Why do some women not leave abusive relationships, characterized by narcissistic*** abuse?
In one word, fear. Both real fears, and “perceived” ones. Perceived fears are more often the real road blocks to leaving and, or healing.
Human beings are hardwired want to matter, to find the treasures of happiness and fulfillment, and to do so following wise principles that enrich and bring meaning to our lives and relationships with ourselves and key others. Period. That is an unalterable reality of most human beings (one that only severe trauma and neglect impairs). When our early experiences or conditioning has given us bogus treasure maps, it’s a set up for addictive relating in which women (and men) look for treasures in all the wrong places.
All fears feel real. The subconscious mind handles both “real” and “perceived” fears in the same way: by activating the body’s survival system. Many of these “perceived” fears are illusions rooted in a woman’s early childhood socialization, and others are reinforced by targeted mind games, such as gaslighting, narcissistic partners play.
This post, Part 1, looks at some of the “real” reasons women do not leave abusers, with a specific emphasis on understanding women (or men) who do not leave abusive relationships … in human terms.
Both “real” and “perceived” fears are human. There is overlap as they are inseparably connected to core human emotion-drives to matter and meaningfully connect to self and life; these yearnings are needs, like water and oxygen, not mere wants. In turn, these yearnings are linked to core human fears, such as fear of rejection (not belonging), inadequacy (incapable of finding meaningful love connections) and abandonment (living in loneliness and isolation).
First, the “real” reasons for not leaving:
In contrast to fears that unnecessary activate the body’s survival response, real fears are overall reasonable and good; they allow us to thoughtfully respond and take consciously loving actions accordingly. They can be grouped in three categories of hardwired emotion-drives:
1. Physical safety needs.
A woman in a relationship with an abuser may not have a place to go. The fear of uncertainty blocks action. She may have no means to support herself if she leaves, especially if there are children involved. She may fear he’ll harm her, the children, the pets or destroy cherished belongings. She may have heard him threaten to commit suicide or take her life. (The risk of a woman getting killed increases when they try to leave or some time thereafter.) She knows what he’s capable of and what he’s done in the past, and she’s familiar with his pattern of taking punitive actions when he does not get what he wants.
These are real fears, based on real concerns. However, the narcissist knows how to play on these fears to increase their intensity to have paralyzing effect. He knows intensifying fear can have an addictive hold on a persons brain and body; it literally shuts off the otherwise amazing abilities of the brain to think clearly and make optimal decisions. Research shows fear can be used effectively to control others, take over their minds. Narcissists are skilled at emotionally manipulate fears to intensify them with fantasy scenarios.
2. Efficacy and contribution needs.
A woman in an abusive relationship may have fears related to whether she is capable of living on her own, finding happiness outside of her relationship with a man. Women are socialized to take primary responsibility for making others happy, and their relationships work.She worries therefore that she will be blamed for any failures in these areas.
A narcissist partner plays on these fears, having studied women, knowing well the worst thing to call women is selfish, controlling or emasculating. The abuser may have repeatedly blamed her for his anger, his “unhappiness” or “insecurities,” and his hurtful, abusive actions. She’s made to feel inept, doubt herself, and crazy. A narcissist takes on the role of expert in having diagnosed her as “bipolar,” “borderline” or even “narcissist”!
Once again, while these fears in part are reasonable and natural part of developing a relationship, the narcissist manipulates her mind and emotions to make fears larger than life. For example, he tells her everyone agrees with him that she’s crazy, unloved, controlling and so on. He’s likely diagnosed her with mental disorders of either borderline or bipolar, and images himself as an expert judge, jury, doctor, therapist, you name it. Her biggest mistake is taking his words at face value. She’s socialized to do so. He takes advantage of this, and this makes it easier to instill her mind with self-blame patterns of thinking/believing.
3. Belonging needs.
Women are relationship oriented, as human beings are, by birth. Humans have hard wired needs, not mere wants, for belonging, connection, finding meaning in their relationships. She may not consider leaving an option out of fear rejection or abandonment by her family, religious persecution by her church group and, or shunning. In some families, communities and groups, religious or secular, these fears may be real. Some groups require friends, family or other believers to shun or reject persons that do not conform, i.e., if they seek divorce. Women may also be shunned or shamed for not protecting a man’s image and reputation if they go public and disclose the abuse. A narcissist may retaliate if she does not maintain a code of silence.
In some groups or families, there is group retaliation for disclosing abuse, or attempting to dissolve a marriage. Characteristically, cults require women to subjugate themselves to men, regardless the abuse.
In closing, the real problem with the rules of “toxic femininity” is that they are unhealthy for both women and men in couple relationships. Her socialized refusal to heal by learning to love and fully accept herself and wants in order to prove her love, sadly, feeds the narcissist’s addiction to using others as narcissistic supply. The more he does, the more he feels the cruel treatment of others is “normal” way for men to display their superiority, in this case, perhaps the person who most has his back.
In Part 2, seven “human heart” reasons women may not leave abusive relationships.