What Is Reactive Abuse, And Why Do Victims Turn To It?

Last updated by Rosie Harlow

Reactive abuse is, without doubt, the best, or should I say the most devious example of changing a narrative, that exists. This catastrophic alteration of the truth involves the real victim lashing out against their abuser during a flurry of ill-treatment. Here, the victim will respond either physically or verbally to the abuse they are being submitted to and the puppet master, or the abuser, will then claim that they are in fact the victim. Abusive situations inevitably provoke reactive outbursts, yet devious assailants often view this defense mechanism as a get-out-of-jail-free card and then proceed to turn the tables on the abused person. Here's more on this method of manipulation and how it can be dealt with.

What Is Reactive Abuse, And Why Do Victims Turn To It?

How does reactive abuse work?

Reactive abuse is closely linked to narcissistic abuse and therefore involves cruel manipulative tactics, which are used to provoke an explosive response from victims of it. Here, aggressors will poke the bear, so to speak, until they get a violent or aggressive response, which will legitimize their awful behavior and bullying tactics. Abusive relationships really push you to the edge and can completely transform your personality, pushing you to go into fight or flight mode.

What pushed me over the edge?

In my case, I was trapped in a toxic relationship for over a year, well, like most relationships, it didn't start out that way. In the beginning, it was all rainbows and flowers, to the point where I naively believed that I had found the man of my dreams, you know, someone who'd take care of me forever. Looking back, I'm actually ashamed to say that I even found his intensely protective side really attractive. (Yikes, how times have changed!) However, after a few months, red flags began to spring up, and I started to notice certain narcissistic traits in my now ex-partner, that really made me uncomfortable. As time flew by, the criticism became more and more intense, along with the blame shifting, not forgetting the wild accusations he used to confront me with.

Before we'd celebrated our 6-month anniversary, I was already walking on eggshells around him and afraid to say anything that I thought would upset him. That's right, the trauma bond was growing stronger by the day, with every vicious comment, and I could feel my mental health was declining as a result of his unfair behavior. Yet, despite his treatment of me, I couldn't find the strength to stand up for myself or make myself heard. Was it because I wanted to be oblivious to the fact that he was making me mentally ill, or was I just too afraid to put him in his place?

The day I completely flew off the handle

For my 30th birthday, I'd invited my friends and family members over to my place for a celebratory dinner, only for it to get to 5 pm and for me to receive a text from my sister, asking why my whole family had been uninvited. The text hit me like a ton of bricks, and without even replying to it, I instinctively knew what had happened. That's right, my ex had taken my phone and pretended to be me in order to call off the dinner I was so looking forward to. Now, I knew that he didn't particularly want to spend an evening with my family, but how could he do that to me?! His sneakiness really felt like a slap in the face, and really was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was officially sick of his controlling nature and needed him to know that I refused to be stuck under his thumb. I was prepared to take his nastiness and jealousy, but I wasn't going to allow him to manipulate my family.

My blood was boiling...

When he arrived home that night, I acted like nothing had happened and was even dressed in my fanciest clothes, plus I had decorated the apartment with balloons and streamers, in an attempt to give nothing away. The truth is, I wanted to test his reaction and determine whether he would dare to manipulate the situation. Well, low and behold, just like any self-respecting narcissist, he didn't disappoint me and tried to convince me that my family had canceled last minute, giving us the night to ourselves. Yes, the control freak had actually canceled my dinner plans so that we could order a pizza and watch a movie!

When I decided that I could no longer listen to his lies, the silent rage that had been bubbling beneath my skin rose to the surface and as soon as he started to yell at me, I screamed back at him from the bottom of my lungs. Beneath a mixture of blubbery tears and snot, I yelled at him as loud as I could and pushed him back when he tried to physically restrain me and shut me up. I was no longer going to be a victim anymore, but he'd provoked an ugly reaction from me, and one that I certainly wasn't familiar with. After all, I've always been known as the meek girl, who never really makes waves, incidentally, that's probably why he picked me in the first place.

>>> Read; Things to say to someone who is gaslighting you

Does reactive abuse make you an abuser?

In short, no, acting out after being subjected to ill-treatment for an extensive period doesn't make you an abuser because it is indeed a natural human reaction. After all, even the most patient of people get fed up at points and often respond in surprising ways. Now, in my case, after I'd stood up for myself, I instantly felt guilty for my actions, but in hindsight, that's probably because my ex was an expert in manipulating situations and making me feel bad. He knew just how sensitive I was, I pulled on my strings to make me feel terrible for what I had done, that's right, he even went as far as crying, albeit crocodile tears. Standing your ground against your aggressor doesn't make you an abuser, instead, it means that you realize how precarious your situation is, and is more a cry for help than anything else.

How to stop reactive abuse

The key to stopping reactive abuse or any kind of domestic violence is definitively walking away from the situation before it gets out of control. To do so, you need to consciously decide to put yourself first, because the longer you stay with your toxic partner, the more you will enable him and legitimize his vindictive ways. In healthy relationships, I'd usually suggest examining your communication methods whenever you reach a bump in the road, however, this isn't the case for toxic ones, because no amount of positive communication can solve the fundamental issues of a narcissistic personality disorder. Communication should only be used here to express your disapproval of the behavior and to confirm that you are walking away.

Editor's opinion - We need to be more open about abuse

When we are in a toxic relationship, we often feel very lonely and as if we are the only ones going through this hellish situation. Well, the truth is, many more people than we think are trapped in these relationships, which means we shouldn't feel ashamed, and should instead support each other in our quest for freedom. Sharing our experiences will only help future victims and inspire them to escape.

🤗 Understand yourself, accept yourself, be happy... Let’s do it here and now!


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Article presented by Rosie Harlow

Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. For as long as I can remember, I have always used paper as a punching bag. Get to know me, I am Rosie Harlow.

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Wengood's playlist


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  6. White FlagDido
  7. Lay Me DownSam Smith
  8. Nine Million BicyclesKatie Melua
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  10. Summertime SadnessLana Del Rey
  11. Imagine - Remastered 2010John Lennon
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  13. Space Oddity - Love You Til Tuesday versionDavid Bowie
  14. What A Wonderful WorldLouis Armstrong
  15. With Or Without YouU2
  16. HelloAdele
  17. Don't Stop Me NowQueen
  18. Skinny LoveBirdy
  19. WingsBirdy
  20. Californian SoilLondon Grammar

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How to detect a narcissist?

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- Oscar Wilde