What is reactive abuse? According to Dana Morningstar of thriveafterabuse.com, reactive abuse occurs, “when a target reacts abusively towards an abusive person.” We see this often in abusive relationships. People take all the abuse that they can take and something shifts. They start fighting back with actions, words, and even violence. When reactive abuse happens, the abuser can then manipulate the situation further by using these incidents against their victim. Abusive people will constantly remind the victim of all the things they have done wrong or ways they have been abusive further validating that the victim is the real problem and not the abuser.
When abusers convince their victims that they are just as much a part of the problem, it makes the victim feel defeated. Often victims will stay with their abusers longer or return to this relationship multiple times because they feel responsible. Unfortunately, people who react abusively feel as though they are not a victim and do not deserve help. It takes a long time for them to understand that they would never have acted abusively if they were not being abused themselves.
Dana Morningstar states, “Reactive abuse is a delayed self-defense response. It is often extreme and is often disproportional to the current situation.” After repeated attacks victims get triggered and sometimes lash out to stop the attacks. This could be screaming or using profanity when they normal would not. Victims also may try to scratch, slap, kick, or bite someone to get them to stop hurting them. It is important to know the difference between offensive and defensive injuries. Unfortunately, victims are blackmailed by their abusers with pictures or videos of them reacting to their abuser. Of course, these pictures and videos refrain from showing the antagonization or manipulation that occurred prior to the victim reacting.
When a victim is arrested for reactive abuse or defending themselves in a violent situation, this confirms the abuser’s accusation that it is all the victim’s fault. If an abuser can manipulate or use the legal system against the victim it will keep them complacent and submissive. This also discourages victims for seeking help themselves. Victim’s often feel ashamed or embarrassed for reacting this way and will deny the abuse or say it was a misunderstanding to try to mask what has really been taking place.
This is why a history of the relationship is so important. Reactive abuse does not occur in the beginning. This is after an abuser has been abusing, cheating, lying, manipulating, or stealing from the victim. It is a trauma response after being triggered repeatedly. When talking with victims a lot of them will say that they never acted like this before the incident. If they can start talking about how the abuse started and then talk through a timeline a pattern starts to show the progression of why they ended up reacting this way.
If you or someone you know would like more information on reactive abuse or intimate partner violence Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, at our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or via our website csna.org. We have trained crisis counselors ready to speak with you.