This is Part 1 in a two part series on power imbalance in abusive relationships, common misperceptions, causes and effects of power imbalance, and how to correct them.
Part 2 discusses further the differences between aggression, power, and control in abusive relationships and how healing allows us to access and rely comfortably on our own personal power in mutually respectful healthy relationships.
This article discusses misperceptions on the relationship between abusers and their victims and describes the predatory aspects of abuse and the not so obvious causes of power imbalance in abusive relationships.
There is what I believe a huge misperception on the relationship between abusers and their victims. That is correct…their victims. You will read often that abuse is the need to control and take power over another. While this may be partly true, this does not accurately or completely describe the predatory aspects of abuse and the not so obvious causes of power imbalance in abusive relationships.
Dynamics of Work and Obligation in Healthy Relationships
The core to healthy relationship are healthy interactions between compassionate people who have healthy views on work and obligation. Simply put, emotionally healthy people work for what they need to benefit and sustain themselves and those they are in relationships with. We expect to periodically self-sacrifice and put in the extra effort to benefit someone else because we know if we do, we will reap the rewards as well. We also expect sometimes to not work so hard and let others put in the extra effort to care for us when we need it. We know that we are paid for the value of the service we provide to others no matter if they are loved ones, customers, bosses, or even strangers. We also work for what we need because we know and are confident we can do so and enjoy working towards our goals. It brings us joy. It sustains our life. It nourishes our souls. It makes us better people. We know that having “skin in the game” builds character. If we reap benefits that are equal to or exceed the efforts or costs to achieve them, then we are happy, content, fulfilled.
Dysfunctional Work and Commitment Dynamics in Abusive Relationships
This balance of give and take and work and obligation that fuels normal character development, relationships, and human existence becomes severely skewed in power imbalanced relationships. Why?
Because abusers simply detest putting out effort that might, even in part, benefit someone else. They can work very hard and can spend inordinate amounts time and energy working purely to get something they want. As most of us very well know, they can put in extraordinary efforts to groom and love bomb a potential mate or spouse. But putting the same amount of energy into finding or keeping a legitimate job, a personal relationship. taking care of a sick family member, demonstrating the loyalty and consistency necessary to be considered for advancement, or making the investment in personal self-development to merit consideration for more advanced positions are completely different matters and very unattractive enterprises to them. They want all the benefits of marriage, for example, without having to work for them or earn them! Abusers resist working to become better human beings more than any other kind of work. So even when it comes to respect and love and admiration, they want to come by them in the same manner as everything else – without having to earn them.
Abusers benefit from the self sacrifice and work or their victims whom they exploit for their personal gain. The victims are stuck in “hamster wheel relationships” that go nowhere and get nothing back in return for their extreme investments of pain and energy. Their efforts are unrequited. Chronic exploitation leads to chronic emotional pain and trauma, overtaxing of our pain-based emotional mechanisms. They become depleted and emotionally fatigued, depressed, and traumatized. The extreme and long-term imbalance of power and chronic invalidation are the core to the damage from abusive relationship fueled by legacy wounded thinking and skewed beliefs that originated in abusive childhoods. It is this wounded thinking and these skewed beliefs that also makes us vulnerable to these predators.
Abuser Find Us and Prey on Our Vulnerabilities
Abusers find us. We do not find them. In reality, abusers aggressively and offensively target and prey on the vulnerable ones who will easily give up their power and energy to them. Abusers do this because they loathe working on self-improvement, cannot self-soothe, cannot generate their own power and get great enjoyment and emotional fulfillment from taking it from, where else? Others! As discussed above, they want all the benefits others can provide them without working for them.
The abusers shadow their pain on vulnerable victims and use them and play on their vulnerabilities so they defensively give up their power to them. Abusers learned these predatory practices from the same place their victims learned their maladaptive behaviors – in their own families. People who are emotionally fit do not readily give up their power to others. In short, they would simply not be bothered with abusers because they are confident in their self-truth and rely comfortably on their personal power and on their internal cues to define their worthiness. They reserve their self-power for themselves and others they voluntarily choose to share their power with and who treat them with respect. They monitor and protect their personal rights, authorities and divinity comfortably and confidently. They assertively would tell the abusers to go away or ignore them and the abusers would simply move on to the next victim.
Adult survivors of childhood abuse, on the other hand, suffer from low self-esteem and pain addiction because their pain-based emotions lose their protective functions, go haywire, and become toxic. In effect, when we are abused as adults, our exaggerated pain and trauma and accompanying feelings of unworthiness and defenselessness from our youth are triggered. So our shame is old unhealed legacy shame and the beliefs are false wounded beliefs our childhood abusers shadowed on us that we bring with us into adulthood.
How Do Victims Become Victors and Take Their Power Back
Abusers do not hold some magical hold on us. We are not the source of our shame that drives our self-loathing. We are, however, vulnerable to abusers who target us due to damage from overuse of our pain-based emotions. It is our toxic pain-based emotions and false beliefs of powerlessness that cause us to give up our power to abusers who trigger our pain. We also believe falsely that we must suffer to be lovable, another skewed belief we were conditioned to believe in childhood.
So victims of abuse do not deserve the pain and are not powerless or defenseless to their abusers. We are not the cause of our pain and we are not responsible for it and we are not defenseless to it. We are, however, adults who are thinking like abused wounded children, maladaptive thinking we formulated when our brains and characters were developing and when we were most vulnerable that resulted from abuse and neglect and pain inflicted on us by those we trusted and were dependent on and who were supposed to care for and love us unconditionally. It was not our pain to begin with. This is pain and distorted thinking we shadow on our own children. This is how intergenerational abuse is perpetuated.
It is time to fix our self-esteem, heal our traumas, and TAKE OUR POWER BACK! It is time to break the cycle of intergenerational abuse. And as we heal, our children will heal through us. I explore these issues in much more depth in Part 2 in this series and in my book, Take Your Power Back: Healing Lessons, Tips, and Tools for Abuse Survivors. You can read a free sneak peek and review of the book and purchase a copy here.