A very common aspect of psychological abuse and manipulation is for the abuser to claim that the victim is being abusive towards them. I’ve written about the abusers “victim complex”, and “gaslighting” in this manner before.
But right now I want to address the specific scenario in which the victim snaps at the abuser. They endure and endure, they have been told that there is nothing to react to, they have been told they overreact to everything, so they are afraid to mention their hurt, and confusion, and cannot acknowledge they are being abused.
The endure so much for so long, they snap. They scream at the abuser. Insult them. Maybe even throw in a low-blow or unfair insult. They may even physically attack, although this is very very uncommon in victims of abuse.
The abuser jumps on this reactionary outburst. They claim it is “proof” that the victim is unstable. They claim it is “proof” that the victim is the abuser after all. They can hold it up, and hold it against the victim for as long as they can, and as hard as they can.
They are not interested in talking things out. They are not interested in listening to why this outburst has happened. They have their “proof”, and that’s all they ever needed from the victim. They get to say things like, “YOU’RE the one who frightened ME”, and “you are an emotional time bomb” and “I have to walk on eggshells around you”, and have the victim believe it.
While the abuser is the actual time-bomb, and the victim is frightened and walking on egg shells, but dare not admit it or bring attention to it, or has been so deeply abused they don’t even see it themselves.
The abuser turns the roles, and paints themselves as the victim.
This leads the victim to believe they are in fact the abusive one in the relationship. They now believe they are violent and emotionally unstable, and may start describing themselves as such and seeking help for these problems.
If they break away from the abuser, they stand no chance at all against the Smear Campaign the abuser then launches. Partially because they believe they -were- wrong.
This does not mean that the reaction was okay. It is never okay to treat another person with violence. However, it is understandable. And it is very important to differentiate this kind of reaction with the kind of ongoing abuse that causes it.
I don’t think it’s fair to call Reactive Abuse “abuse”, because the word implies a severe violence that causes detriment to the mental and physical well being of the victim. “Reactive Abuse” almost never actually harms the true abuser it was aimed at – in fact it is often exactly what they wanted, and only bolsters their sense of self-righteousness and fuels their power over the victim.
A good way to tell a victim who reacted to abuse, and a psychologically abusive person creating a smear campaign against a victim is their attitudes toward their own actions.
Victims will almost always be able to admit their own faults. They will know they reacted badly and did wrong. This quality is actually what the abuser uses against them in the first place to make them believe they are the ones in the wrong. Part of healing from abuse is learning to point out which of the abusers behaviors are, in fact abuse, while still acknowledging what you handled badly. (And everyone reacts badly to things when under the extreme pressure of abuse!).
Abusers will almost never admit they have ever done anything wrong at all. Their victims will be blamed for everything. They will hold every tiny thing against the victim, even things they could not possibly control, or they have never tried to talk to them about. They use social bigotries against the victim, and in their own defense. (Especially mental illness is used in this way – they believe their own illness excuses them from every wrongdoing, and their victims illness is proof they are in the wrong).
The most dangerous, most intelligent psychologically abusive people will even try to fake being able to admit their own mistakes. But they almost always get tripped up in the details, by claiming “oh I handled that badly -” but following it up with “-but only because of (something that is the victims fault after all)”.