BETHESDA, Md.,September 9, 2014 — Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Rice offered a public apology to his fans yesterday for knocking unconscious his then-fiancée and now-wife, Janay Rice, inside an Atlantic City casino elevator back in February 2014. Although the direct aftermath of the third-degree assault against Janay was caught on casino security cameras, Ray pled not guilty and will not face prosecution due to completing a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.
Many question why Janay remains by the football player’s side. Some believe Janay is to blame for the attack against her and that she instigated the attack. Some claim Janay allegedly spit in the football player’s face, thus provoking him to assault her. Some feel disgust at her decision to marry him and support him during his damage-control press conferences. Many believe she is out for money and fame and that she is a gold digger. Why else would she marry him after the attack? Some have even suggested she likes being abused.
Victims of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse do not stay with or protect their abusers because they are gold diggers or because they are stupid or because they are masochists. Victims of abuse stay with their abusers due to biological, chemical, psychological, and societal factors.
When we meet someone and begin to fall in love, there is a natural chemical reaction that takes place in our brains. Jena Pincott briefly details this reaction in her book, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains–The Science Behind Sex, Love, & Attraction:
“Your amygdala, the center of the brain that processes emotion, blazes with activity. At the same time you produce dopamine, a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is associated with passion and addiction, and oxytocin, a hormone related to bonding.”
Bonding in love with another feels empowering. The love bond results in increased feelings of safety and trust, two very powerful emotions which induce euphoria and confidence. As we spend more and more time with the person we love, the love bond grows stronger as does our euphoria and confidence.
In the early stages of love, we simply feel high, which is natural, healthy, and necessary.
As time passes and we grow and experience life with the one we love, the high gradually normalizes. We are not as “high on love” as we once were in the beginning, yet the love bond continues to grow deeper and deeper. Our love matures. Trust matures. We no longer say, “I am so in love with you. I need you!” We simply say, “I love you,” and our actions speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, when we become bonded in love to an abusive person, the love high we experience is abnormally addictive in nature and is not allowed to naturally transform, grow, and mature. But unlike drug addicts who have been cautioned against trying drugs in the first place, victims of abuse do not have the foresight to choose between abusers and non-abusers prior to entering relationships.
Abusers are the most dangerous and insidious of drugs, because abusers do not approach victims with a label or written warning or the word “abuser” stamped across their foreheads. Nor do abusers announce themselves and their intentions by stating:
“I’m an abuser. I’m going to lie to you about everything, from my childhood to my hopes and dreams, in order to earn your trust. Once your trust in me is established, you’ll be more inclined to forgive me and feel sorry for me when I harm you. You will forgive me when I cheat on you, call you a whore, abuse your children, criticize your family and friends, and force you to give up your job and other creative projects. You’ll even protect me from prosecution and public ridicule. I chose you because I can see you’re a good person, and good people always blame themselves for what happens to them in life. You’ll even blame yourself when I knock you unconscious.”
No. Abusers are not gracious enough to reveal the truth, upfront, that they will cause inevitable harm. Instead, abusers do the absolute opposite when they first meet potential victims.
In the early stage of relationships, abusers groom their victims with over-the-top attention, love bombing, and an over-abundance of promises of protection and loyalty. Grooming feels good to victims. Grooming serves as instant gratification and intensifies the natural love bonding process, making love with an abuser feel unreal and like no other love the victim has ever experienced. The love and trust a victim feels for the abuser is intense and intoxicating, like a drug.
Then the inevitable betrayal occurs, because when we become bonded in love to an abusive person, the high is always prematurely interrupted and ambushed.
These ambushes are called betrayals and come in many forms:
- Back-handed compliments criticising something the abuser once praised.
- An actual backhand or punch to your face or body.
- Broken promises or broken trust. Your abuser lies to you or cheats on you.
- Withholding of sex or money or communication, things that your abuser once freely provided.
As a result of these betrayals, the victim experiences confusion, shock, and trauma. A new type of bond is formed: a betrayal bond often referred to as a trauma bond. The victim does not see these betrayals and traumas for what they are due to the immediate onset of cognitive dissonance. In this state of confusion and dissonance, the victim attempts to make sense of two co-occurring yet opposing bonds: the love bond and the betrayal bond. And because the love bond feels better and is perceived and preferred by the victim to be “the bond” that holds the couple together, victims, in a state of hypervigilance, attempt to dismiss and minimize the betrayal bond and do whatever they can to build, nurture, and maintain the love bond.
Therefore, it can be concluded that by the time the first betrayal or trauma event takes place, the victim is already an addict. The betrayal and trauma event simply seals the addiction, making it that much harder to quit the relationship.
This can explain why Janay Rice may have married Ray Rice. Not only did she desperately want to prove her love and devotion to Ray, she wanted to minimize the betrayal, and marrying Ray meant Janay would no longer be obligated, under the law, to testify against him. Essentially, if she is not obligated to address the assault/offense against her, the sooner the offense, the betrayal, can be forgotten and put in her past.
Ironically, instead of blaming the abuser for the betrayal and abuse, the victim blames him/herself for causing the betrayal, “I did not show him/her enough love. That’s why this happened. What can I do to make up for this? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again? I want to be seen as his/her soul mate and the love of his/her life again! I need to get back to that place in his/her heart.”
Although this type of self-talk comes from a place of fear, depression, and dependency, victims of abusive and toxic relationships believe love, euphoria, and confidence continue to guide them. This denial is the destructive irony of cognitive dissonance, the same cognitive dissonance that takes hold of all addicts and keeps them addicts.
The Harvard Medical School Help Guide website provides further evidence of how addiction hijacks the brain:
“At this point, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with an addictive drug or behavior subsides—and yet the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the wanting) persists. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning.”
Like a drug addict who is incapable of quitting their drug of choice cold turkey, victims who fall in love with abusers simply are not chemically capable of quitting their partners, their drugs, either, immediately after the first betrayal be that a punch, lie, affair, manipulation or other assault.
In addition to the compromised and traumatic brain activity of a victim in the aftermath of abuse, there is another external factor that makes leaving and breaking free from an abuser that much harder: the collective, societal perpetuation of the assumption that abusers get better and that abusers can change.
All victims have heard, read, or been influenced by this assumption at some point in their lives. This assumption serves to perpetuate a victim’s cognitive dissonance: “I know what he/she did to me is not right, but everyone says we should give people second chances and that counseling or anger management classes will work. He/she just needs to become aware that he/she has hurt me.”
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