Can the destructive pattern of abusive relationships be broken?

In 2015, when Rihanna opened up about her 2009 attack by ex boyfriend rapper Chris Brown the night before the Grammys, her confessions were chilling in their sheer innocence... “I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn't understand him.

Even after... I don’t hate him. I will care about him until the day I die.” She also added that she blamed herself as well as him when she rekindled her romance with Brown in 2012, and in 2013, asked the judge to list a restraining order put in place by the court.

You see, she—like every victim who blunders on and repeatedly commits the same mistake—thought she could change him.

It took Rati Agnihotri 30 years of suffering her abusive husband’s blows and putting up a happily-married facade, before she drummed up the courage to file a domestic violence case against him in 2015.

Explaining the reasons for her delayed action, the ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye’ actress had shared, “Well, I had certain priorities, the biggest being my son Tanuj. He was the reason I put up with all this pain for 30 years. I also believed in the sanctity of marriage... I believed in love.

Can the destructive pattern of abusive relationships be broken?

Anil was the man I had married despite the fact that my parents had never liked him. And like every girl I'd dreamt of a picture-perfect life with a husband who cared and provided for me. For all these years I'd hoped... prayed... that things would change, that he would change.”

‘He’ rarely does... “It starts with an off-hand comment here, or an insult there, but often victims brush these moments off,” explains Dr Kersi Chavda, practicing Psychiatrist and Consultant at Hinduja National Hospital.

“This is because abusive people are great at pretending to be everything you're looking for in a partner, and they love bomb you with affection. Victims tend to believe this is the abuser's real self, and when the mask starts to slip more and more, they believe it is ‘out of character’ and it must be their own fault for making their partner angry.”

After filing for divorce from husband Raja Chaudhary after 9 years of marriage marked by alchol-fuelled violence, Shweta Tiwari finds herself facing the same old bogey again.

Can the destructive pattern of abusive relationships be broken?

Her complaint of domestic violence against her second husband of six years, Abhinav Kohli, alleging harassment towards her and her daughter Palak, raises the question:

Do people ever change, whether abusers or victims? Is there a certain breed of woman who is doomed to blindly repeat the same errors of judgement, choosing Mr Wrong over and over again?

Choosing Mr Wrong

“Yes, that happens,” avers psychologist Dr Chinmay Kulkarni. “If you look at people's relationships, you can ascertain that there is a pattern of men/ women they get emotionally involved with.

Some of them get involved in pathological relationships because of their own unresolved internal conflicts or their wrong concept of what is a relationship. Often people get confused between emotion and drama.

So what they find as an emotional, sensitive person is actually a dramatic person. In the initial infatuation phase when physical attraction plays a big role, they find such dramatic partners to be great lovers.

But with time the negative side of this dramatic person starts coming out. Then there is another type of drama—of quarrels, and the fights start. Such toxic relationships invariably end in a breakup, with much name-calling and finger-pointing.

However, the real truths are rarely examined. “Instead of blaming the other person, do we ever undertake self enquiry into why we got into such a relationship and why we missed the red flags earlier?” asks Dr Chinmay.

“When the next relationship happens, our internal drives are largely the same and we have higher chances of getting into a similar relationship.” Self-awareness is key, minus which the same errors of judgement are bound to occur.

“It all depends on whether the person has processed the previous abusive relationship, healed from the past wounds and realised why the abuse took place for so long,” vouches psychologist Dr Seema Hingorrany.

“Sometimes, people subconsciously feel that they don’t deserve a healthy relationship, which causes them to attract these people. They also seek validation from the wrong places and the wrong people.”

Fact remains, we don't always see things as they actually exist, our worldview being coloured by our experiences, biases, prejudices. “This is often the reason why we commit many avoidable mistakes.

When the mistake and its harsh consequences become evident, we understand our mistake. But in the future, we still have chances of commiting the same mistake because the unconscious psychological makeup, which compelled us to commit the mistake, is still largely the same,” cautions Dr Chinmay.

What’s worse, victims tend to stay in these abusive relationships partly because they are trying to win back the abuser's affection, explains Dr Kersi.

“This often does tend to form a pattern. If the person does get out of a relationship, there is a tendency to find another person who demonstrates similar characteristics. Hence the abusive pattern continues.”

Way forward

The blinkers need to be off, if there is any headway to be made. “One should process one’s feelings and baggage from the past, learn to self love and validate one’s own feelings, and be confident about oneself. This would enable one to have a healthy relationship with a healthy partner,” advises Dr Seema.

Dr Kersy sees psychological education as the only way out. “One needs to go to a psychiatrist and understand the implications of accepting an abusive partner.

One has to understand that it is a power struggle between an often charming abuser and a naive victim. Eventually, good self esteem, and a non acceptance of abuse to self, is the only answer.”Victimhood is a room best vacated sooner rather than later.

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