: the abuser will hurt or kill them, they will hurt or kill the kids, they will win custody of the children, they ...

What causes Pediphilia? ›

A 2020 study suggests that a strong link could exist between childhood sexual abuse and pedophilic interests later in life. It found that past abuse could also impact a person's ability to take part in mutually beneficial sexual experiences, causing them to lean on forceful or objectifying ways of relating instead.

What percentage of victims become abusers? ›

More than 90% of abusers are people children know, love and trust. 30-40% of victims are abused by a family member. 50% are abused by someone outside of the family whom they know and trust.

What is the first form of abused? ›

Abuse V1 V2 V3 V4 V5 Past and Past Participle Form
Apr 11, 2022

What is the profile of an emotional abuser? ›

Characteristics of Emotionally Abusive Men and Women

Emotional abusers tend to believe they are "owed" by everyone and thus everyone (including their victim) should give them what they want. This makes them feel entitled to give orders, control, and abuse in order to get what they want.

Do abusers have cognitive dissonance? ›

Simply put, cognitive dissonance is having two very different thoughts or beliefs about something at the same time. It is very common in emotionally abusive situations and in relationships with narcissists.

Do emotionally abusive people do it on purpose? ›

Because the truth is, abusers — especially narcissists — know exactly what they're doing. And they do it on purpose. Unfortunately, the collective response to someone being abusive is to first err on the side of innocence and make excuses for the abuser, since to consider the alternative is at first unimaginable.

What type of abuse is the hardest to detect? ›

Emotional or psychological abuse

Emotional abuse often coexists with other forms of abuse, and it is the most difficult to identify. Many of its potential consequences, such as learning and speech problems and delays in physical development, can also occur in children who are not being emotionally abused.

Who is the most common abuser? ›

1 The adult may be a relative, caregiver, step-parent, religious figure, coach, or babysitter, though the majority of perpetrators are parents of the child. In the United States, children experience child abuse or neglect at a rate of 8.9 per 1,000 children.

What is typically the long term most damaging form of abuse? ›

Emotional abuse is often a misunderstood form of trauma, perhaps the most damaging type of abuse, that leads to long-term consequences for adults (Heim et al. 2013).

What is victim blaming called in psychology? ›

a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals or groups attempt to cope with the bad things that have happened to others by assigning blame to the victim of the trauma or tragedy.

What are the different names for emotional abuse? ›

Defining Emotional Abuse

One reason is because there are several different names used interchangeably to refer to the same kind of abuse, including emotional abuse/violence, psychological abuse/violence, and mental abuse.

What are two victim blaming phrases? ›

Examples of victim blaming may include things like:
  • “You had to know what was going to happen if you went up to that person's apartment.”
  • “You shouldn't have been drinking.”
  • “You must have sent mixed messages.”
  • “Was your door even locked?”
  • “What were you wearing?”
  • “How hard did you try to stop it?”
Oct 11, 2021

What is victim blaming gaslighting? ›

As a secondary microaggression, gaslighting is a par- ticularly common and harmful type of victim blaming. The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gas- light, in which a husband systematically lies and deceives his wife to manipulate her into believing she is going insane and to cover up his misdeeds.

Is victim blaming narcissism? ›

Blame shifting results in victim blaming. This happens most often with a narcissist when you confront them on a lie or try to set boundaries. When the narcissist starts to feel like they are losing control and their image of superiority and grandiosity is at risk, they will blame shift.

What is passive abuse? ›

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.

What are the 5 cycles of emotional abuse? ›

The 5 cycles of emotional abuse, as listed in Sarakay Smullens' “Five Cycles of Emotional Abuse: Codification and Treatment of an Invisible Malignancy” are enmeshment, extreme overprotection and overindulgence, complete neglect, rage, and rejection/abandonment.


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3. Emotional Abuse: How Does an Abuser Wake Up? :: abusive relationships, abuser
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4. Emotional Abuse - How to STOP loving an Abuser
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5. 6 Signs Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship You Shouldnt Ignore | BetterHelp
6. Why you CAN’T Leave an Abusive Relationship | TRAUMA BONDING (Stephanie Lyn Coaching)
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