Abusive Relationships: What if You Still Love Them?

Table of contents for Abusive Relationship Help

  1. Abusive Relationships: What if You Still Love Them?
  2. Abusive Relationships: Situations-Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome
  3. Abusive Relationships: How Friends and Family Can Help

A reader asked about how to move beyond an abusive relationship when you still feel love for that person.

This is actually a common feeling from people in abusive, or even just very controlling relationships. A prominent pastor’s wife in Atlanta filed for divorce when a relationship involving much emotional abuse evolved into a physical attack. She said that she still felt love toward him but decided to “take her love with her and leave” for her own welfare. A loved one of ours, after having decided some time ago to leave an abusive relationship is now feeling that he loves the other person in spite of the fact that his health, career, and family life have all been destroyed by the other person.

An initial step is to realize the difference between love and concern.

A friend in a bad relationship once had another friend tell him, “You care about her well-being, but it doesn’t sound like you really love her.” There is a major difference between love and concern. It is unlikely that you will feel completely devoid of concern over the person’s well being if you have shared a major part of your life or major events in your life with him or her. However, concern over his or her well being is not proof of the existence of a loving relationship.

People in emotionally or physically abusive situations often suffer from Stockholm syndrome, not just people in hostage situations.

In Stockholm Syndrome, the person in an abusive or controlling situation begins to experience a psychological response of defending the “captor” and showing loyalty to the abuser. (1)

Dr. Joseph M. Carver, psychologist, has deeply studied such situations and written an incredible article on Stockholm Syndrome in abusive and controlling relationships, as opposed to just captive or hostage situations. He says that the syndrome is brought on by a situation in which you perceive a possible physical or psychological danger, feel an inability to escape situation, are isolated from people with other viewpoints, and experienced a small kindness from the abuser. We will go into more detail on Dr. Carver’s article in Part 2 and Part 3 of this post, but listen to this description of his clients who have experienced the syndrome:

In clinical practice, some of the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in controlling and abusive relationships. When the relationship ends, they offer comments such as “I know what he’s done to me, but I still love him”, “I don’t know why, but I want him back”, or “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her”. Recently I’ve heard “This doesn’t make sense. He’s got a new girlfriend and he’s abusing her too…but I’m jealous!” Friends and relatives are even more amazed and shocked when they hear these comments or witness their loved one returning to an abusive relationship. While the situation doesn’t make sense from a social standpoint, does it make sense from a psychological viewpoint? The answer is – Yes! (2)

As I said, we’ll cover this more in the next 2 posts, but the main point I want to emphasize here is that those feelings of “love” toward someone who consistently mistreats you are likely not love at all but a type of psychological defense mechanism, or a way that your brain begins to think or feel to help you handle the stress of the situation but the feelings are not “real love.” Again, the feelings do not prove a loving relationship.

If you are experiencing such a defense mechanism, you need to study again what real love and a loving relationship is like.

When you have a clear understanding of real love, it is easier to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Since you may be experiencing unrealistic feelings of love, I want you not to focus on your feelings or behavior toward the other person. Instead, use the following description of real human love that God gave to us in Scripture as a guideline to evaluate the other person’s attitudes and behavior toward you:

Love is kind. It is never envious, nor boils over with jealousy. It is not boastful or displays itself in a haughty way. Love is not conceited or arrogant. It does not behave rudely, unmannerly, or act in ways that are unbecoming. Real love does not insist on its own way, for it is not self-seeking. Love is not touchy, fretful, or resentful. Love does not rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love believes the best of other people. (Taken from the Amplified Version of 1 Cor. 13:4-7) (For a full length article on Real Love, see footnote 3.)

If the other person does not consistently behave in these ways toward you, you are not in a loving relationship. Even if you feel that you are doing your part to show real love, a loving relationship cannot exist in one direction; a relationship is something that goes both directions.

Next, compare the other person’s value of you to God’s value of you.

It is important to mention here that the other person “saying” they value you or love you does not count or have credibility if they do not live it out in their actions. One of the most famous quotes from Scripture says, “God so loved that He gave…” Love evokes or results in actions that prove the reality of the love.

God’s love for you is based solely on your intrinsic value; in other words, because you exist as a unique person, you are of infinite value to Him. You do not have to do anything to prove your value or to “make” God love you. If you are always attempting to prove to the other person that you have value, trying to earn his or her love and respect, the person doesn’t value you just for being you.

Base your personal value on God’s value for you and then make your decisions.

God says that His thoughts of you outnumber the grains of sand-because He thinks so often about you. (Ps. 139:15-18) You are so valuable that His love for you is unending. Because He values you so much, even when you may not deserve love and compassion, He still chooses to feel and act in love and compassion for you. Because God values the relationship between you and Him, when you ask forgiveness, He says that He forgives and forgets your failings. The list could go on and on. However, it is vital that you base your value of yourself at the same level of value God has for you. This is the only way your value of yourself can remain constant. It cannot be based on people because people come and go in our lives, even if it is by death. Your value cannot be based on your career or other abilities because, one day, you will no longer be able to do those things. Now, valuing yourself as much as God values you, would you allow physical harm to come to you? Emotional harm? Would you allow a lifestyle that keeps you from your dreams? Valuing yourself as much as God values you, would you live your whole life and die, never having lived a life that is fulfilling and satisfying, never being in relationships that allow you to give real love and experience real love?

Lastly, realizing your personal value in God’s sight, you are responsible to yourself and to Him to live a life that expresses that value and fulfills the purposes for which you were allowed to have the gift of life.

When you use God’s description of real love to evaluate your relationships, and decide to live a life that shows you realize your God-given value, the boundaries become much clearer as to what are harmful and hurtful relationships and which are truly loving ones. Choose to make decisions in line with your value and free yourself to commit to truly loving relationships.

(Part 2 will cover 4 main situations which cause Stockholm Syndrome in controlling relationships and the resulting symptoms in the victim. Part 3 will list Dr. Carver’s guidelines for friends and families who want to help. If you realize that you are experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, or people who care about you have made comments that now make you think it is a possibility, you will very likely need outside professional help to get through this. Sometimes churches have free professional counseling available to needy people. Also, city centers for abused people usually have professional counselors if you cannot afford one.)

1. Stockholm Syndrome Definition

2. Psychologist Joseph M. Carver’s full article

3. Recognizing Real Love Part 1 of 2

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2 Responses to “Abusive Relationships: What if You Still Love Them?”

  1. haregua Says:

    hello i love the message God bless you. i want to ask whether this things work for marriage because God says he does not want us to get divorced.

  2. R.H. Says:

    For major decisions in your personal situation, you would need to seek help from a pastor or counselor locally; it is not possible for us to know and answer all the details of your situation. Much depends on the level of harm taking place. Also, controlling relationships are so complex, the person being harmed often does not fully understand all the feelings of his or her own heart. Someone locally who is trained in these matters can listen to the details and usually see more clearly what is taking place than the person who is suffering. Since they work with people in all different levels of controlling relationships, they could tell you what actions are most helpful or not helpful. Lastly, whatever help the suffering person in a controlling relationship seeks, it needs to be done in a way that will not result in any harm or abuse to them by the controlling person. ReceiveHealing.com

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