It is common for people in an emotionally abusive relationship to struggle with leaving it. Sometimes it appears that no matter how destructive the relationship is to the victim, he or she feels compelled to stay in it anyway. The victim may have had lowered self worth to start with. The treatment of the victim by the emotional abuser often serves to reduce the victim’s feelings of capability, worth, and mental stability enough that leaving seems a frightening venture. The concept of loyalty also holds people in relationships – and while this can have a positive and cementing effect in a healthy relationship, in an emotionally abusive relationship it is often a misapplied concept. Here are 3 ways loyalty is misplaced in an emotionally abusive relationship:
1. The victim may confuse fear with loyalty. True loyalty comes from a place of love, concern, and consideration for the feelings of your partner. If you are acting a certain way out of fear of what your partner might do to you if he or she knew about it, that is fear for your safety rather than genuine loyalty to the relationship.
2. The definition of loyalty is likely to be defined by the abuser. Emotionally abusive relationships are about control, as frequently the abuser will place restrictions and definitions on acceptable behavior in the relationship, regardless of whether or not it is reasonable or shows any respect for the autonomy of the other person. For example, for an abuser, “loyalty” might be defined as spending time with no one but the abuser – forsaking friends and family. In a healthy relationship, this would not be demanded or labeled as being loyal.
3. The victim may experience guilt and label it as loyalty. It is common for the abuser to blame the victim for “causing” him or her to behave in an abusive way. This may cause the victim to question reality and blame him or herself undeservedly. This self blame can translate to guilt and mold certain behaviors designed to make up for causing the problem, but this is not loyalty.