Why Do Abused Victims Stay?

Stop AbuseWhy Do Abused Victims Stay?
By Maria Vera, PhD, Toby D. Goldsmith, MD

It can be difficult for many people to understand why a person would stay in an abusive relationship. But there are many reasons. Strong emotional and psychological forces keep the victim tied to the abuser. Sometimes situational realities like a lack of money keep the victim from leaving. The reasons for staying vary from one victim to the next, and they usually involve several factors.

Emotional reasons for staying

    belief that the abusive partner will change because of his remorse and promises to stop battering
    fear of the abuser who threatens to kill the victim if abuse is reported to anyone
    insecurity about living alone
    lack of emotional support
    guilt over the failure of the relationship
    attachment to the partner
    fear of making major life changes
    feeling responsible for the abuse
    feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped
    belief that she is the only one who can help the abuser with his problems

Situational reasons for staying

    economic dependence on the abuser
    fear of physical harm to self or children
    fear of emotional damage to the children who need two parents, even if one is abusive
    fear of losing custody of the children because the abuser threatens to take the children if victim tries to leave
    lack of occupational skills social isolation and lack of support because abuser is often the victim’s only support system
    lack of information regarding community resources belief that law enforcement will not take him/her seriously lack of alternative housing
    cultural or religious constrains
    Issues specific to women

Women, in particular, can experience hesitant and contradictory feelings and thoughts about the abusive partner and the relationship. These are some common reactions of the victim toward the abuser’s behavior—reactions that can keep the woman in the relationship: feels emotionally attached to the abuser, but also feels anger toward him which she denies is grateful toward abuser for small acts of kindness and tends to explain away his violence is very attentive to the abuser’s needs with the mistaken belief that she will be able to anticipate his needs and prevent the beatings believes that the abuser will change believes that he needs her and feels guilty about leaving him may use alcohol or other drugs to cope with the anxiety, fear or depression justifies the violence and feels responsible for it