Basic Tips To Write Better Abuse Victims & Abuse Situations
Abuse is a horrible fact of life, and it takes many forms. Unfortunately, it's often misunderstood and handled badly in fiction. This page contains potentially-triggering material, so be warned.
Abuse often starts out small and gradually gets bigger.
If abusers started off new relationships at their prime levels of nastiness, they'd drive away just about everyone at first go. But by starting small, they can progressively desensitize victims to physical and/or emotional abuse - and by the time they're in full swing, the victim will have so much invested in the relationship that cutting loose will be difficult - if not next to impossible.
In some cases, the abuse escalates because the abuser discovers that xe can exert control over the other person and find that xe enjoys doing so. The abuser's behavior will worsen as xe finds that xe can get away with more and more, while the abused person may be too frightened for xir own safety or too afraid of the consequences of making waves (starting a fight, "ruining" the relationship, etc.) to speak up.
Victims are often reluctant to leave because they have a lot invested into their abusive situations.
Leaving the abuser/abusers could mean leaving behind friends, family, and even children. Depending on how much and how long the victim has been in the situation, it could mean leaving behind xir entire life. They may have nowhere else to go and no way to get out, particularly if the abuser has taken control of the victim's finances and/or isolated xir from contact with others.
If the abuse comes from a cult/religious group, the victim may believe that leaving the group would mean losing salvation (or whatever metaphysical prize the group offers).
Some victims fail to leave because they think the abuse is normal.
Those who have grown up in abusive environments may see abusive behavior as perfectly fair and normal. Depending on the level of isolation the abused people experienced, it may have never even occurred to them that there could be any other way to do things.
Brainwashing is half the game (at least).
From abusive spouses to abusive religions, brainwashing plays a huge role in abuse. Abusers frequently wear down peoples' sense of worth and make them believe that they are utterly helpless without the gracious care of the abuser/abusers. ("You think anyone would want you? Without me, you'd be dead in a gutter!" or, "You wouldn't last a week out there in the world!") If the abuse has religious overtones, the victim may have been taught that leaving would be a mortal sin. ("What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder!") Also, abusers may put victims through guilt-trips, making them believe that they would be horrible and ungrateful people for ever leaving. ("How could you even think of doing something like that to me, after all I've done to you?")
Another brainwashing technique some abusers employ is to use double-binds on the victim - IE, no matter what choice the victim makes or what answer xe gives, xe will always be "wrong." This results in the victim never trusting xir own judgement for anything because xe comes to expect that no matter what choice is made, it's always going to be the wrong choice.
Similarly, some abusers will play head-games with their victims by pointing out nonexistant faults and mistakes. If this goes on long enough, the victim may start to question xir own sanity and competance until xe no longer trusts xirself. This technique is known as gaslighting.
Many victims rationalize abusive behavior away.
Abusers often have their kind and affectionate moments, or may even be pleasant to be around most of the time. Because of this, victims often rationalize that their abusers are worth staying with. After all, if xe was really so bad, would xe have spent all that money on that romantic evening for two? And what about the way xe makes you laugh...? It can be very difficult for someone to come to realize that just because a person is nice some of the time doesn't actually mean that person has a heart of gold that can be brought out with patient love and care.
Victims may also rationalize the abuser's behavior by deciding that it was their own fault - if they were just nicer, more understanding, and just did what they were told, then the abuser would start behaving. (Which of course, is actually counterproductive because the victim is essentially rewarding the abuser's bad behavior.)
Victims may also rationalize abusive behavior by deciding that the abuse is acceptable because the abuser just does it out of love for the victim - and in some cases, the abuser believes the same thing. ("It's okay if I forbid her from seeing her old boyfriends because I love her so much, I couldn't bear the thoughts of someone taking her away from me!") Unfortunately for the abuser, intent does not not matter - abuse is abuse, period.
Abusers often believe that their behavior is inconsequential to their victims... or even necessary.
When they say things like these...
- "It wasn't that bad."
- "You're too sensitive!"
- "You think I'm bad? You've never met a real abuser!"
- "I'm only doing this for your own good!"
- "No, I'm not letting you do this. You're in no condition to make that kind of decision right now!"
- "I have to hit you. It's the only way you'll learn!"
Victims are frequently blamed by the abuser's friends and family.
They just know the abuser is a great person and would never do anything like that, so it must be the victim's fault - the victim must have done something to provoke the abuser, or wasn't doing xir spousal duties, or just wasn't Godly enough.
Nothing will fix the victim's trauma overnight.
Recovery takes time, and plenty of it - and for some, recovery is never complete. Contrary to what some seem to think, a dose of good lovin' isn't going to make it all better. In fact, if the abuse involved physical contact in any way, then making physical contact with the victim is actually likely to make it worse as there's a good chance it will trigger a full-blown panic attack, or even a dysthemic state.
Furthermore, when a person is triggered by something that reminds them of the abuse in question, that person is snapped back to the despair, hopelessness, and fear xe felt when the actual abuse was going on. Sometimes it can be overcome in time, but it takes time... and it rarely goes away completely.
The escape is only the beginning.
Depending on the situation, the victim may have to deal with any of the following, plus more:
- Fighting court battles over custody, property, etc.
- Dealing with PTSD/trauma-related issues and anxieties, which include worrying that the abuser/abusers will come to further harm the victim, or that the victim will be similarly harmed by other people xe meets.
- Dealing with friends/relatives who think the victim should go back to the abuser/abusive group.
- Protecting xirself from the abuser/abusers.
- Coping with the loss of friends and relatives (particularly if the person escaped from a cult).
If you liked this, you might also be interested in:
On Writing Mentally Ill & Insane Characters
On Writing Misfits, Loners, & Malcontents
Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories
Basic Tips To Write Healthy Relationships
How It Feels To Be A Bigot
Mindsets & Rationales That Lend Well To Villainy
Things To Know If Your Character Will Be Augmented Or Experimented Upon