Abuse Is An Unresolvable Dilemma
The heart of what makes abuse so painful is the psychological and emotional toll it takes on the victim due to being constantly confronted with an unresolvable dilemma. This is because the whole purpose of abuse is to maintain control, so ostensibly if control of mind, body, and soul are ceded then the abuse stops. It’s when standing up for one’s own right to personal autonomy that the myriad forms of instilling self-doubt in order to maintain control surface in order to get the victim back into line.
In behavioral terms we can think of this strategy as using negative reinforcements to get a desired result. In our opinion this is where purely sadistic behavior and abusive behavior part ways, although they usually overlap quite a lot. The sadist is primarily concerned with humiliation, with causing pain for the sake of causing pain, whereas the abuser is primarily concerned with control, with causing pain for the sake of maintaining control. When we say pain we mean emotional, psychological, or physical.
To return to our behavioral idea, negative reinforcements are only effective if they disappear when the desired behavior occurs. A vivid example of this is how most horse riders make their horses turn left or right. Pulling the bit to the left, for example, is the aversive, an uncomfortable and painful feeling in the mouth. The horse knows that the only way to make this aversive disappear is by actually turning left, at which point the rider lets up on the reins and the painful feeling goes away.
Abuse is an unresolvable dilemma because both available options when confronted with a negative reinforcement designed to control your behavior are bad. These options are to assert your rights to autonomy and personal efficacy and thereby face abusive retaliation, retaliation likely to escalate in intensity if you continue to stand your ground, or to capitulate, ceding your control, giving up your rights to autonomy and personal efficacy, becoming an object for the needs of someone else. Both options carry a heavy psychological and emotional price tag.
Thinking of abuse in terms of negative reinforcements helps us see that most of the time abuse is not a random, haphazard event but instead a well thought out strategy employed with precision, used to get a definite desired result. If this result is attained there is no reason for abusive actions, and the abuser might even be quite jovial, but the threat always lurks in the background. This threat, as is the case with all negative reinforcements employed over time, is what prompts the subject to continue to behave as desired.