Why girls stay in emotionally abusive relationships (Warning: disillusionment ahead)
At the BlindGossip site, there's a series of four posts about an insecure young pop star and her boyfriend who, despite constantly demeaning and manipulating her, continues to enjoy her company. It's Demi Lovato, a singer I've heard of but never heard her music, and Wilmer Valderrama, the squat Hispanic dork from That '70s Show that used to be on 15 years ago.
Here is the most recent post in the series, where the website writer says that Demi reads the website, so guys, in the comments please tell her how great she is, and how she deserves 1000 times better than this ugly has-been slimeball. All four posts establish how emotionally demeaning he is toward her, and how she keeps caving in.
And just like the socially naive type that you might expect to live vicariously through celebrity drama websites, they all swoop in, showering her with effusive paragraph-long comments about how attractive, talented, popular, lovable, and worthy she is, and how she deserves 1000 times better than a dude named Wilmer.
And all are completely incredulous as to how she could continue to stay with a bum. If he were more attractive, wealthy, powerful, famous, violently dominant toward other males, etc. -- OK, a little constant demeaning might be the price she's willing to pay. But to stay with an across-the-board loser seems like an enigma to them, especially given how young, attractive, wealthy, famous, etc., she herself is.
I googled around and found similar puzzlement among males, females, young, old, liberal, conservative, etc. Everybody is completely clueless on this issue.
So I'll come right out and explain why -- girls who stay in these relationships crave the constant rescuing behavior, and the hyperbolic ego-reassurance, coming from those in their social circle whenever the girls engage in or hint at self-destructive behavior. They have a profound fear of abandonment by those who are supposed to be caring for them, so they constantly test them by degrading themselves, and making their social circle prove that they really do care and will swoop in to rescue and reassure them that they truly are lovable, worthy, deserving of so much better, and so on.
Now, these rescuers who are always being called upon, do not do so for other people they know -- because everyone else they know is not a hystrionic attention-seeker. The girl who purposefully lowers herself is trying to extract way more care and attention than her social circle would normally be prepared to give her. But because she's allowed herself to descend to such pathetic depths, they figure they can't just ignore her and continue to be her friend or relative.
In other words, such girls are emotional parasites on their social circle. If they're a celebrity, that extends to trying to extract ego reassurance from the entire society. It's shameful for her to degrade herself at all, but doubly shameful when she does so in order to parasitize the emotional reserves of those who are closest to her. Other people might need to draw on those reserves, and it's draining to the supplier every time they're called upon. Staying in an emotionally abusive relationship is one of the most selfish and manipulative behaviors a person could ever show. It's "fishing for compliments" through false humility, dialed up to 11.
Let's compare the ugly truth with some of the popular self-serving rationalizations, shall we?
1. The girl is terrified of being alone. Wrong: she can attach herself blindly to the next loser who walks down the hallway, who won't be emotionally abusive. Being in a relationship doesn't require him to be a demeaning manipulator -- does it get any more "no duh" than that?
2. The girl is inexperienced, and the seasoned jerk is taking advantage of easy prey. Guess again: these girls tend to be sexually and romantically precocious (and tend to get into drugs, which a naive angel would not).
3. The girl is insecure and desperate for attention, no matter how negative it is. Obviously, on one level. But she wants the attention from her social circle, not him. Craving attention doesn't require that it come in a demeaning and degrading form (no duh). It's not hard to find positive attention.
4. The girl has a desire beyond her control to "fix him," so she stays in order to nurture the sociopath into a kind soul. The impossibility of that task is obvious to anyone, no matter how delusional. Rather, giving this reason reflects the shameless grab for ego reassurance. She's looking for everyone to tell her that she's sacrificing her own well-being like some latter-day Mother Teresa, but girl, it just ain't worth it. It's naked self-righteousness, making herself out to be a martyr when she's just an emotional parasite.
Why doesn't she move on to find a man who'll treat her right? Quite simply, she thinks that all men are unreliable scum. What would be the point in trying to receive heartfelt validation from a boyfriend? But she does expect her social circle to be comforting and reassuring, so she'll rely on them instead to give her feedback about how worthy and lovable she is. Yet she can't get a constant stream of that without regularly jeopardizing her emotional well-being.
Hence the never-ending cycle of drama in her life -- and it's not malingering or "crying wolf" either. She really is bent on a certain degree of self-destruction (but not so high that it would actually do her in -- that would halt the flow of reassurance, and that would suck).
She winds up only associating with the scummiest of men who have a red-blooded libido, not normal men who still have their balls intact. She has to give it up so that the guy will stay in the relationship; otherwise he'll bail before he gets to constantly demean her, and she won't be able to trigger the rescue behavior of her social circle. She has no intrinsic sex drive or joy for sex, though; it's only a means to the end of getting rescued from the ugly monster.
This also means that she will date men indiscriminately, meaning that any old scumbag will do. Demeaning treatment will get her the rescuing reassurance she craves from her social circle, and they don't care who the guy is. It's just, "He's demeaning you? Girl, you deserve 1000 times better than him, you're the bestest friend and the most beautiful person inside and out!" The interchangeable nature of her boyfriends reinforces her view that men are scum -- they're all the same, all substituteable slimeballs. But she chose them to play a faceless role (the jerk boyfriend who'll make her friends and family swoop in to rescue her), rather than for some distinct and individual mix of traits that only he has.
She will also wind up with lots of emotional tampon guy friends, and a gaggle of gay bffs, both of whom are too developmentally stunted to realize that she doesn't want a healthy rewarding relationship with a boyfriend. And the same goes for her girl friends -- only those who have that naive "swoop in" instinct, and not the more mature or cynical ones. (Fortunately for the parasite, most girls are not very mature or cynical.)
These are lessons that have to be learned the hard way by those who are or would be in this girl's social circle. And they're one of the most disillusioning experiences you could ever go through, so naturally a good deal of those who could learn, will not. Cognitive dissonance hurts.
For those who have a natural willingness to hear other people's cry for help, and do what they can to support them, it's disorienting to go through your first encounter with one of these girls. It opens your eyes to how easily taken advantage of an empathetic person can be these days. Good thing I'm only empathetic and not kneejerk sympathetic.
I could just sniff something out about a couple girls like this, in 8th grade and later in 9th or 10th grade. Then once you become aware of the possibility, you check everyone out from then on -- and sadly, at least during the '90s and the 21st century, most of these girls who give off signs of needing rescued are complicit in their own degradation. It's not the '80s anymore, when a girl may have been over-powered by a guy and raped, or otherwise have become a helpless victim.
So much of the social climate of the Millennial era has been dominated by this cult of fake victims. It turns out the guy didn't keep going after she'd said "No," or pried her legs apart when she'd tried to shut them and push him away. Nope, she just got into a drunken hook-up that she regretted the next day. (Remember that all those so-called cases involving "date rape drugs" turned out to be lies.) And Rodney King wasn't some well-intentioned bystander targeted by over-zealous cops. Nope, he was high on PCP and had been leading them on a long, high-speed chase. And AIDS wasn't the outcome of a homophobic rain cloud hovering over the Tenderloin, or hushed-up CIA labs -- nope, they were spreading that shit to each other, up the butt like perverts. Now the news comes out, too, that Matthew Shepard was likely killed by a couple of queer drug dealers, not redneck fag-bashers.
This whole tangled web of lies could only have been spun with the supporting branches of trust that had reached its peak in the late '80s, as folks tried to help one another out at the grassroots level, since the powers that be had proven to be too ignorant, too powerless, or too corrupt to do so for us. Petty criminals took advantage of that atmosphere of trust by presenting themselves as normal people, often in need of help ("Can you help me change this tire?").
But the final and most sickening betrayal was by all of these fake victims from the '90s onward. They weren't criminals, but they were more numerous and sucked more of your blood over the long term. It was pure intuition as a teenager that led me to keep those people at arm's length, but with the benefit of hindsight and hopefully some greater maturity, I can articulate it now.
If you do find yourself tied to such a person, though, like if they're family, what's the best response? I don't know, but I suspect telling them that you won't give them attention or respect until they get out of the relationship. Not in a mean-spirited way, just calmly and firmly, to let them know their manipulations won't work. For all I know, though, that might just drive them to even more self-destructive behavior, to call your bluff. Anyone with more experience being tied to such people, feel free to chime in. I try to avoid them at all costs.