Q: My husband is a great manipulator. He abuses me and mentally harasses me, but after, sometimes he becomes very romantic says “I can’t live without you” and threatens that he will commit suicide if I leave him. I carried on with this relationship for four years, but he didn’t change. But still, I stayed with him with a hope that he will change. Please let me know what I should do. – S.P.
Q: Hey Amanda, hope you are well. My only question to you is, I know we’re supposed to give it time, but how can I make sure that I will not feel pity/empathy for my abuser in the future just like I am feeling right now?
He is in a bad state financially and mentally but still won’t admit he was wrong. He is getting the karma that he deserved, and I wished during bad nights that one day he would get what he is doing to me and my mom, that one day he would suffer like how we’re suffering because of him. But how do I stop feeling sad for him even though he abused us for more than 10 years? And why am I still suffering? Please don’t say it’s because I am a better person. – S.C.
Sign up for emails
Receive new and helpful articles weekly. Sign up here.
S.C. and S.P,
I’ve grouped your two letters together because I believe your concerns are similar. You’re feeling trapped with an abuser—either mentally or physically trapped—because you feel connected to them in some way despite their abuse. This is called trauma-bonding, and it’s not uncommon for survivors to feel this way. It also has nothing to do with your level of selflessness or being a good person, S.C. It has to do with the manipulative tactics an abuser purposefully uses to keep survivors trapped with them.
Here are some of the signs of being trauma-bonded to an abuser:
- You feel stuck and powerless in the relationship but want to make the best of it.
- You don’t know if you trust the other person, but you can’t leave.
- You’d describe your relationship as intense and complex.
- There are promises of things getting better in the future.
- You “focus on the good” in the person, despite behaviors you know are abuse.
- You think you can change your abusive partner.
- Your friends and/or family have advised you to leave the relationship, but you stay.
- You find yourself defending the relationship if others criticize it.
- The abusive partner constantly lets you down, but you believe them anyway.
These abusers have been grooming you from the beginning to feel these things. They intentionally alternate phases of love and romance with guilt-trips and gaslighting. Cassandra Wiener, a coercive control researcher, explains that survivors of domestic violence and coercive control “are vulnerable, but not because they are weak, character-deficient or mentally unwell. They are vulnerable because they have been groomed.” Learn more about grooming in “From Romance to Isolation: Understanding Grooming.”
You may very well be aware that it is not right nor deserved to be abused by a partner, but you also feel a conflicting sense of obligation to make sure the abuser is not suffering. There are different reasons for this—it could stem from childhood trauma, a misguided sense of obligation, or it could be a survival technique—you can read more about those reasons in our guide to trauma bonding.
Ultimately, you’ll want to break that trauma bond in order to do the best thing for yourself—which is to be safe and to stop torturing yourself with a sense of obligation for someone who is abusive toward you.
I asked other survivors of abuse what they did to break the trauma-bond they had with an abuser and here are some of their answers. Maybe one of these will resonate with you.
I changed my number and went no-contact. Trying to talk through it, I could believe his "remorse" and held out hope it would work. Two days without speaking to him or seeing him was literal withdrawal, physical pain, high anxiety and tears. I called the domestic violence hotline every night to talk through everything again, to get validation that what I experienced was emotional abuse. Getting an outside view helped keep me focused on what is best for me.
What helped break the trauma bond was going minimal contact on my part (since we share minor children). It also helped that at the end when he found out he couldn't manipulate me anymore, the true beast came out. He attacked me relentlessly. Once I saw he was doing this and choosing to do this, I realized all the sweet things he said and did were all an act.
My self-esteem had been destroyed by him, so I felt all these things tremendously. That I deserved it all, that it was my fault. When I saw how it affected my children and the pain they felt, I started seeking therapy. Once I started doing for myself and was encouraged by other women in group therapy, my potential and worth were realized, and I gained the strength to leave. And I saw how angry he was that I grew that independence. What kind of partner gets angry at independence?
I had to hit rock bottom and ask for help. Rock bottom was ugly. I had to come clean so people around me could help me by keeping me accountable. It meant labeling it for what it was (abuse) and telling others. I started trying to heal from PTSD while with him, but never was able to make any progress of course until he was out of my life.
Make a Donation
It is easy to ignore this message. Please don't. We and the millions of people who use this non-profit website to prevent and escape domestic violence rely on your donations. A gift of $5 helps 25 people, $20 helps 100 people and $100 helps 500 people. Please help keep this valuable resource online.
Time will heal. But you may have thoughts from time to time but the more you’ll know that you can’t go back. My abuser is one of the most fascinating men to have discussions with on multiple topics. I miss those discussions, but I can’t live with him. It’s been almost 40 years...but it’s not safe being around him. You will get there. Keep believing in yourself and your strength.
I was definitely trauma-bonded. I always felt so bad for him because he lied about how horrible his childhood was… He told me I was his angel and only reason for living. When I finally left for good, I still felt bad for him. The only reason I was able to leave and stay gone is because he kidnapped me. The police came to my rescue and I finally said yes to the officers’ help. He only spent 10 months in jail. Strangely, as terrified of this man as I was, I still felt sorry for him. I thought that after his mandatory domestic abuse and anger management sessions were done and he had hopefully stopped drinking that he might show up "fixed" with a genuine apology and we could start over. That's how gaslighted and trauma-bonded I was. It's been almost five years now with no word from him (thank the Lord) and I don't feel as much guilt or sadness about not being able to help him. I do think of him when Facebook memories pops up with a happy picture of us, but then I remember what happened after those pictures. It's a strange connection or bond that is hard to get free of. The longer he's been away, little by little my self-esteem has become better.
It may help to hear validation from a domestic violence advocate or find a support group of other survivors in your area. Reach out to your local domestic violence nonprofit through our Find Help page. Good luck and stay safe.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
Receive new and helpful articles weekly. Sign up here.
- After Abuse
- Around the World
- Ask Amanda
- Child Custody
- Childhood Domestic Violence
- Children and Teens
- Comprehensive Guides
- Diversity Matters
- DomesticShelters.org Book Club
- Elder Abuse
- Ending Domestic Violence
- Escaping Violence
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Heroes Fighting Domestic Violence
- Human Trafficking
- Identifying Abuse
- In the News
- Men as Survivors
- Protecting Personal Affects
- Protection Orders
- Safety Planning
- Survivor Stories
- Taking Care of You
- Workplace and Employment
- Your Voice
Twitter FeedFollow @domesticshelters
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
Have a question about domestic violence? Type your question below to find answers.