Running the abuser on a separate mental loop – and how that hurts the ones who care


Something happens when you’re in an abusive1 (or otherwise awful) relationship.

You learn to cope.

It’s especially effective (but does not require) when the abuser has succeeded in isolating you from loved ones.  (You might remember that is a sign of an abusive relationship2.

I personally call this kind of mental coping “running on a separate loop”, because that’s what it felt like to me when I was the one exhibiting this behavior.

What’s especially awful about this is that it can be extremely hurtful and damaging to those who care about you and want to be supportive.

That’s what I ended up doing, and by the time I realized what was going on and started dismantling it, I’d permanently damaged relationships and hurt those I cared about.  I’ve seen this happen with other people as well, and that’s why I decided to write this up now.

When you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a while, the ways that you react in that relationship are knee-jerk responses.  They’re like reflexes.  You respond and react in specific patterns to minimize how much you are hurt by the abuse.

Here’s the bad bit:  These responses and patterns don’t hit the conscious mind.

Because these responses and reactions aren’t handled the same way as everything else you do, your responses can seem completely opposite to the way that you normally behave – or even counter to the ideals that you hold most dear.

Frequently, you might be aware that something’s wrong.  If you’re able to be away from the direct influence of the abuser, you might even be able to identify how your behavior and responses are unhealthy… but only after the fact.  When you’re back in the abuser’s presence, the reactions take hold again and what seemed so clear is suddenly obscured by mental fog.

When you’re the person who cares about the abused person, it’s especially rough. You’ll see the abused person blithely accept behaviors and conditions they’d never otherwise accept. This can even effect how they treat you.

It looks a lot like hypocrisy. It looks a lot like a double standard.  It sure as hell feels personal.

I can tell you as someone who did this sort of thing: It’s not.

The double standard you’re witnessing is like a reflex.  Reflexes happen without conscious thought – they’re usually handled by the spinal cord, and the brain just gets notified after the fact.

The same thing is happening here.

The “hypocrisy” you’re experiencing has nothing to do with the actual person you care about – it’s all about the reactions and reflexes constructed during the period of abuse.  It isn’t who your loved one wants to be – or even who they are – outside of the toxic influence of the abuser.

If you’re the person experiencing the double standard I am not – repeat not – telling you to blindly ignore your own boundaries and mental health.  Again, from personal experience, I know this kind of separate “loop” can do a lot of damage to the people who care about the victim of abuse.  Maintain your boundaries. Maintain your own mental sanity.

Sometimes that can even mean the very, very difficult choice of cutting a person you care about out of your life.

But sometimes, just knowing that it really isn’t personal is enough to help you be able to be there for them anyway.

1 I don’t think that intent to be abusive is required for a relationship to become abusive.
2Ten signs of an abusive relationship (if any ring true, read more at:

  • They want to isolate you from friends or even family.
  • They tend to insult or belittle you, even when “joking”.
  • They blame others a lot, and often times it’s you.
  • Alcohol and drug use that causes erratic behavior can be a catalyst of abuse.
  • They instill fear, uneasiness or are intimidating in their speech or actions.
  • They punish you or retaliate for time you spend away from them.
  • They expect you to be subservient but aren’t helpful themselves.
  • They are extremely jealous of your time, relationships and/or aspirations.
  • They manipulate your emotions and make you feel guilty.
  • They get physical. Obviously hitting someone is abusive, but physical abuse can start as intimidating posturing, grabbing or controlling your movements and space.

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