On Writing Abusers, Abuse Victims, & Abuse Situations

Abuse is a horrible fact of life, and it comes in many forms. Unfortunately, it's all too often misunderstood by writers and handled badly in fiction. Here's some things to know and consider if you plan to involve this kind of thing in a story or backstory.

Most of this is based on many years of observing how abusive people tend to behave, whether it was people who abused me, or abused those around me, or reading accounts from survivors - or sometimes, from abusers themselves.

Last updated: February 5, 2021.

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Abusers don't usually see themselves and their actions the way many people think they do.

Many people think abusers all have big egos and think they're infallible. Maybe some of them do, but personally I've never come across an abuser who genuinely saw themselves as infallible; at least not all the time. Many willingly admit to having faults and making mistakes. What they generally believe (or choose to believe) is that their behavior and choices have no substantial impact on others, and/or that they were just doing the best they could (and therefore can't be held responsible), or that their victims just plain deserved it. From here, they determine that they don't owe their victims apologies or reparations, and certainly don't need to work on themselves. When their victims aren't satisfied with this, they conclude that they must be harboring a grudge against them for no good reason.

For example, a mother might sabotage her adult daughter's relationship with her fiance because she's decided that he isn't good enough for her daughter, then twenty years later expect her daughter to have no hard feelings about it "because it happened so long ago." A spouse might scream and yell at their partner all afternoon, offer a cutesy little apology afterward (EG, "Sorry I lashed out, honey, I was just so frustrated!"), then get offended when their partner is tense and on edge around them the rest of the day (EG, "I apologized! Why can't you just let it go already?").

A lot of people believe abusers simply don't care about right and wrong, but this just isn't true. Many of them do; in fact, many care about right and wrong quite deeply. The problem is, they often have dysfunctional ideas about what constitutes right and wrong, and they are unwilling to critically examine and change them. Many also assume that their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong are self-evident, and write off anyone who doesn't share their values as willfully selfish and evil. Many hold other people to absolute standards of moral goodness, while giving themselves excuses and passes to do the exact same things they condemn others for. They don't sit down ask themselves whether they're holding others to unrealistic standards, whether they should hold themselves to higher standards, or somewhere between.

Some abusers care so much about right and wrong that they feel like they have a duty to correct any perceived wrong with whatever measures they believe necessary. They don't consider or care that their methods might be inappropriate or harmful, let alone whether they might be leaving bystanders terrified to do or say anything for fear of incurring the abuser's warped sense of correction and justice.

It's often believed that abusive people never feel true guilt, shame, or remorse, but this isn't actually true. Many do, at least some of the time. The thing is, they don't decide to respond to this by working on themselves and growing as people. Instead, they often just convince themselves (or get other people to convince them) that they're not really that bad after all and continue on in their toxic behaviors and dysfunctional habits. Sometimes, they try to fight their own perceived faults in other people; for example, someone who hates themselves for having a low-class background might make fun of other poor people for being "trailer trash" or whatever. Some abusive people seem to think that that hating themselves for their perceived faults and flaws effectively means they can't be held accountable for their behaviors, as if their self-loathing somehow absolves them of moral responsibility.

A lot of people think that abusers are extremely confident, if not overconfident. In fact, many abusers are incredibly insecure people who feel uneasy if they don't have everything under control. They try to cope with this by asserting dominance pretty much everywhere they go. When they inevitably lose control at some point, they'll very likely try to make themselves feel strong and powerful again by attacking somebody who can't really fight back, whether it's a spouse, child, minority on the Internet, or whathaveyou. They could seek out healthier ways to deal with feeling insecure and afraid, but they choose not to. Instead, they hurt someone else to make themselves feel better.

However, many abusers are absolutely paranoid about other people's egos. They mistake their confidence and assertiveness for an ego spiraling out of control, and believe it's necessary to criticize and cut them down lest they get ahead of themselves and make a serious mistake. They might think they're actually helping their victim by preventing them from hurting or humiliating themselves. An abuser like this might tearfully tell their victim that they're only saying all these hurtful things because they love them, and genuinely mean it.

Many abusers truly don't understand why their victims are so upset with them. This is entirely their fault, of course. They don't make any real effort to try and understand things from their perspectives, let alone consider that they might have valid feelings and reasons. Instead, they're likely to conclude that their victim just hates them for no good reason. An abusive parent whose adult child finally cut them off might perceive themselves as the innocent victim of a cold, cruel ingrate who refuses to open up and let them into their heart out of sheer malice.

In general, abusers often believe that their own feelings are always an accurate reflection of reality, and that the bigger their feelings are, the more objectively correct and important they must be. If something upsets them, then it must be objectively bad and wrong. If it brings them pleasure, then it must be objectively good and high quality. If they're upset by a news event, then they must deserve sympathy right now, even if they're not the actual victim.

Because abusers often think their own feelings are perfect reflections of reality, they also tend to think their victims ought to always feel the same way they do. They often think their victims should laugh at what they laugh at, cry at what they cry at, and feel outrage over whatever they feel outraged about. When they don't, the abuser often concludes that something must be wrong. They might decide that their victim hates them, or has been brainwashed by another person who hates them. They might also decide that friends and family members who take the victim's side have all been brainwashed or otherwise deceived by the victim.

When the victim expresses emotions the abuser doesn't share (and therefore, doesn't believe are warranted), the abuser will likely decide that the victim is overreacting, being melodramatic for attention, just trying to cause trouble, or something equally dismissive and delegitimizing. For example, if they see someone crying over the death of a celebrity, and personally don't consider celebrity deaths worth crying over, they might accuse this person of crying crocodile tears for attention. (Don't think you won't hear those selfsame abusers complain about other people dismissing and delegitimizing their feelings, though!)

Many abusers overestimate how aware others are of their feelings. They often believe that people are completely aware of when their words and actions upset them, and determine that they must be hurting them on purpose. Thus, a mother who feels upset when her daughter announces that she wishes to move away from home may believe her daughter knows how much this hurts her and decide she's doing it on purpose. While it's absolutely natural to feel some amount of sadness when a child decides to away, refusing to consider the ways that it might not be about you at all displays a remarkable amount of self-centeredness, as does assuming that your child knows exactly how you feel when you have very little interest in how she feels.

Abusive people often assume hate and vindictiveness when others say and do anything they don't like. They might conclude that someone is out to get them based on the tiniest amount of perceived negativity in the tone of their voice or texts. If a friend declines an invitation to a party, they might conclude their friend is trying to hurt or humiliate them. If their lover tells them they'll be late getting home, they might assume they're avoiding them to just to punish them. Rather than taking some time to calm down and remind themselves that this likely isn't the case, they lash back with all the spite and vitriol they can muster. Again, it's all about refusing to consider that their feelings might not reflect reality, and failing to acknowledge that acting on those feelings might lead them to do something inappropriate, hurtful, or even seriously damaging.

Something else abusers do is find excuses to blame and punish other people for their feelings. An abuser who's feeling stressed out simply because life's just difficult sometimes might blame their feelings on their spouse at home, telling themselves that it's because their spouse isn't available enough, isn't keeping house well enough, or whathaveyou. Then, they use this as pretext to verbally and/or physically assault them. They might sling false accusations at them simply because it feels cathartic, with no regard for the emotional and psychological damage they're causing their partner.

Many abusers often assume that if they don't understand something or have personal experience with it, then it's either irrelevant, fake, or nonsensical. They might write off people's hobbies, interests, fashion choices, and so on as pointless, frivolous, or even hedonic. They might write off people voicing their political opinions as "virtue signaling" or "acting out for attention." They might write off people with different religious beliefs or political views as "LARPers." They might write off life choices they don't understand as "insane." Basically, they refuse to acknowledge and accept that things exist and matter regardless of whether or not they personally understand them.

This is why you see a lot of cisgender transphobes behaving the way they do; they have no personal experience with being trans, so they assume trans people are just making it up or suffering from some kind of delusional disorder. It's the same reason why so many racists deny systemic racism; they don't perceive it, so they assume those who talk about it are just making it up for personal gain or have a persecution complex. Same reason why neurotypical abusers often write off autistic people as being willfully stubborn, or actually just suffering from something else they can easily treat and cure.

Abusers also write off things they don't understand or don't find interesting as unintelligent, immature, and suchlike. They frequently do this with people, too; they often judge whether someone is objectively intelligent, mature, moral, etc. based on whether they, personally, find them and their life interesting or desirable; regardless of whether or not this person behaves conscientiously, or whether they try to be kind, fair, and considerate toward others, or whether they make an effort to learn from their mistakes and grow into better people. (It should come as little surprise that abusers often admire very cruel and selfish people, as they themselves are cruel and selfish.)

Likewise, abusers often believe that if you understand an idea, then it must follow that you agree with it. So you might see abusive people bragging about how they don't understand so-and-so's mentality. Conversely, you might see them harassing people to try and get them to understand things from their point of view. The fact that people could in fact understand them perfectly and still find what they're saying to be complete garbage isn't something they allow themselves to consider. If they see that someone understands their idea but still doesn't accept it, they'll assume they're rejecting it out of stubbornness or malice. An example of this are religious people who think that others only reject their theology because they don't understand it, or because they've chosen to be selfish or take the side of evil.

Abusers often conflate power with personal value. They think that the stronger someone is, and the more control they have over things, the more valuable and important they are. Rather than confronting and critically examining this belief, they do whatever they can to grab and hold power so they don't have to feel weak and unimportant. They often conflate certainty with competence, so they'll never admit to being wrong if they can help it. Many conflate aggression with bravery, so they start fights or carry weapons to seem courageous.

Abusers often conflate meaning well with doing well. They think that if their intentions are good, that if their motives are pure, that if their hearts are in the right place, then they can't be criticized and held accountable for their actions. They fail to understand or acknowledge that ultimately, the impact of their actions is a lot more important than the intentions behind them, and that just because they feel like they know what's best, doesn't mean they actually do. So instead of apologizing for the hurt they caused and resolving to do better, they try to defend themselves by saying that causing hurting you wasn't their intention.

Essentially, most of them could be better people if they wanted. However, they just don't want to; at least, not where it really matters. They effectively choose to not critically examine themselves, to not consider the validity of other people's opinions and feelings, and to not take steps to grow as people. Instead, they choose to hold onto a worldview in which their desires and feelings matter the most and where they're always right about all the important things. They refuse to decenter themselves and acknowledge that other people's needs and wants can matter even when they conflict with their own. They turn down opportunities to self-reflect and analyze their dysfunctional habits and beliefs simply because they find it easier not to. They pass up the chance to cultivate better mindsets and healthier interpersonal skills because they don't want to admit they're wrong and that it's on them to do actual work.

Abusers are people just like everyone else, and have problems like everyone else.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that abusive people don't have any real problems. They tend to see them as people who are selfish out of simply not understanding what it's like to experience actual pain and suffering. This might be true for a few abusers, but it's not true for most of them. Most abusive people have the same kinds of problems and troubles as everyone else.

Why am I bringing this up?

First of all, a solid refusal to portray abusers as ordinary people who can have real and legitimate problems creates an impression that abusers (or at least, real abusers) never have any. This, in turn, can create the impression that if someone has actual problems in their life, then they can't be a real abuser. This kind of polarized thinking lets real abusers get themselves off the hook when they actually need to take responsibility. I've seen more than one abusive person show indignance over being called out on their behavior, citing that they were abuse survivors themselves, so how dare you accuse them of being abusive.

Secondly, we have a kind of myth that if an abuser ever actually experienced pain and suffering like everyone else, they'd gain a sense of perspective and develop more sympathy for others. The thing is, they've probably had a certain amount of pain and suffering in their lives, and absolutely none of it made them more compassionate. If anything, abusive people often become even more self-centered when they're genuinely suffering. They see their own pain as the biggest, most important thing going on; while ignoring, invalidating, and belittling other people's suffering. They might decide their personal experience gives them some unique insight into pain and suffering that everyone else somehow missed. They might use their own experience as a benchmark for what other people ought to be able to shoulder and tolerate, and decide that since they made it through just fine, everyone else should be able to. Suffering just isn't going to magically make them care about other people's perspectives and needs. That's a whole separate thing.

This isn't to say that you should just go ahead and give all your antagonists and villains massively traumatic backstories or something. While it's not necessarily wrong to write an antagonist with genuine trauma, you also have a responsibility to be respectful toward real survivors and the pain they've suffered without acting as if this character's pain absolves them of culpability. And this is something that few writers manage.

Fiction has a longstanding problem with trying to give us "complex" villains by means of giving them sympathetic backstories and motivations, but refusing to follow through with the nuanced conversations these setups demand. Usually the story goes for one of two oversimplified conclusions: either the villain is deemed free of any real culpability, or they are deemed worthy of extreme punishment (often death).

So, here's the reality: people who grew up in terrible situations often develop dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. This is not their fault. Children have no control over where they live, who they live with, and what they're taught. Even as young adults, they might not have had a real chance to get somewhere better and actually start working through their trauma and work on themselves. If the story doesn't acknowledge that you're fundamentally dealing with someone who's never had a real chance to fix themselves, insisting they deserve to die regardless borders on victim-blaming. Depending on how it's handled, it can even smack of the model survivor myth, where people are only deemed worthy of help and support as long as their trauma doesn't cause any inconvenient or disruptive behavior.

Now on the other hand, nobody should feel obligated to help someone who clearly has no desire to stop hurting them, let alone acknowledge that their behavior was inappropriate and morally wrong. Trying to heal someone who is actively abusing you is a little like trying to perform surgery on a bear that's currently mauling you. You're probably not going fix whatever's wrong with the bear, and you'll likely end up permenantly scarred from the attempt. Unfortunately, fiction all too often makes angry bear surgery seem noble and admirable, rather than pointless and foolish.

Personally, I think part of the problem is that we've set up this false dichotomy where either the villain must suffer a terrible and horrible fate, or where it must be the protagonist who reaches out and heals them. The idea that the villain could sign up for therapy, read self-help literature, and do their shadow work just doesn't seem to occur to a lot of people. If you want an abusive character to get better, there are so many options that don't involve making their victims do the work. Even if your setting doesn't have therapists as we understand them, it's still hard to imagine that there'd be no spiritual leaders, no elders, no anybody whatsoever who could fill a similar role.

We also seem to be really hung up on the idea that we ought try to reach out to people who are very obviously deeply invested in their awful beliefs and choices. If somebody makes it abundantly clear that they think they're on the right track and have no interest in critically examining themselves and their choices (let alone admitting that they've been cruel and unfair to others), then trying to fix them is absolutely ridiculous. You can't change someone who doesn't want to change, let alone consider that they might be wrong. Maybe (and it's a big maybe) at some future point they might be, but for the time being it's much better to just focus on how you're going to keep them from hurting people.

Finally, we also have this problem of assuming that if a villain has been redeemed in the eyes of the protagonist, then they have been completely and wholly redeemed. The thing is, one person cannot forgive someone on behalf of anyone else, and it's infinitely unlikely that each and every one of their victims will feel like forgiving them. While I'm not saying that this means your character has to die, it does mean that you can't just declare that everything's totally peachy-keen because your protagonist has decided they're cool now. And you shouldn't feel like everyone has to forgive this character, either; especially not if they're responsible for serious harm and loss. These people shouldn't all be willing to forgive your villain just because they learn that your villain has gone through suffering, either.

Basically, people deserve compassion and sympathy for the problems they have no control over, and they need to take personal responsibility for their attitudes and behaviors. If they continually choose to disregard the needs and perspectives of other people, and choose to prioritize their wants and desires over other people's freedom and welfare, they have no one to blame but themselves when others decide to stop putting up with it.

Understand that nobody sets out to get into an abusive relationship.

This might be obvious to most of you, but every now and then I see people who complain about others getting into relationships with people who are "obviously" no good. So I'm going to talk about it.

So, nobody chooses to get into an abusive relationship. That just doesn't happen. Here's what actually happens instead:

They don't recognize the warning signs. Maybe you can spot the red flags a mile away, but it doesn't mean that everyone else can. A lot of people just don't know what to look for. Some people come from abusive families and genuinely think this behavior is normal and fine.

They've been taught to dismiss the warning signs. A good example of this is how women are taught to dismiss and downplay potential warning signs. As children, they're told that "boys will be boys." As they get older, they're told that harassing behaviors are "just a joke" or "just how men are." Unrelated to gender, I was once told that my abuser just had a "strong personality," and unfortunately, I bought into it at the time.

The abuser acts differently around them at first. Abusers are often very fawning and doting in the early stages of a relationship. It might be because they're high on the buzz of a new relationship, or it might even be that they're trying to get their new partner hooked hard and fast. In any case, their partner probably won't start seeing real trouble until later on.

They don't see the other person as an abuser, but as a troubled person who just needs encouragement and support. When an abuser begins to act out, it'll probably be in relatively small ways, or in ways they can pass off as atypical for them - for example, they might claim that their screaming fit over their partner not doing the laundry and dishes was triggered by a week of intense stress buildup. Their partner might realize that this behavior isn't okay, but also believe it's something they can help them work through. The abuser might encourage this kind of thinking by telling them how they had a rough childhood, how everyone is so horrible to them, or whathaveyou. (And these things might even be true.) Their victims conclude that they mainly just need some emotional support and a listening ear, and the problems will ultimately resolve themselves. Ultimately, the whole thing ultimately turns into a cycle where the victim is convinced that if they just try a little longer and a little harder, things will work themselves out. But they don't, because the abuser doesn't actually want to do any work or make any lifestyle changes that would help them end the cycle. They've learned that if they want some attention and sympathy, all they have to do is lash out and throw a tantrum.

The abuser is actually really good about some things. The thing about abusers is that they can be genuinely good people in some ways. They might care a lot about dismantling white supremacy and fighting for gender equality. They might have dropped everything to go help a sick friend, or they might feel really strongly about animal abuse. They might be very open-minded and willing to learn about certain subjects, and may have even helped their victim learn more about them. When someone is really and truly good in ways like this, it can be hard realize and accept that they can be abusive in addition to those other things. If anything, it's often a lot easier to decide that you must be the problem somehow, and that you just need to figure out where you're going wrong and fix yourself.

The abuser has successfully framed themselves as the victim. Abusers often employ a strategy known as DARVO - "deny, attack, reverse victim and offender" to make themselves seem like the real victim in any situation. Many abusers even appropriate the terms and language survivors use to talk about their own experiences and use them to against their victims - EG, claiming that their victim is "gaslighting" them for simply contradicting or disagreeing with something they said.

Abusers have a lot of rhetorical tricks to convince both themselves and their victims that they're not actually abusive.

Abusers generally don't think of themselves as abusive, and they sure don't want their victims to see themselves that way, either. So they use all kinds of rhetorical tricks to paint themselves as fine and dandy, and their victims as the real problem. Here are some that they use:

"This isn't real abuse. Real abuse would be..." Essentially, defining "real" abuse as something more extreme or more frequent than their own actions. For example, someone who frequently slaps their partner might claim they'd only be acting abusively if they hit them with a closed fist instead. They might claim that constantly nitpicking their partner isn't abuse because abuse is physical. They might claim that launching into condescending lectures at the drop of a hat isn't abuse because abuse would require screaming and name calling. And so on and so forth.

"I won't tolerate this disrespect!" Trying to shut down the victim by framing any challenge to their authority as "disrespect."

"Everyone acts like this sometimes!" The abuser tries to normalize their hurtful behavior by claiming that "everyone" acts the way they do. Whether or not that's actually even true, it doesn't make their behavior acceptable.

"This is how things are in the real world!" Another normalization tactic; and again. Again, even if it's technically true, it doesn't mean that their behavior should be tolerated - the "real world" allows a lot of toxic behavior that shouldn't be considered acceptable.

"I'm just trying to bring a little sanity and be the voice of reason." Abusers tend to hate it when things aren't completely under their control, and see it as "insanity" and "chaos." Phrasing it this way, they frame their control issues as a service to their victim.

"I'm just providing another point of view." Trying to pass off their attempt to dominate and control the entire conversation - and therefore, what everyone involved thinks - as simply sharing an alternative point of view.

"I refuse to censor myself or hide my true feelings. Your reaction is a problem you need to work on." A tactic to blame the victim's pain and distress over their self-centered and callous behavior as a personal failing on the victim's end.

"It's called brutal honesty. If you can't take it, that's your problem." A lot of abusers pride themselves on being "brutally honest" or in stating "blunt truths." In reality, they choose to say things in unnecessarily cruel and cutting ways. Although they often claim that any alternative phrasing would be "sugarcoating the truth," this is always a lie.

"I wouldn't act this way if you didn't set me off!" Abusers rarely want to admit that they're responsible for their own behavior, because that would mean being in trouble and having to face consequences, and that terrifies them. Instead, they place all the blame on the victim.

"You're just trying to control me!" Where the abuser tries to frame any attempt at getting them to stop dishing out abuse as some kind of control freak behavior.

"You need to take more responsibility for yourself." A lot of abusers are big on the idea of personal responsibility - just so long as it's other people taking personal responsibility. They'll essentially demand their victims take responsibility for things it's not humanly possible to take responsibility for, like the abuser's own unpredictable mood swings.

"This is just how I was raised to see/do things." Essentially, they act like their present worldview and behavior just can't be helped because of how they were taught in the past.

"Now, I know there was no excuse for my behavior... At first pass, this one looks like the abuser's actually willing to take responsibility for their behavior, and it fools many victims into giving another chance. But what the abuser is really saying here is that they knew it was wrong and decided to go for it anyway, and/or that they're about to defend their actions anyway.

"It's just a joke! God, why do you have to take everything so seriously? Rather than owning up to saying something hurtful and taking responsibility for it, the abuser plays it off as a joke and acts like the victim should just lighten up.

"I can't do anything right in your eyes, can I?" The abuser essentially tries to frame the victim as monstrously demanding and critical.

"I'm only human! You can't expect me to be perfect!" Where the abuser conflates the victim wanting them to do better with wanting them to be perfect.

"Do you hate me?" An attempt at guilt tripping the victim; the implicit message is that the victim wouldn't say these things if they actually loved them.

"This is the only way I can get you to listen!" A flat-out lie, seeing as how they never try to improve their communication skills and try literally anything else.

"I'm just sharing my opinion!" The abuser could be screaming their victim down or lecturing them for thirty minutes, but they'll still insist that they're simply just "sharing their opinion." Sometimes they'll claim they're just "standing up for myself and speaking my truth" or something when they're actually hurling baseless accusations simply because they're generally angry and want to take it out on someone.

"You just can't handle being contradicted!" The abuser tries to frame the victim's attempt to stand up for themselves or hold their ground as a big ego that can't tolerate criticism or challenge.

"You always shut me down! You never let me speak!" When victims try to stand up for themselves and hold their ground instead of letting the abuser control the narrative, the abuser may accuse them of never letting them speak up for themselves.

"Don't act like you're so high and mighty! It's not like you're perfect!" Abusers often try to act as if their victims are just as bad as they are, and that this somehow cancels out their own bad behavior. And even if this was actually true, it still wouldn't get the abuser off the hook - it would just mean that two people need to work on themselves and sort themselves out, rather than one.

"Remember when I was good to you? Don't those times matter?" This and "How can you treat me like this after all I've done for you?" is an attempt to pretend that the good they've done somehow balances or erases the bad and guilt trip the victim into feeling like they owe the abuser more gratitude.

"I need you! You mean so much to me!" More guilt tripping. Of course, one must wonder why the abuser doesn't treat the victim better if that's actually true.

"If you'd just give me a chance to prove myself here..." ...The abuser says, after blowing every chance their victim has given them.

"What's going on? Is something bothering you? Is something stressing you out? Are you taking care of yourself?" The abuser might refuse to acknowledge that their own behavior is the sole and only reason their victim is upset, and try to pin the blame on something else instead - a hard day at work, another family member stressing the victim out, missing a meal or forgetting to take their meds, whatever.

"This isn't like you! You're not acting like yourself!" Abusive people sometimes try to convince people they're being inauthentic when they act in a way the abuser doesn't like. (There's also a fair amount of wishful thinking on their part; they'd like the "real" version of their victim to be somebody who never argues, complains, or fights back, and they'll cling to this delusion as long as they can.)

"You're no fun! Said when the victim asserts themselves and refuses to go along with something the abuser wants. Might also be phrased as "You're so boring!" or "You just hate fun!" or similar.

"Why must you insist on making trouble? Why can't you just get along?" Victims who stand up for themselves are often accused of making trouble for no real reason.

"You'll drive everyone away if you keep acting like this!" Essentially, accusing the victim of being divisive, alienating, or completely unpleasant to be around just for the crime of standing up for themselves and not letting their abuser push them around.

"Clearly you have some serious issues to work out. I really hope you get the help you need." Where the abuser pathologizes their victim's "issue" of not wanting to put up with their behavior.

"This isn't Christian behavior." Demonizing the victim's reaction to the abuser's behavior. Might also be phrased along the lines of "This isn't how a child of God acts" or "Your behavior isn't of God, so it must of the Devil."

"I know it's not your fault you're like this, I know you didn't have the best life or upbringing." By attributing their victim's response to their behavior as the result of poor upbringing, past trauma, or whathaveyou, they dismiss their victim's perspectives and feelings while painting themselves as magnanimous and noble, or "the bigger person."

The main thing the abuser is trying to do is avoid confronting and dealing with the real problem: themselves. What the abuser truly needs to do is get outside their own heads, gain some perspective, self-reflect, and work on themselves. But they don't do that, either because they don't feel like they need to or because they've actively decided it's just not an option for them.

Abusers often have two different definitions of "respect" - one for themselves, and one for others.

Many abusers (particularly those who are or consider themselves an authority figure of some kind) say things like, "I will show you respect when you show me respect" or "respect is a two-way street." On the surface, statements like these seem reasonable enough. After all, a healthy relationship does require mutual respect and understanding. But the problem is, they're using two different definitions of "respect" - one for them, and one for you.

When they say that they want respect from you, what they basically mean is that they want you to accept their authority and to not question or disagree with them (at least, not on anything that matters). When they say they'll show you respect in return, what they mean is that they'll start treating you with basic courtesy and decency. So what they're actually saying is, "I'll stop hurting you and treating you like garbage once you do and believe everything I say."

In other words, people like this define "respect" as:

I've found that a lot of victims convince themselves if they followed the abuser's demands and did everything they wanted, then the abuser would make good on their promises and treat them better. However, this is not how things actually work out, mainly because many of their demands will ultimately be impossible to fulfill.

For one thing, what abusers perceive as "disrespect" can be extremely small and trivial. It can be nothing more than disagreeing with a personal opinion on a piece of media or a character, getting an opinion from someone other than themselves, or being a few minutes late with something they wanted. Abusers are also likely to read disrespect into things their victims have no control over: for example, being late due to heavy traffic or bad weather, being unable to complete a task due to health issues, or failing to perform a task to their exact desires even though they left a few key details unspecified.

For another thing, you can never be certain of what will upset them or not. They might go into a screaming rage over something they were perfectly fine with the other day. Sometimes they're just looking for an excuse to fight or assert their dominance. Sometimes they let their insecurities run away with them and read contempt and disrespect into literally everything you do, thereby putting you in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation.

Also, many abusers perceive showing people basic courtesy as groveling on their parts. When you think you're just having a pleasant conversation with them, they think they're debasing and humiliating themselves, and they resent you for it. They can't sustain that forever, and sooner or later they will start acting like assholes again. (This distorted perception is also a reason why many of them refuse to drop their condescending attitudes and the endless nitpicking.)

Getting out and leaving is rarely as easy as people think.

A question many people ask is, "Well, why didn't you just leave?" From the outside, leaving often looks simple. It appears to be a simple matter of "this person is hurting you, you don't want to be hurt, therefore you should just leave and cut ties with this person." But in reality, it's always a lot more complicated than that. Here are some reasons why victims don't just leave:

The victim still believes their abuser is acting in good faith and can still be reasoned with. It can take a long time for the victim to realize that their abuser is fundamentally not acting in good faith with them, and most likely never will. Up until they realize this, they might believe that the problem is simply that they haven't done enough to make their opinions and feelings clear, or just haven't sufficiently proven themselves trustworthy or hardworking, or that there must be something wrong with their own attitudes and behaviors. It can take a long time for the victim to fully realize that the abuser has already made up their mind about how they're going to see and treat the victim, and they can do nothing to change this.

The victim doesn't believe they're a "real" abuser. The victim might think their abuser isn't a "real" abuser because their abuser had a rough life growing up, or is struggling with a lot of problems now, or just hasn't crossed the right behavioral lines. They see themselves as being in a complicated situation that might be painful, but not actually abusive.

The victim has a lot invested into the relationship. The victim might have children with the abuser and might be afraid of losing the children. The abuser might be the victim's creative partner, and the victim might be afraid of having to give up the project. The victim might be really determined to make the relationship work out and feels like ending things would be an act of weakness, selfishness, or laziness.

The victim is afraid they can't make it on their own. The victim might believe that they can't succeed without the abuser's advice or expertise to guide them, or without their abuser to protect them.

The victim doesn't have access to the necessary resources. Getting out of an abusive home requires transport and money, and many victims don't have access to those things - often because the abuser has taken control of the finances, or they can't earn their own income because they're too young, disabled, or whathaveyou.

The victim doesn't have anywhere to go. Many victims who live with their abusers just don't have anyone else they can go live with. (Abusers will often try to make sure their victims are physically distant from friends and family, discourage and sabotage their victims' relationships with them, and generally prevent them from trying to reach out and make new friends they personally don't approve of.) If the abuser is part of a group or community (whether online or offline) the victim belongs to, the victim may not know of any other place they could go instead.

The victim feels like there's no escape. The victim might feel like no matter where they go, their abuser will find them and hurt them again. Sometimes a lot of this a pervasive anxiety created by feeling powerless and helpless for so long, but sometimes there's some truth to it. It's all too easy to stalk people through their social media these days. Abusers might also get information from friends and family (possibly under the guise of "just being concerned," "just wanting to apologize and make amends," or "just wanting to make peace").

The victim feels like they don't deserve better. Abusers may have successfully worn down their victims' sense of self-worth, or the victim may already have a low sense of self-worth due to growing up in an abusive home. The abuser may have convinced the victim that they are the real abuser. The victim may even have some genuinely dysfunctional habits and behaviors, but doesn't realize or think it's possible that they could work on themselves and grow past them. In any case, many victims feel like they don't deserve anything better.

The victims are concerned for their abusers' welfare. As explained earlier, many abusers do have legitimate problems in their lives, and many victims are worried that if they leave or kick out their abuser, their abuser won't have someone to help and support them. Sometimes abusers will exaggerate how much trouble they'd be in if their victim left, or threaten to hurt themselves and claim it would be the victim's fault. Some abusers even deliberately put themselves in serious trouble (sometimes passively, such as by ignoring a health issue until it becomes severe) whenever they feel like their victims aren't paying enough attention to them.

The victim is confident that things are getting better. Abusers will occasionally apologize, do nice things for their victims, or even attend therapy, which leads their victims to believe they're on the mend and doing better. Unfortunately, that's the point; their abusers are just doing whatever it takes to stablize the relationship for the short-term; they have no long-term plans of changing their habits or confronting their dysfunctional beliefs.

The victim is afraid of being blamed. Many abusers are very good at putting on a good public face. In front of others, they can seem like warm, caring, friendly people. Sometimes, they strategically lie to others to create a narrative that paints themselves as good people and their victims as unfair, dishonest, or malicious. And then there's sometimes plain old ingroup protectiveness instinct.

The victim is afraid of being attacked and/or blamed. Victim blaming happens all too often, with the abuser's friends, family, and colleagues taking the abuser's side. Why does this happen? It'll take awhile to explain, so I'll go over it in the next section.

Those who try to speak out or leave are often attacked and blamed.

It's an unfortunate reality that a lot of victims end up suffering abuse from other people when they try to say something or get out. This happens for numerous reasons.

For a start, most abusers don't abuse literally everyone in their lives. If they did that, they'd get fired from every job and kicked out of every space and community. They'll play nice with those they have to. Many make an effort to paint themselves as perfectly fine people, even upstanding citizens, to give themselves an impeccable reputation. They'll donate to the "right" charities, say whatever "good" people are supposed to say, and so on and so forth.

In fact, abusers often groom people to become their allies and defenders. They treat these people fairly well; in fact, they may even treat them to special favors or make extra effort to be supportive toward them. Sometimes they'll play to their sympathy by telling them how difficult their lives are. They might even spin yarns about how horribly they're treated by their victims.

Either way, the consequence is the same: when the victim tries to speak out and leave, other people just can't believe what they're hearing. They know this person; they know what a good person and supportive friend they are, etc. etc.

Abusers might also surround themselves with people who think their behavior is fine. If a guy's a chud, pretty much all of his close friends will be be chuds, too. A woman who emotionally abuses her boyfriend is likely to surround herself with friends who will cheer her on for being "strong" and "empowered."

In addition, they might even spin a yarn about how their victim is the abusive one and have everybody thinking that they're the victim instead. (And the abuser themselves might truly believe they're the real victim, because as we've gone over before, abusers tend to be really self-absorbed.)

It's also possible that local culture has dysfunctional beliefs about abuse situations. A good example of this is how patriarchy finds numerous ways to frame women as being responsible for men's behavior; EG, blaming his cheating on her not taking care of his appearance, or him harrassing her on how she dressed or conducted herself, telling her that she needs to pray for God to change his heart, and so on and so forth.

Things to keep in mind when writing an abused character.

When writing abused characters, it's important to respect the fact that survivors can and do heal, and that this is a slow, gradual process. You don't want to write characters who just get over it overnight, nor do you want to frame them as lost causes doomed to tragic ends. It's also important to remember that survivors' lives don't entirely revolve around their trauma, even if this trauma has life-changing consequences. If you make this character's whole persona revolve around the fact that they were abused, it's really demeaning toward survivors on the whole because you're effectively reducing them to their pain and suffering, rather than portraying them as actual multifaceted people.

Another crappy thing I sometimes see people do is make their characters abuse survivors for the purpose of manipulating the audience. By this I mean they frame the character's pain and trauma as the most important thing in the universe, and use it to try to and paint anyone who defies or questions this character as cruel and insensitive to their suffering. This is often used to rather hamfistedly tell you who you're supposed to hate and who you're supposed to root for. Which, this is completely ridiculous. Just because you're sad, scared, angry, or whatever doesn't mean you're in the right, or that anyone should listen to you. Just look at the Q believers out there who are genuinely terrified of the scapegoats and boogeymen their conspiracy theories implicate, and suffer constant anxiety and depression over what they believe they're planning and doing. They are genuinely terrified of a completely fake threat.

When a real survivor acts as if their own perceptions and feelings dictate reality, they are repeating the cycle of abuse. So you have these characters who are essentially just repeating the cycle, but you're supposed to be on board with it because their authors have decided it's fine, and/or have decided that they just can't help themselves and that this somehow absolves them of any responsibility. Which, this basically means that the author is operating with the mentality of an abuser, and that's really yikes.

Something else that's important to remember: The victim doesn't owe their abuser anything. Period. I've met some people who seem to think that if the abuser ever actually did something for their victim (maybe taught them a skill, or gave them shelter, or treated their injuries) then the victim still owes them something in return. Here's the deal: the abuser waived any claim to getting anything back when they acted abusively. I'm not saying that your character can't ever decide they want to do something for their abuser, and I'm not saying your character can't be guilt-tripped into feeling indebted to their abuser, but this shouldn't be treated as something your character objectively owes them.

Another thing is that being the "bigger person" isn't worth as much as a lot of people think. True, you don't want to go acting like your abuser and thereby perpetuate the cycle of abuse. However, making "noble" choices that simply give an abuser more power and opportunity to hurt people (yourself included) is absurd. Any moral praxis that doesn't aim to prevent harm from falling onto innocent parties when and where it can is fundamentally worthless, because all it really does is enable abusers to keep abusing. I've seen some people try to justify this kind of praxis by stating that whatever the abuser does is on them. While that's technically true, it's also true that if you knowingly take action or knowingly fail to take action that will lead to someone else being harmed, you are also responsible. If you leave your child in the care of someone you know has a propensity for hitting children, you are partially responsible for what happens to that child. If you invite a known sexual predator to your parties, you are partially responsible for the harm they inflict because you are the reason they're there.

And please, for the love of everything, respect the fact that expecting victims to fix or get through to their abusers is cruel and unfair to the victim, and is pretty much always doomed to failure. Someone who is already hurting does not need to be hurt even more in a likely fruitless attempt to fix a selfish asshole. Trust me, I've been there. It's not worth it.

You should always keep in mind that most survivors tend to have a lot of mixed feelings. Most of them don't want to see their abusers get hurt; if anything, they'd rather see them get better. They likely won't appreciate the person who bloviates on about how terrible the abuser was and how much they'd love to see them punished. (And quite frankly, anyone who does this in front of them is an asshole for centering themselves and their feelings like this.)

They'll likely have doubts and wonder if there was more they could have done to make things work. They'll will likely have guilt over not having done more. They might miss the good times and wonder if they gave up too easily. They might mourn the better person their abuser never was. If they had to leave anyone behind with the abuser - say, a younger sibling - they might feel guilty for "abandoning" them.

It may take them years to fully unpack and realize just how many ways they were abused, and how deeply messed up everything was.

They'll likely have to deal with trauma-related anxiety, even panic attacks. (It can be over the fear that their abuse will come and hurt them or try to drag them back, or it can be set off by someone who reminds them of their abuser - even if it's in a totally innocuous way.) Finding a good therapist can take a lot of time, and paying them can be costly. Medications to treat their anxiety and depression can cost money, too. (That said, please don't act like your characters are just too good for therapy and medication. There's no shame in either of these things.)

They'll very likely struggle with trust issues, because they've had their trust abused so many times. They may have a hard time believing that people actually mean what they say. They might struggle with the fear that everyone is secretly abusive or out to get them.

Their sense of reality may be somewhat warped, due to internalizing everything the abuser told them about the "real world" or "people out there." They may have a warped perception of themselves from internalizing the abuser telling them that they were hopelessly flawed, immoral, selfish, whatever.

The survivor will likely deal with the aforementioned blaming and shaming from the abuser's friends and allies. Said friends and allies might even try to pressure them to go back to their abuser.

They might find themselves facing court battles over custody or property, which can be very expensive.

They'll likely have to take steps to protect themselves from their abusers, which can include moving far away, changing their phone numbers, being careful about their online presence, etc.

They might have to cope with the loss of any friends or family who chose to side with the abuser. (This happens all too often when the victim has to escape a cult, or leave a group with cultlike dynamics.)

And sometimes, they'll have to rebuild their whole lives from scratch, because everything they had was tied up with the abuser somehow.

Things to keep in mind when writing an abusive character.

It's really important that your abusive character actually talks like a real human being with with actual feeling and sentiment behind their words. I've seen a lot of abusive characters who just sound like they're repeating lines ripped from a list of "Things Abusive People Say," or something. They don't really have all that much to do with on in the story; they're just random mean things to say to the protagonist.

Likewise, a lot of abusive characters sound like they were lifted from Saturday morning cartoons. Real abusers don't talk like cartoon characters, so don't write them that way.

The easiest way to write realistic abuser dialog is to remember that abusers tend toward extremes, particularly when agitated and upset. They speak in absolute terms. They make mountains out of molehills, and molehills out of mountains. They lash out with wild accusations and deny their own actions. They project, then accuse their victim of projection. They shift the blame and make themselves out to be the real victims, and appropriate the language of therapists and survivors.

Essentially, just remember that you're writing someone who is so self-absorbed and so self-centered that they have no idea where their personal opinions and feelings end, and where the real world begins. They truly believe other people are the problem because they won't get over themselves long enough to get a clue. They take things personally because they think it's all about them.

Abusers generally don't let their victims go gracefully.

They might feel betrayed and hurt, so they'll seek attention and validation. They might lie about their victim and paint them as the real abuser in order to get other people's sympathy and support.

They might feel disrespected, so they'll try and reassert their power and authority. They might stalk and harass their victims just to prove they can do whatever they want, or try to assault them (whether verbally or physically) to try to assert dominance, or whatever else they can come up with to flex on their victim.

They might feel wronged, so they'll seek vengeance. They might try to humiliate their victim by sharing sensitive information or pictures. They might try to sue them. They might try to attack them, verbally or physically. They might try to sabotage their victim's life however else they can, such as by turning people against the victim, filing lawsuits, or whatever.

They might feel abandoned and lonely, so they'll try to pull their victim back in. They might send messages telling them how much they miss them and how sorry they are for what happened. They might stalk their victims just because they want to see them again. They might self-sabotage somehow (EG, reckless spending or neglecting their health) to try and make the victim feel obligated to come back to them.

If there's one silver lining, it's that abusers generally aren't genius masterminds. In reality, most of them are around average intelligence and have simply figured out that doing and saying certain things makes people give them what they want. Once the victim catches on to their their tricks, the less effective they become. The more that people in general know what to look out for, the less abusers will be able to fool people.

Understand that the Hollywood endings survivors often want basically never happen.

Many people hope to get closure that plays out like some kind of Hollywood movie ending, but this basically never happens. I'm going to run over a list of what survivors often want, versus what actually tends to happen.

The hope: Calling them abusers, or calling their behavior abusive, will essentially force them to see themselves for what they really are.
The reality: Abusers are super invested in believing that they are just fine; it's other people who are the problem. If you call an abuser abusive, they'll probably just claim you're the real abuser. (In my experience, the more willing that someone is to consider that their behavior may be abusive, the less likely it is that they're actually abusive.)

The hope: The abuser will finally run out of excuses, admit they're wrong, and own up to their behavior.
The reality: When the abuser runs out of excuses, they'll start attacking the victim. They might accuse them of being mean, selfish, or of just refusing to let things go. They might try to find faults in the victim, trying to convince them that they're hypocrites for holding the abuser accountable. They might tell the victim a sob story to explain why they're like this. Or they might just keep repeating their excuses no matter how many times the victim refuses to accept them.

The hope: The abuser will be exposed as a fraud to everyone.
The reality: Most abusers will always have a certain number of "true believers" who will take their side and stay with them to the bitter end. Everything the victim does to expose the abuser will only reinforce their belief that the abuser is being unfairly attacked.

The hope: The abuser will turn out to have a "good reason" behind their behavior, and the victim simply misunderstood them all along.
The reality: There was no "good reason" for their actions. They just made selfish choices, period. Even if something complicated was going down, they still didn't have to be so self-centered.

The hope: By being patient, kind, and supportive, the victim can get the abuser to soften and warm up to them, and treat them better.
The reality: The victim is simply rewarding the abuser for their bad behavior, and thus reinforcing it. The abuser will never change if they have no incentive to do so. (And no, appealing to their "better nature," if they even have one, does not actually create an incentive.) If the abuser does have the potential to change, the only way the victim can instigate it is through setting clear and firm boundaries, and never backing down from them. (However, it's been my experience that most abusers will simply just discard you once you stop letting them push you around, rather than actually work on themselves - and it does sting. Even so, it still works out for the best because you now have time to heal yourself and meet better people.)

Actual realistic goals: The most realistic goal a survivor can set for themselves is to try and work through their feelings, rebuild their identity and self-esteem, and pursue a life that makes them feel fulfilled.

While I'm not saying you have to write your story any particular way, I think it would be a good thing if more authors would take the realistic route and make that the big emotional payoff in their story. I find that a lot of people are kind of hung up on the idea of getting their Hollywood ending with a big "gotcha!" moment, and I think people could benefit from seeing that this isn't what they should be looking for.

If you're thinking about redeeming an abusive character...

When, where, and even if an abusive character should be redeemed is a contentious issue. Personally, I don't think it's wrong to write a story arc where an abusive character takes responsibility and grows as a person, so long as it's done in a way that respects those the character has hurt, and doesn't downplay the seriousness of their actions. You can't just expect your audience to feel comfy-cozy with someone who's had a long history of hurting people, or even just one person, because they couldn't be bothered to get over themselves.

So, where's the moral line? At what point does someone deserve redemption, and at which point do they deserve thrown to be thrown into a fiery pit of white-hot sharks?

I can't make that call for you.

Morality is hard, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or doesn't know what they're talking about. Anyone who honestly thinks that moral calls are always easy to make likely has a child's comprehension of right and wrong, or bases their sense of right and wrong on how things make them feel personally (EG, "horror movies scare me, therefore horror movies are immoral").

The best thing I can do is point out ways you can try to apply a little sense and sensitivity to your narrative.

First of all, I think it might be helpful to think of redemption this way: It doesn't truly exist. What does exist are individuals who decide whether or not to forgive someone, and whether or not they want to associate with them going forward. It might realistically be possible to redeem a character in the eyes of some people, but it's not always possible to redeem them in eyes of everyone.

The same goes for your audience. You might be able to redeem your character in the eyes of some of them, but it's not necessarily possible to redeem them in the eyes of all of them. And that's just going to have to be okay, because in the end you can't dictate how your audience feels about your characters.

As I mentioned earlier, you shouldn't act like it's the victim's job to fix their abuser. It's incredibly cruel and heartless to expect someone to work with, let alone be anywhere near someone who caused them so much pain and distress. If anything, both of these characters should be going to separate therapists.

And again, you can't have anyone forgive them on behalf of someone else. If the abuser has hurt a lot of people and caused serious damage, it's honestly fine if not everyone forgives them. That can just be something they have to live with.

The more willfully and deliberately hurtful a character was, and the more opportunities they had and ignored to reflect on themselves and change their ways, the less it makes sense for others to be ready and willing to forgive them anytime soon, if ever. Additionally, the longer and more often someone has been abusive, the less likely it is they'd ever consider changing. Someone who has been willfully hurtful and/or unreceptive to correction for a very long time is most likely deeply invested in whatever worldview they have that makes them see their behavior as acceptable. Any attempt to get through to them and make them reconsider will most likely be perceived as rudeness, nagging, bullying, insubordination, or whathaveyou. (This is why it really doesn't make sense for a genocidal warlord to just give up their evil ways and decide to be nice simply because the protagonist sings a song to tell them that their actions are mean and hurt people's feelings.)

If your protagonist decides to forgive someone who has hurt a lot of people, and then goes on to act like everything's now totally hunky-dory and everyone else should be fine with them now, your protagonist is now effectively the kind of person who thinks their own feelings dictate reality and how other people should feel. Your protagonist can decide if and when they are ready to forgive this character, but they can't make that choice for anyone else.

When the other characters decide to forgive is important, too. It's both foolish and premature to forgive someone before they've made any reparations and before they've made any effort to work on themselves. Forgiving them before they've done the work effectively releases them from the responsibility of doing that work, which leaves them free to fall back into their old patterns. Unconditional forgiveness is not noble. It's enabling. This isn't to say that no one's allowed to be supportive or encouraging of this character's efforts to make amends and fix themselves, but they really don't need to do the whole forgiveness thing just yet.

Also keep in mind, it's perfectly fine if the people they've hurt never want to be around them again, even after they've done the work. You can't just expect people to swallow their trauma and not feel anxiety around someone who's severely hurt them, whether directly or indirectly. While it's true that some individuals might be able to reconcile with those who've hurt them in the past, it shouldn't be expected, let alone demanded of everyone.

It's also important to critically think about why and where your other characters are comfortable with forgiving the abuser. If they're willing to forgive the abuser because the abuser stopped hurting them, yet are fully aware that the abuser is still hurting other people and choose not to do anything about it and just let it slide, then they're complicit and enabling. Again, they're placing their own perspectives and feelings above those of anyone else, and that's just not okay.

I think it's also important to ask yourself why you feel so invested in focusing on the redemption of an abuser. Really sit down and think about this. There are no wrong answers; the point is to think about why you feel like this is something you want to explore.

Are you trying to send a hopeful message by saying that everyone has good in them and can be saved? If so, why? That's not how real life works, and telling people that literally everyone can be saved and redeemed perpetuates ideas that keep people stuck in abusive relationships.

Are you interested in exploring this because you feel like villains don't get enough love? I promise you, they do. They get tons of it. Villainous characters often get far more sympathy than their victims. Villains often star as protagonists in fanfictions, and many "bad boy" characters have incredibly violent histories while their numerous victims are barely a footnote.

Are you, perhaps, trying to redeem yourself, or prove to yourself that you can be redeemed? If so, are you actually as awful as this character, or do you just feel like you are out of anxiety, depression, or emotional or psychological abuse?

Are you essentially trying to fix a broken family because you feel like this would be emotionally fulfilling? If this is the case, are you maybe choosing to work with characters for whom this doesn't really make sense? Or is their dynamic honestly so messed up that their reconciliation basically amounts to the victim letting their abuser dominate and control them again?

Is there some other reason? If so, what?

How will you handle this in a way that's sensitive and respectful toward survivors?

I also think it's worth asking yourself why you're not writing the opposite narrative: a story that focuses on the survivor's healing journey after realizing their abuser simply won't ever be reasoned with, and will never take responsibility for their actions. We live in a society where victims are constantly pressured to make peace and reconcile with with abusers who have done absolutely nothing to take responsibility, and I think that's a reality we need to acknowledge more. We need to recognize that walking away isn't a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of self-respect and a desire to thrive. We need to acknowledge that toxic, self-destructive loyalty isn't something to admire or celebrate.

In closing.

Essentially, abusers are just small-minded people who constantly center and prioritize their own desires, feelings, and opinions. They avoid and resist critically examining their beliefs and assumptions about themselves, other people, and the nature of the world in general. They avoid and resist getting outside of their comfort zones and trying to understand things that confuse them or feel alien.

Why? A lot of it comes down to sheer laziness and cowardice. Their present worldview is very simple and doesn't require them to do any serious critical thinking or genuine self-reflection. They don't have to any learn new ideas, nor update or discard old ones. They don't have to do the work of breaking dysfunctional habits and building healthy ones. They don't have to admit they've been unfair and selfish.

Most abusers have genuine problems in their lives - just like everyone else does. Having actual problems in their life does not make their situation "complicated." It just means they're responding to their problems in inappropriate and dysfunctional ways. Abusers frequently believe their own problems are bigger and worse than everyone else's, because they're too focused on themselves and their own pain to properly see what others are going through.

Victims don't get into abusive relationships because they want someone to hurt them. They either don't know what they're getting into, or underestimate how bad things are. Abusers are also really good at making it seem like they're the real victims, and they'll make false promises to get better.

Getting out of an abusive relationship is never simple. Whether it's because the victim has a lot invested or tied up in the relationship, or because they're worried about the abuser getting hurt, or because the abuser has made it hard to believe, or because they just have nowhere to go, or have some other obstacle or challenge, it's never as easy as "just pack your things and leave."

Abusers are also good at creating the illusion of getting better. They might apologize and give their victim gifts. They might go to therapy for awhile. Their victims might spend hours helping them get to the traumatic roots of their dysfunctional beliefs and think they've made headway in helping the abuser get better, but the abuser refuses to take the critical next step: using that knowledge to empower themselves to dismantle those beliefs.

Those who escape from abusive situations often have a rough road ahead of them. Depending on what happened, they might have to face court battles, victim-blaming, dealing with trauma, deprogramming the toxic beliefs their abuser instilled in them, rebuilding their identities, their lives, and suchlike.

If you want to reform an abusive character, try to use some sense and be sensitive about it. Keep in mind that people who have been willfully hurtful or dismissive for a long time are pretty much set in their ways and will never want to change. Someone who's fairly young, hasn't really had a chance to develop critical thinking skills, and doesn't fully comprehend how messed up their actions are, is a far more likely candidate.

It's utterly cruel and completely inappropriate to act like it's the victim's job to reach out and fix their abuser. First, they have to actually want help. Secondly, they should be getting it from someone they haven't traumatized. (It also wouldn't kill them to look up self-help media, either. And if they think they're too special to even look into self-help media, there's really no hope for them and they just need thrown out with the rest of the trash.)

If the abuser gets their act together, it's not necessary that everyone forgives them and feels comfortable around them. Forgiveness is an extremely personal matter, and when, where, and even if someone is ever worthy of forgiveness is extremely subjective. If your protagonists act like everyone ought to be comfortable around a reformed abuser (or at least, an abuser they consider reformed), they're being insensitive assholes.

If you liked this, you might also be interested in:

Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories
Basic Tips To Write Better & More Despicable Villains
What Writers Need To Know About Liars & Manipulators
Things To Know If Your Character Will Be Augmented Or Experimented Upon
Things About Brainwashing Writers Need To Know

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