Summary: Abuse and love both are intense emotions. However, in some cases, abuse can create an illusion of love and cause confusion. When abusive behavior is followed or wrapped up in acts of kindness and affection, it can feel like love. This emotional manipulation can become extremely difficult to disentangle once one is trapped in abusive behavior. In this article, we will explore how abuse can feel like love under specific circumstances.
1. The Blurred Line Between Love and Abuse
Love and abuse are two different experiences, but they can be very similar in the beginning. In a relationship, when partners show their genuine feelings, exchange affection and care, it builds trust and attachment. The same type of bonding experience happens in abusive relationships. Many abusers initially misrepresent themselves as caring, loving, and even overly flattering to lure someone into relationships, and then slowly start exerting control and becoming abusive.
The victim then spends their time trying to win back the good times and sees the abusive patterns as an anomaly. It becomes hard to decipher which behaviors are abusive, and which are acts of love. The lines between the two blur, and the victim finds themselves making excuses for their partner’s behavior. The abuser may even continue to offer loving and kind gestures between bouts of abusive behavior, which further confuses and ties the victim emotionally to the abuser.
2. Emotional Dependency and Stockholm Syndrome
Once a person is manipulated into an abusive pattern of behavior, it can be challenging to break free due to emotional dependence on their abuser. Victims often find themselves clinging to the hope that the abuser will return to the loving person they were at the start of the relationship. This dependence can grow into Stockholm Syndrome, in which victims form an attachment to their abuser to protect themselves from further harm.
The victim may feel like they are in a fog, and only the abuser has the power to make them happy, all while experiencing continued trauma. The cycle of abuse makes the victim feel isolated and helpless, causing them to gravitate towards their abuser for emotional support. This dependency creates internal cognitive dissonance that adds to the confusion between love and abuse.
3. Cultural and Social Norms
Cultural and societal norms can reinforce the idea that abuse is an acceptable part of love. Many people grow up in environments where relationships use control, violence, or emotional manipulation as tools of communication. Abuse can be seen as a sign of passion, strength, dominance, or a reason to “stay committed” to one’s partner. Movies, books, and popular culture have often idealized possessive behavior and constant attention as signs of true love.
These norms perpetuate cycles of abuse and confuse young minds about what healthy relationships should look like. Abused individuals who have internalized these messages might be even more likely to pass them on to their children, creating intergenerational cycles of abuse.
Abuse can make it challenging to determine the line between love and hurtful behavior. The abusive patterns often disguise themselves as caring actions and kindness at first, creating dependencies and Stockholm Syndrome in the victim. Further, cultural and societal norms reinforce the idea that abuse is “just how love works.” It can be hard to recognize when to leave an abusive relationship when it feels like love. Awareness and education about abuse help victims understand that abuse isn’t love and may help break the cycle of abuse.