Reactive Abuse – The Abused Abuser

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    What is meant by the term reactive abuse? It’s a term which can sometimes seem confusing. Here’s an example which hopefully illustrates it. Imagine two people. One is called Person A and the other called Person B. A and B are in a relationship. Person A begins poking Person B with a stick and here’s what then follows:


    B          Stop doing that.

    A          Stop doing what?

    B          Stop poking me with a stick.

    A          What stick?

    B          That stick there. Stop it.

    A          I made you a cup of coffee

    B          That’s very kind of you but you know I don’t drink coffee now stop poking me with that stick.

    A          What was the question again?

    B          You’re poking me with a stick please stop it, it’s really annoying when you do that.

    A          No it isn’t.

    B          Yes it is now stop it.

    A          You hate my coffee. I try to make nice coffee just for you.

    B          It’s not your coffee I don’t like I just don’t drink coffee. I never have now stop poking me please.

    A          Stop what again? I don’t understand.

    B          Stop poking me with that damn stick.

    A          What’s a stick?

    B          Look just stop it please.

    A          Look I made you coffee

    B          Never mind the damn coffee just stop poking me.

    A          Why are you so aggressive?

    B          I’m not aggressive I just want you to stop that poking.

    A          I know you like being poked. For that reason I’ll keep poking you. I’m actually helping you. See how good I              am to you and you don’t appreciate it? You hate my coffee

    B          You’re not helping me now stop poking me.

    A          You’re funny when you’re like that. We always laugh at this afterwards.

    B          I’m warning you stop poking me now!

    A          Why are you angry?

    B          Please stop it.

    A          No


    What happens next is Person B then explodes and grabs the stick from Person A, breaks it and throws it to the floor and screams,


    B          I can’t take this anymore! You’re always doing that! Just stop f**king poking me.


    Person A then begins to cry. Then they stand back and say to everyone,


    A          Do you all see what I’ve to live with? That temper terrifies me. I’m always walking on egg shells around                    them. I’m living in terror of their explosive outbursts. I need help and support.


    Person B feels guilty and ends up apologizing for the way they feel about they were treated and how they reacted to being abused. Person A’s tears quickly dry up and they lift a stick and begin poking again. This time they’re making direct eye contact and grinning.


    People who abuse others rarely consider themselves to be abusers,  taking no responsibility for their own behaviour. When challenged they often deny any knowledge, claim they don’t understand what the other person is saying. Or they’ll explain to the other person their part in why the abuse had to happen. If the other person reacts defensively, aggressively or even just assertively the abuser then claims to be the victim.

    There are three indicators to abusive behaviour. The first is when there seems like there’s a pattern to the behaviour. For instance you are criticized or scorned for anything you want to do. Any kind of autonomy or achievement on your part is quickly shut down when noticed. You are told what your motives are and how you feel. Any need or desire you communicate is refused, or something else is always offered instead.

    Secondly you have brought their behaviour to their attention and asked them to stop but they won’t. They’ll state a good reason for what’s going on. Or, as in the example above Person A went to great lengths not to acknowledge Person B’s request and continued the whole time.

    Lastly they refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for any of their actions and behaviours and keep on doing what they do. This is a form of invalidating the victim’s experience and ignoring their feelings and wishes.

    The recurring theme is more often than not to invalidate or accept the other persons experience or wishes and to maintain their own. Quite often they’ll dismiss the other person with statements like, “No, I don’t accept that….”, “I don’t understand…”, “That never happened….”, “It’s because of you, you made me…”, “You’re just blowing things out of proportion…” and so on. Another tactic is to distract and confuse. The abuser will interrupt and talk over the top of the other person, usually with a completely different topic.

    Abuse is abuse, even if it’s reactive. Reactive abuse involves two people abusing each other. The difference is however victims often accept responsibility for their actions and abusers use this to their advantage. The abuser now claims to be the abused. They use the other person’s sensitivity and empathy against them. Over a period of time an abused person will lose sense of boundaries and self worth.

    When you have an idea of what’s going on, that you’re on the wrong end of a manipulator and abuser, you can be in a better place to seek support to maybe do something about it. Talking to someone like a counsellor or other mental health professional can help not only identify and validate your experience but can also help you  learn to communicate and manage healthier boundaries.

    Regardless of what your abuser might tell you or lead you to believe you’re not evil or selfish for having self respect, asserting your boundaries or even just leaving an unhealthy relationship.



    This article was written by sentientcounselling