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!”
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.
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.
- Don’t hesitate to call us at 604 941 711 (or our crisis line, 604 492 1700)
- A list of B.C. and local/Lower Mainland resources
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA) website has lots of helpful information
Here is a story about a woman and her family:
Sarah lived in a nice home in an up-scale neighbourhood. She enjoyed the sense of community she found there. But, all was not well in her world. According to her husband, Sarah couldn’t do anything right, ever, he yelled at her regularly and would physically strike out at her, leaving his mark.
Sarah knew at some level that something was terribly wrong. She felt anxious, fearful and alone. She eventually came to realize that the situation was aggressively abusive, after she required medical care after emergency services were called. Her husband could not or would not change his thinking about what he saw as Sarah’s inadequacies. She began to see that he enjoyed getting his own way by being cruel, insulting, hurtful and abusive. Sarah began to realize that she needed to leave – for her own safety, security, sanity and for the protection of her children who were witnesses to the escalating abuse and negativity in the home and beginning to act out the behaviours they were seeing. One day she realized that she had a choice to make, not one she wanted to make because she wanted to keep the family together, in fact tradition demanded it, yet she knew that if she stayed she would die.
Sarah isn’t a real person. However she could be your neighbour, your friend, your sister, your aunt. Her story is based on a compilation of her stories told at “Joy’s Place“, a transition house in the Tri-Cities for women and children fleeing violence.
Women like Sarah come to Joy’s Place regularly. We welcome them with open arms, compassion, empathy, non-judgement and open hearts. Support workers explain how the house runs: families are given as much privacy as possible but must be willing to accommodate the needs of others. Safety rules, security including location confidentiality, are of utmost importance. Clients are encouraged to thing of the house as their home for as long as they stay.
A Story of Abuse (Son & Mom Perspective)
Twelve years ago, my Dad left my Mom for another woman. The divorce was a huge blow to my Mom’s self-esteem despite how successful and independent she was in life. After 3 years of moping around the house and feeling sorry for herself, Mom finally mustered the courage to get back into the dating world. I was really happy for her when she met Daniel, a handsome man who displayed an assertive, yet caring personality who made my Mom laugh again. During the first year of their relationship, Mom became happier and went back to her confident old self. When I moved out for college, I thought that I didn’t have to worry about her anymore and that Daniel would maintain her happiness.
During the second of year of college, Mom started to delay my monthly visits. I didn’t think any of it at the time and just thought that she was busy with the new man in her life. She used to call me 3 times a week to chat and see how things were going. We had a very close relationship and have always spoken our minds openly to each other. However, the calls became less frequent and whenever I asked how she and Daniel were doing, her answers became short and distanced. Sometimes I would receive random hang-up calls from her or tearful “I miss you” messages. Every time I asked how things were going with her, she’d assure me that she was fine. I figured that she probably just missed having her favourite son around the house.
One day, I stopped by Mom’s house without calling first since I was in the area and needed to pick up an item from my bedroom. As I approached the house, I saw Daniel screech his car out of the driveway, speeding away in the opposite direction. Entering the house, I saw a huge mess in the dining room with turned over chairs and broken plates shattered across the floor. Sobbing in the corner of the kitchen was Mom, curled up in a tight ball with bruises and cuts on her head and arms. I tried to bring her to the hospital but she wouldn’t let me. Mom told me that it was the first time that she and Daniel had an argument like this and that it was her fault. She convinced me that there was nothing to worry about and it wouldn’t happen again.
Once in a while, I would try to have heart-to-heart talks with my Mom but every time I asked her about Daniel, she would change the subject or shutdown completely. Mom continued to defend Daniel for their fights and believed that she was at fault for irritating him or instigating arguments. A few times, she tried to end the relationship but she would falter and believed he would change every time he apologized. I didn’t want her to stop confiding in me so I tried to comfort her and listened anytime she wanted to bring up her relationship with Daniel.
Another year passed and my Mom became increasingly anxious, insecure and unhappy. She also became clumsier and often had cuts or bruises on her body from tripping or falling. I had to wait for her calls rather than calling her myself because Daniel didn’t like her talking to people often. She seemed nervous around Daniel and was overly accommodating to him during my visits. A few times, I witnessed her on the phone with Daniel, apologizing and pleading him not to leave her. It made me suddenly realize how drastically her personality had changed; from a charming, confident person to a fearful and insecure woman. I began to suspect that her bruises and cuts were not solely due to her clumsiness.
I decided to confront Daniel about their relationship. He denied all of my accusations and stormed out of the room. I tried to convince Mom to leave him, thinking that Daniel had left the house. Instead, Daniel came back, pushed me to the ground and began pounding my face. I heard Mom screaming and begging him to stop but I blacked out soon after.
When I regained consciousness, I was laying on a hospital bed with bandages covering half my face. Mom was sitting beside me with her hands clasped over mine. She apologized for not listening to me earlier and explained that after watching Daniel beat me, she finally “woke up” to what was happening to her and dialed 911 for help.
During my relationship with Daniel, I tried to cope by telling myself that I was the one who needed to change. The divorce with my ex-husband made me lose my self-confidence and I didn’t want to lose another man in my life because I was undesirable for whatever reason. Daniel constantly blamed me for our fights and I knew deep down that his behaviour was wrong but I couldn’t bring myself to end the relationship. I’ve always been a proud and successful woman who rarely needed the help of others. Ironically, to ask for help would be another blow to my self-esteem. I finally realized that having the support of others was not a weakness on my part after watching Daniel beat my son up.
If others find themselves in my type of situation, I would tell them this: Always follow your gut instinct and believe that you deserve better. No matter how hard things get, no one deserves to live in terror. Never believe the abuser that you are at fault.
If you know or are someone who is in an abusive relationship, please contact Tri-City Transitions at 604-941-7111 or email email@example.com