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Rationalization: The Power of the Mind

Did you know that rationalization is a form of self-deception? This defense mechanism can keep individuals stuck in abusive relationships.

As Craig D. Lounsbrough said: “How many times has our conscience. . . prompted us to ‘draw the line,’ and we showed up with an eraser?”

Victims rationalize their abuser’s behaviour in various ways, for example:

  • “I acted in a way that forced him to hurt me.”
  • “It’s not him that hurts me, he’s not himself.”
  • “It’s just the once, he’s going to get better.”
  • “He doesn’t mean it.”
  • “But he loves me!”

Why rationalize?

Reassuring yourself and giving logical reasons for illogical occurrences can make a bad situation seem tolerable, or at least understandable. Rationalizing may protect you from the psychological damage that comes with labelling yourself as a victim.

Some reasons why people might rationalize:

  • Not wanting to believe that someone they love is abusive.
  • Being unfamiliar with the signs of abuse.
    • They may not recognize their situation for what it is.
  • Believing heavily in gender roles.
    • e.g. Women should be subservient.
  • Thinking it’s shameful to be labelled a victim.

If they do realize the severity of their situation, the victim likely believes that things will improve. Sometimes people deliberately fool themselves, but many don’t even realize their brain has employed this defense mechanism.

According to the cycle of violence, an abuser often follows a violent episode with apologies and affection. They may also pretend the incident didn’t happen. This “honeymoon phase” can encourage rationalizing behaviour in both partners. The victim may be convinced by assurances that it’ll never happen again. Confused by their partner’s lack of acknowledgment, they come to believe the incident wasn’t as bad as they remember.

The Dangers of Rationalization

The true danger of rationalization lies in its ability to keep a victim stuck in a bad situation. It makes the abuse seem less serious than it is. The power of the mind is astonishing when the victim denies the dangerous reality of their relationship. No intimidation tactics are needed to force them to stay.

If you know someone who rationalizes

Be sympathetic and understand the reasons behind their behaviour. People rationalize for all sorts of reasons. They probably have good cause for using a defense mechanism.

Questions and accusations aimed at the victim (“Why didn’t you leave?” “How could you not see the situation?”) create emotions that make the victim feel at fault for staying. This may also make them more afraid to leave due to the possibility of facing such accusations. 

You can help someone break out of this cycle by providing resources and a listening ear. You cannot force someone to open up, but let them know that you’re concerned and are there to support them. If they do decide to confide in you, thank them and assure them their feelings are valid. Provide resources that could help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like. 

More information on how to help someone

If you think you’ve been rationalizing

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. When the abuse builds up slowly, it’s hard to say when it’s time to quit. Once you’re out of the shadow of a bad situation, it’s easy to realize things were wrong.

It is vital to your safety that you don’t make excuses for your partner and that you do not let yourself stay in a bad relationship because you’re scared of what others will think. You deserve happiness and a healthy relationship that you don’t have to make excuses for.

You are worthy of respect. The abuse is not your fault. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness.

Support is available to help you achieve safety and happiness.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA) website has lots of helpful information

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

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