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♦ Realization of Abuse
do victims come to realize that they are being abused? With
the exception of a few details about how victims come to realize that they are
being abused, the professional literature is for the most part silent on the topic
of how and why survivors of abuse by mental health professionals manage to leave
the sticky, enmeshed relationship with their abuser. As you know, escape, particularly
in prolonged entrapments, is a relative term. This is a phase that may continue
for many years.
people sometimes enter a state of "learned helplessness," and go through
a series of abusive relationships in a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy of perpetual
victimization. As you know, some victims of abuse commit suicide, or succumb to
depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse. Many others make an active choice to fight
or try to escape. If we draw parallels with research on battered wives the following
♦ 3 Phases of the Abusive Relationship
from the popular notion that the physically or emotionally abused woman stays
in the abusive relationship, recent work shows that she moves through a process,
eventually actively preparing herself to move out.
Phase # 1 - The Beginning Phase
In the beginning phase of
the abusive relationship, the woman, unable to discriminate between positive and
negative relationships, focuses on her partner without any regard for her own
needs. She believes that if she tries hard enough he will change and that
she will still achieve the ideal family that she seeks.
Phase # 2 - The Middle Phase
In the middle phaseshe remains subservient and self-effacing: she feels anxious, fearful, and
powerless, and her self-esteem suffers, but she starts to realize that her partner
will not change.
Phase # 3 - The Final Phase
In the final phase, realizing that the abuse will never stop,
the woman starts to regain some control over her life, recognizes that the abuse
is not her fault, and knows that she has to end the relationship. For some
women, termination of the relationship ushers in a sense of freedom and liberation
from emotional pain; others, unable to divorce themselves from the past, spend
enormous amounts of time sifting through past scenarios trying to find out what
went wrong with the relationship.
♦ Duped and Used
of abuse by a professional have described a variety of experiences that led to
their gradual, or sudden, realization that they had been duped and used, and their
determination to escape from the influence of the abusive professional.
victims, this happened when they discovered that the professional was abusing
other clients as in the case of Mary. Covered in shame and humiliation, she was
forced to give up her notion that she was special, the only person with whom the
professional had this kind of involvement. She began to realize that the professional
had not addressed the initial problem of her divorce, had misdiagnosed them.
Dismissed by the Professional
victims did not engineer their own escapes, but were dismissed by the health professional. Carolyn
Bates describes how she tried to extricate herself from the sexual relationship
with psychologist Dr. X by spacing out the sessions and telling him she was going
off her birth control pills.
Her awareness of his betrayal grew, and she realized
that she was paying to provide him with sexual services. The final straw, however,
that caused her to leave therapy, was his reaction when she called him, distraught,
after her engagement had broken down. He invited her to his house, did not talk
to her, but used her in the usual "brief, non-mutual, mechanical" fashion.
As a result, she "finally allowed (herself) to see the very cold and harsh
truth of what was happening to (her)" and terminated therapy.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Breggin, P. R., & Stolzer, J. (2020). Psychological helplessness and feeling undeserving of love: Windows into suffering and healing. The Humanistic Psychologist, 48(2), 113–132.
River, L. M., Borelli, J. L., Vazquez, L. C., & Smiley, P. A. (2018). Learning helplessness in the family: Maternal agency and the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(8), 1109–1119.
Soral, W., Kofta, M., & Bukowski, M. (Jul 13 , 2020). Helplessness experience and intentional (un-)binding: Control deprivation disrupts the implicit sense of agency. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, No Pagination Specified.
What are the three phases a victim may experience once she realizes
the truth about her abuse? To select and enter your answer go to .