In light of recent events that have people talking, and in honor of domestic violence awareness month, I decided to write a blog on the topic of enablers of abuse. Enablers are not talked about nearly as much as the abusers themselves, yet those enabling abusers cause a tremendous amount of trauma and pain for the individuals being abused.
Trigger warning: Anytime I talk about narcissistic abuse/domestic violence, as a survivor and professional that has worked with a lot of survivors/victims, I do not sugar coat my words at all because this is a topic we need to speak very boldly and bluntly about.
If you want more general education on the topic of abuse, I suggest you check out Duluth materials (power and control wheel) and check out my last blog “Common Myths About Domestic Violence.”
So much commentary around a recent homicide has come out and many are discussing the topic of parents covering for their children, and the outrage and shock around it.I wish I could say that was rare, but the truth is, enabling family members is a huge contributor to the ongoing abuse the victims/survivors of abuse experience. Sadly, it is not surprising one bit to see parents cover for their children’s abusive behaviors, as it is very common.
In this blog, I will break down the various ways abusers are enabled, what that looks like, and how it effects those experiencing abuse.
Family/Friends enabling: The abused person goes to a family member and/or friend of the abuser seeking help, thinking that this is a person that loves both individuals, and surely if they knew the truth, they would talk to the abuser and get the abuser to change.So many people in abusive situations do this and are further traumatized by it, and their concerns are minimized and the abuse is justified.They typically get victim blamed.Let me give you some examples: “What did you do first that made him react that way?” “I love you and I am so sorry what you are going through. It is wrong, but, what do you expect me to do? It’s my family member and I love and support him.””He has always been stubborn.Maybe you just need to be more flexible and try to help him more when he is stressed out.””He didn’t mean anything by it.” “At least he isn’t as bad as this other family member.” “He loves you so much and that’s why he acts this way when he is afraid he will lose you.” “Remember that time you acted crazy? You aren’t perfect either.” “When he isn’t so stressed out, he won’t act that way.”Enablers are full of excuses for the abuser and full of back-handed fake support for you. Do not trust these individuals.They are what is referred to as “flying monkeys.”A flying monkey is essentially an enabler of abusers who act like they are on your side, but are actually giving information to the abuser which is then used to further abuse you more. Flying monkeys also try to distort the truth and/or minimize the truth around the abuse, and tell everyone the abusers narrative of how they are actually the victims.Oftentimes, abusers family members/friends/new significant others encourage the abuse further by buying all the lies the abuser sells and the abusers victim narrative, and encourages and/or pays for ongoing legal/custody battles and other disputes to further victimize and relieve the abuser of accountability.It is not uncommon for abusers to try to use the legal system against their victims with phony protective orders and custody battles.Enablers use these things as “proof” that the abuser is the victim.
The only appropriate response from a family member/friend of the abuser should be “I don’t care who he is, abuse is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by me. I am on your side, 100%.”
Society: I will just say a few things I have seen on social media lately. “It takes two.” “She is acting like the crazy one.” “If that was a man, he would have went to jail.”Let me educate you on something called “reactive abuse.” All survivors have a breaking point; a boiling point in which you as a human being cannot handle anymore abuse, and you explode.Abusers and their enablers are always looking for opportunities to catch you “acting crazy” so they can use that to relieve the abuser of accountability and make you look responsible or partially responsible for the abuse. They do this by slowly and methodically tearing you down and are there ready to pounce on the opportunity to shame and gaslight you when you finally lose your cool and react or act in a way that is uncharacteristic of you.The reactive abuse is then weaponized against you by the enablers and the abuser to try to tell the narrative to the world that you were part of the problem.As a therapist, this is one of the hardest things I see survivors overcome.They are full of guilt and doubt over those few times they did lash out back at the abuser/enablers and believe that they themselves may be toxic, abusive, and part of the problem. Those that are being abused always try to blame themselves first, before they realize they are in an abusive situation.Sometimes they continue to blame themselves even after getting out. Those doing the abusing and those enabling the abuse, also point the finger to anyone and anything but the abuser, but usually they point the finger to the victim of abuse.
Abusers are 100% responsible for their abuse. Period. Reactive abuse is a symptom of narcissistic abuse/domestic violence. Period.
Legal System:There are so many ways the legal system enables abusers.I recently asked a family law attorney how much education the court system and judges get on narcissistic abuse, domestic violence, and parental alienation (something narcissists and enablers do to emotionally alienate the children from the victim).The answer was: none, unless they want to get continuing education on those topics.This was absolutely appalling to me, since so much of what they see is in fact abuse situations and even worse, situations when children are used as pawns to hurt the abused, which is also child abuse. The fact the legal system is not educated on these topics is frankly very dangerous, potentially fatal, and traumatizing for the victims/survivors of abuse and any other family involved.
Passive enablers: These are people that refuse to “pick a side” and doubt survivors stories or disagree with survivors coming out about their stories. If you pick no side, you are by default choosing the side of the abuser. If you are more angry with survivors coming out and sharing their stories than you are angry with the abusers, ask yourself why? You may be a passive enabler if you feel that way.Survivors need a voice.It is not wrong to call out abusers because abuse is a pattern and others need to be warned.Abusers always escalate in their abuse. Even abusers that are only emotionally abusive can escalate in their abuse and have the potential to be lethal to their victims.I recently heard a podcast about an abuser who had many victims and even a false identity (Something Was Wrong; Season 9).One of his victims made a website that compiled all of the information they could get on him and all the details of his abuse throughout the years. This website helped many women, and even connected siblings that didn’t know of the others existence!It is amazing what can happen when survivors are brave enough to share their stories. It brings awareness, and by calling it out, it can save lives and help others in ways unimaginable! It can be an important step in trauma recovery.
Clergy: It is common for victims to seek help from clergy.When clergy gets involved that aren’t educated in domestic violence/narcissistic abuse, they treat the situation like any other marriage, and that is very dangerous. Getting advice from uneducated clergy can lead to more trauma and more victim blaming.In healthy marriages, each partner is always working on themselves and every couple has things they struggle with such as communication.Perhaps church marriage programs/groups or meeting with clergy can benefit those couples because both individuals are working on it and it is a safe environment.However, in abusive situations, there is no winning for anyone except the abuser.Abusers are very good at putting on a show and I have seen many abusers have “spiritual awakenings.”It gives false hope to those around them, including the person they are in a relationship with.Working with clergy typically just gives the abuser more ammo to use against her and more power to control her through religious ways.Using their “religion” is just another tool to control her.Clergy really feed into this by making the mistake of treating the abuser like any other healthy person, by letting the abuser control the narrative and make her feel like she has some part in it when she doesn’t, and by giving the abuser another means in which to control her by. Clergy, don’t make this mistake.Get yourself educated in domestic violence, so if someone in your congregation comes to you and tells you stories that are red flags for abuse, your response can be to get her connected to a domestic violence advocate who can help her get out safely, and then support her every step of the way as she heals. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you can help “save the marriage” because “God hates divorce.” The truth is, God hates His children being abused. God loves His children way more than He hates divorce and is far more concerned for their wellbeing than anything else. Abuse destroys you spiritually.That is not what God wants, so help support them as they heal, don’t traumatize them further by enabling their abuser.
Mental Health Professionals: Sadly, a lot of mental health professionals are not trained in working with domestic violence.I believe every therapist should be thoroughly trained in this, but especially those that work with couples.I have worked with a lot of women who have survived domestic violence/narcissistic abuse, and the majority of them have stories of traumatic experiences in marital counseling with their abuser.The exact same thing I discussed above in enabling clergy can happen with couples counselors. If there are power and control dynamics, couples counseling will be traumatizing and potentially dangerous. If you are a mental healthy professional, it is so important to get extra training on this topic! You can literally help save lives.
A Message to Parents/Caretakers of Sons and to Enablers: Of course, abuse can happen in any gender, relationship, sexuality, etc.However, the statistics say that 97% of domestic violence is men who are abusers against a female partner (Dutton et al 2006). Domestic violence awareness is great! Teaching girls about red flags and healthy relationships is great!But where is the education for boys to not become abusers? There are a few issues and speculations I have regarding this. When I did a quick google search, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any resources titled “how to teach your sons not to become abusers.”(Perhaps that will be my next blog!) This is a real problem.Right now, if you have a child that is showing abusive traits, there are little resources for those parents and children. We need more resources for these parents and children.We need to start teaching our boys how to respect girls, and how to have healthy relationships. We need to model respecting women in the home.We need to normalize therapy, and normalize calling abuse out instead of making an excuse for it or blaming the victim. That sounds harsh, but it can be done in love, and it will hopefully change the attitude our culture has towards abuse and instead of enabling the abusers or turning a blind eye, we can enable the abusers in a healthy way to take accountability for their behaviors and get real help. Mental health professionals, we need to be aware that abusers can show signs of it in childhood and intercept. To men, it’s time to start normalizing treating women with respect and equality. They are not objects and they deserve equality in every way. To society as a whole, it’s time to stop making excuses, victim blaming, and to put your foot down and say we will not tolerate and enable the abuse anymore. To the legal system, educate yourself extensively on this topic. To the people reading this blog and wondering if you are an enabler, educate yourself on abuse and domestic violence, seek professional help, educate yourself on codependency, apologize to the victims as this will greatly help them in their recovery of the trauma they experienced, and then immediately, with the guidance of a professional, take steps to stop enabling the abuser in the safest way possible. Your love for the narcissist is understandable, but your toxic loyalty is not helpful and is not love.It does not help you, it does not help them, and it certainly doesn’t help their victims. Abusers need extensive, long term professional help from individuals trained in personality disorder and/or batterers intervention programs.They can get help, but only if they are able to take 100% accountability for their abuse of others.Until they get help, they see enablers as pawns in their game of controlling others, including you.
Can you imagine what the world would look like if all of a sudden, abusers were held 100% accountable for their abuse and not enabled by anyone? I bet that would change things quite drastically.