This question is in the mind of many women*.
How is it possible to miss your abuser?
I can unfortunatelly confirm this happens. Fifteen years after cutting off all contact from my abuser, except a couple of minor attempts to get in touch that ended in him trying to control me again through emotional blackmail, and I still sometimes catch myself missing him, or some moments I lived with him.
We are not alone in this. Abusers control their victims, often through a systematic erosion of the victim’s self esteem before moving onto their next steps. Theand repent - “the good times”- alters the survivor’s perception of reality and can create this psychological dependence.
“Life begins to revolve around anticipating violence; coping with actual acts of violence; or recovering from the violence. Ironically, a family can become tremendously close in the recovery phase. The man who was terrifying and intimidating turns into a remorseful, needy, and dependent man. The woman who was battered then will feel sorry for the man and recommit to him in a fantasized hope that the abuse won't happen again. But the cycle of abuse will begin again, often becoming worse. The cycle of abuse can only be broken with awareness and professional help.”
I remember thinking I should stay until he sorted out his drug abuse and money problems, I couldn’t leave him in the state he was! - meanwhile he was eroding my whole personality and eventually became physically violent against me and even against my home, breaking systematically every window in my apartment one night after kicking down my front door and breaking into my home..
This dependence has often been reported when talking about how difficult it is to leave domestic violence**:
“We often put ourselves in the place of the victims and imagine ourselves leaving at the first signs of abuse. But breaking free of abuse is not simply a matter of walking out the door. Leaving is a process.”
“Strong emotional and psychological forces keep the victim tied to the abuser.”
“Staying in an abusive relationship does not mean the victim is weak or stupid. Abuse is about control — physical, emotional, verbal or sexual. Victims must overcome a variety of hurdles — fear, guilt, economics, cultural and gender roles — in order to take those first steps to ending an abusive relationship.”
“The cycle of abuse and control often leads the victim to feel emotionally dependent. Victims may be afraid to be on their own, fear what others will say, or feel they cannot take care of themselves.”
This state of mind can become ingrained in survivors’ minds, taking years to disappear or suddenly reappearing due to some random trigger or life experience. We are reliving a trauma, and reacting the way we were trained to.
“It doesn’t make sense that even women who are smart and independent will stay with a man who treats them like dirt. It doesn’t make sense that even after fleeing, a woman is likely to return to that man six times on average – ‘it mustn’t be that bad’, people say. It doesn’t make sense that someone you know to be a good bloke could be going home to hold a knife to his wife’s throat. None of it makes sense.”
[in ‘Trauma and Recovery’, Judith Herman’s book on understanding psychological trauma] “she equates the experiences of domestic violence victims to those of prisoners of war. In both situations, establishing control over the other person is achieved through the “systematic, repetitive infliction of psychological trauma” designed to instill fear and helplessness.
Survivors who have escaped this systematic abuse often emerge from it confused and utterly disoriented. Tragically, that means they often don’t present as credible witnesses: in their post-traumatic state, their stories can be fragmented, highly emotional and contradictory.”
Recovering from abuse by someone who was close to you is a long process, and the damage may stay with you.
So, from survivor to survivor, how is it possible to miss our abusers? They trained us to miss them. We have the rest of our lives to retrain our minds. And eventually this will happen less and less.
* I’m talking in feminine for the victim and in masculine for the abuser. I know it’s not always so, but the rates of women abused, raped, beaten or killed by men who once said they loved them make me need to use this gender binary for this answer.
**Emphasis added in bold in these excerpts to facilitate skimming through the quoted texts.