By Jenn Rockefeller
That’s the average number of times a survivor returns to their abuser before leaving for good. But why that number? Why seven times? What makes us return to the abuser that many times?
Why we go back
Even when we are seemingly away from the abuser, we return. We may return even when we are solidly on our own. We may be living in a great situation, holding down a job and beginning to find ourselves again. So how is it that we return? Below are several reasons why we go back.
- Love bombing – In love bombing, abusers will suddenly make grand, sweeping gestures of love. They say that they have never felt this way about anyone before. To prove their undying love, abusers will go so far as to send flowers, write poetry, take us out on dinner dates, and constantly call or text us–anything to win us back.
- False promises – This just about goes hand in hand with the above. Abusers will declare their love for us and make promises they don’t intend to keep. They claim they will change their ways. They may even promise to go to counseling, anything to get us back. The abusers give us hope, a false hope, that maybe, just maybe, we can have that “happily ever after” after all.
- Dependent upon the abuser – Over the course of the relationship, we may have become dependent upon our abusers. This is because the abusers may have conditioned us to believe that they are the only ones who can love us or take care of us. We become convinced that they are right and rely on them for financial and even geographical stability. We become convinced that we won’t be able to survive on our own.
- Manipulation/threats – Some survivors are manipulated into believing that their abusers will commit suicide if they leave. The abusers may also manipulate the survivor into believing that if they left the abuser, their children would be taken away, the victim wouldn’t be able to survive on their own, or that no one else would ever want them.
Abusers do not suddenly see the error of their ways. All they want is for us to be back under their control and they will employ the use of whatever tactics they can to achieve that goal.
How loved ones can continue supporting survivors
When our loved ones see us returning to our abusers time and time again, they may feel frustrated. They may have put in time and energy to help us through our situation, only to see us go back to the abuser. Sometimes, our loved ones may want to give up on us because they feel like they are wasting their time.
So how can our loved ones continue to support us? Below are some ways they can continue to show us love, encouragement, and support through our difficulties.
- Educate – If family members and friends have never been in an abusive relationship, they won’t understand our struggles. That’s why it’s imperative that they become educated on the difficulties we face when leaving an abuser. They need to know that it’s just not that easy. Our loved ones need to understand the dynamics of an abusive relationship. They need to learn new terminology, such as gaslighting, love bombing, and FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt), as well as understanding the Power and Control Wheel.
- Listen – We have an innate need to be heard. We need to feel like our thoughts and feelings matter. Our loved ones can support us by continuing listen, even though they may have heard the same things before. We need to know that they are there for us, despite the ongoing back and forth with the abusers.
- Encourage – Loved ones can continue to support us by encouraging us to take steps in our healing journey. No one can do it for us. Our loved ones can certainly provide us with options but should allow us to make decisions for ourselves. If that means going back to the abuser, then our loved ones need to trust that we are doing what we think is right.
- Self-care – This isn’t just for survivors. Our loved ones need to take care of themselves, too, if they are to continue to support us. Sometimes, they will need to take a step back so they can recharge their own batteries. This is essential if they are to support us for the duration of our struggles.
Family and friends who make up our support system play a pivotal role in our journeys. Whether that journey is deciding to return to the abuser or discovering the abusive relationship needs to be terminated, we need to know our loved ones will be there for us no matter what we decide and no matter what we go through.