- Relationships aren’t all filled with happiness. Some are abusive and filled with emotional pain and turmoil.
- Despite what you might assume about the victims of abusers, they tend to be the people you’d never expect.
- Abusers often target strong, confident, and successful women, partly because it makes them look good, and partly because they enjoy the thrill of bringing someone powerful down.
- High performing women fall so deeply for these abusers because they have learned in other aspects of life that if they work really hard on something, it will succeed.
- They also get addicted to the turbulent push and pull behaviour of the abuser, because they believe in their potential.
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In “New Moon,” the second Twilight novel, brooding vampire Edward Cullen disappears from human Bella Swan’s life for complicated undead-family reasons. His departure and his claim that he no longer loves her causes Bella to suffer severe depression and mental turmoil for several months until he finally returns.
In the real world, there are no vampires. But there are people who cause havoc in the lives of their partners. They send them on hormonal rollercoasters and make them feel like they have lost their minds.
Despite what you might assume about the victims of these abusers, they’re often the people you’d never expect.
Toxicity seems to come out of nowhere
Toxic relationships are a blind spot for many because they often start off as the most perfect, loving partnership the victim has every experienced. When the abuser starts to show their true colours, things turn sour, but the victim has fallen too deep into the relationship to do anything about it. In fact, they usually blame themselves.
As relationship coach Cherlyn Chong put it, women in toxic relationships fear they will never find another man who will stay with them, and if they leave they will be doomed to be alone forever.
This isn’t a rational train of thought, but that’s not surprising. When someone falls in love with a psychological abuser, they go through months, years, or even decades of mental abuse where they are stripped of their personality and enjoyment of life.
Instead of spending any time on themselves, they focus all their attention on making their partner happy, which turns out to be an impossible task. They’re in a constant mental battle with themselves about not doing anything wrong but always being punished, yelled at, and insulted for reasons they cannot understand.
Victims don’t tend to be weak and vulnerable
While it sounds like only weak-minded and vulnerable people would fall into this trap, that isn’t entirely true. Often, male abusers target strong, confident, and successful women, partly because it makes them look good, and partly because they enjoy the thrill of bringing someone powerful down.
“High-performance women tend to be highly conscientious too,”psychologist and executive coach Perpetua Neo told INSIDER. “It means they work really hard for their relationship. So they’re likely to just keep giving and giving and giving.”
If someone strives to get where they want to be in life, they will probably start applying that logic elsewhere.
“Generally, you will transfer this understanding without even thinking about it – that chances are if you work hard on your relationships, they’re going to be good,” Neo said. “Add that together with empathy and it can be really difficult because you start to tax yourself with trying to understand why he is the way he is.”
Highly intelligent women also live in their heads a lot, she said, meaning they can rationalize and explain away behaviour, even when that behaviour is extremely damaging.
There’s usually a sob story
It doesn’t help that toxic people, such as narcissists, always come equipped with a sob story. They will speak of having a turbulent past, maybe with an abusive parent or ex-partner, and how they have overcome adversity. They may tell tales of being extremely successful and rich until a tragedy or health issue meant they fell down the ladder.
“Some of these women they tend to overcompensate and be nicer to the people who are less fortunate than them,” Neo said. “Maybe it’s because they were brought up being told to always be kind, or maybe their parents were poor so they’re always kind to poor people, and they have taken it too far.
“If someone is kind and nice it’s a different story, but these people are really, really nasty.”
These stories can also help the abuser fill their partner’s mind with their potential. For instance, if the victim knows they were successful before, they may be drawn in by the stories of their past glories. In comparison, a healthy partner without these idealistic dreams may seem boring.
“When most of your friends don’t understand you and you meet someone who claims to be very accomplished, you feel like, ‘oh my God, this person gets me,'” said Neo. “And that’s a really toxic, potent combination.”
Chong said upbringing plays a part too. Some people may have an unhealthy attachment style because of an absent or emotionally distant parent. Bullying can also have an impact, leading someone to believe they have something deeply wrong with them – a feeling that’s hard to shake even if they reach great success later on in life.
“We attract and choose a guy who reinforces those belief systems back to us,” she said. “We try really hard to please them because we think that we’re not good enough. He treats me like c—, it’s my fault. He hurts me, it’s my fault.”
When these habits are so ingrained in someone’s mind, they’re likely to ignore anything they hear to the contrary. When friends tell them they deserve better from their relationship, they can’t comprehend it because they feel like they’re being told to change everything about themselves.
‘We get so addicted … that we become willing to sacrifice an entire lifetime for five minutes of exhilaration’
Victims also get emotionally hooked on their relationship like a drug. With something called “trauma bonding,” victims become addicted to the emotional push and pull of their partner, with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol when things are bad, paired with a rush of dopamine when given affection as a reward for behaving.
“We get so addicted, in fact, that we become willing to sacrifice an entire lifetime for five minutes of exhilaration,” Chong said. “Dr Helen Fisher, a leading behavioural expert, calls this the ‘frustration-attraction’ phenomenon, where the unpredictability heightens those feelings of romantic love instead of hindering them.”
The toxic partner knows exactly what they are doing and will prey on their victim’s mental state, giving them just enough reinforcement to keep them around, before reverting back to being angry and distant.
‘Sometimes the best action is inaction’
Toxic men will continue seeking out and targeting high performing women in this way because they like to reflect glory. They like to take credit for all their partner’s success, all the while wanting to control and destroy them. So it’s important for survivors to learn what drew them in, in the first place, and learn to protect themselves with healthy, strong boundaries. Neo said a place to start is taking time out to reflect.
Many victims find themselves in abusive relationships if they jump into them very quickly after the heartbreak of a previous one. So it’s vital you take a step back and learn to be alone before allowing someone else in, even if they seem perfect. If they really are the one, they will be patient.
“It’s important to ground yourself because the last time you made a decision when you were lost in your head, it was probably a very bad impulsive decision,” said Neo. “A high-performance woman thinks she has to run around and do everything immediately, but sometimes the best action is inaction. You have to find a way of retraining your habits.”
She added that they should also be very aware that not everyone will be good for you.
“You have to accept there are very bad people in this world,” she said. “Narcissists know how to sniff a victim out really well. They know who is going to be more vulnerable to them, so they’re going to attack who’s easy for them.”
If you or someone you know is stuck in an abusive relationship, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233, or use their 24-hour online chat service.
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