Liberation Therapy Blog
Frog in boiling water - why we stay in abusive relationships so long.
Why did I stay so long? Why didn’t I see it until now? How could I have done this to myself and my children?
These are the questions I hear from abuse survivors ALL. THE. TIME.
They blame themselves for being abused. They take responsibility for the behaviour of their abuser. They carry soul crushing guilt for exposing their children to their abuser, as if somehow they could control it.
So here’s the answer to that question. The frog in the boiling water story.
If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump straight out. It will escape immediately.
If you put a frog into cold water and turn the gas on, even as the water warms, boils and burns him, he doesn’t attempt to leave. He doesn’t notice that he’s literally being killed yet has the ability to escape at any time.
And that’s what it’s like in an abusive relationship. If you went on a first date, and the person you were with punched you, (whether provoked or not), it’s highly likely you wouldn’t ever see them again. You may even call the police. You would more than likely tell your friends and loved ones what they had done. But you wouldn’t for a second think it was your fault. Or at least, I hope you wouldn’t.
So now lets think about two years of relationship. Two years of being drip fed comments about how lucky you are they love you because no one else would ever put up with you. Two years of shared experiences. Two years of being trauma bonded through love bombing and withdrawal. Two years of being told you’re the best thing that ever happened to them, and two years of being chipped away at, niggled, nagged, belittled, put on a pedestal, taken off it, worshipped, raged against. Two years of a war waged against your self-esteem and autonomy.
And then they punch you.
And then they blame you.
And then they promise you they won’t ever do it again.
And somehow they become the victim for hitting you.
And you don’t know who to tell. You don’t know how to leave. You think it’s your fault. You think you deserve it.
And maybe they don’t do something as tangible as hit you. They ‘just’ dominate, control, threaten to leave, worship, idolise, shower with affection, scream at, buy presents for, put you down, pull you up.
They emotionally abuse you to the point you don’t even know if you like your steak done rare or well, you don’t even know if you LIKE steak! Weren’t you a vegetarian before you met them?
Your autonomy is lost. Your sense of self is gone. Your confidence in tatters. You don’t know how to exist without the push pull of the relationship, because you’re the frog in the water that’s been heating for the last two years.
That’s why we stay in abusive relationships. That’s why we don’t question that which surrounds us. That’s why people looking in from the outside are so horrified and perhaps so judgemental. Because if they walked into the relationship where you are right now, they would jump straight out.
Those who have lived it for the two years can’t see it. It isn’t until something finally breaks through the fog, that we can see the light. And even then we are still at risk. Because the trauma bond provokes the same chemical reactions in our brain as heroin addiction. And we all know how devastating that is. The pain of clearing the fog is more unbearable than the fog itself, and so we allow it to envelop us again.
So next time you are beating yourself up for someone else’s abuse of you/behaviour, remember that poor frog not noticing his water boiling around him. We are not responsible for the behaviour of others. Our responsibility only lies in helping ourselves understand why we ignored the behaviours that trapped us. And that takes a lot of work, a lot of therapy, and a lot of pain.
With that in mind, when you next share the hashtag #bekind, remember this:
That #bekind movement really needs to start with yourself.
Take care, stay safe, and if possible, stay home.