What is it and how is it different from mutual abuse

  • Reactive violence occurs when a victim physically or verbally attacks their attacker.
  • Unlike mutual abuse, reactive abuse only occurs after the victim is pushed to a breaking point.
  • The abuser may use the victim’s reaction as a way to manipulate the narrative.

Violence in relationships — whether verbal or physical — might be more common than you think.

Around a third of women and a quarter of men experience abuse, including rape, violence or harassment by their partner.

Moreover, around 47% of women and men report having been emotionally abused or assaulted by an intimate partner.

In some cases, the abuse can drive the victim to a breaking point where they lash out. This is called reactive abuse.

What is reactive abuse?

Reactive abuse, as the name suggests, is when the victim reacts to the abuse by inflicting some form of abuse on their abuser, says Elizabeth JarquinCertified Marriage and Family Therapist in Private Practice and Assistant Professor at North Central University.

Jarquin says the victim could scream, say insults or even physically hurt their attacker. The point here is that the victim is not the initiator of the abuse, they are reacting to prolonged abuse.

“It is important to keep in mind that when there is reactive abuse, it is because the abused individual is pushed to their limits. he suffers, which makes him react,” says Jarquin.

“The key is that the victim was abused long enough until they exploded or basically reacted,” Jarquin said.

Often it’s a defense or even survival mechanism, says Katie Wengera licensed clinical social worker who specializes in relationships with Better fulfillment.

Ultimately, reactive abuse is abuse, and that’s not a healthy way for a victim to respond to their abuser, even though they wouldn’t normally act that way if they hadn’t been pushed to their breaking point.

Additionally, the attacker can use the explosion against his victim. For example, they may flip the script and say the victim is actually the abuser, or they’ll try to use it as an excuse to justify their own abuse, Jarquin says. They might even go so far as to use this as “proof” that the victim is the abuser – not them.

Reactive abuse and abuse in general are absolutely red flags in relationships. If you’re going through a cycle of abuse and reactive abuse, your relationship isn’t necessarily doomed automatically, but it’s definitely a difficult situation to deal with, says Jarquin.

Here’s what you need to know about the signs of reactive abuse and how to deal with it.

What is the difference between reactive abuse and mutual abuse?

In the case of mutual abuse, both partners are constantly violent towards each other.

“If mutual abuse occurs, both parties are likely to repeat abusive behavior with others or outside of being abused themselves,” Wenger said.

In contrast, with reactive abuse:

  • The victim has no previous abusive tendencies: The main point of distinction between mutual abuse and reactive abuse is that if you remove the original abuser and their behavior, the victim won’t behave abusively, Wenger says.
  • The victim will feel guilty: The “reactive abuser” is able to recognize that they are not behaving in healthy ways or behaving like themselves, Wenger says.
  • The victim will never act first: “There should be an abusive episode that the initial victim experiences to immediately or almost immediately react in an abusive way,” Wenger said.
  • The victim begins to abuse only after a breaking point: “When there is reactive abuse, it is because the abused individual is pushed to their limits. They are pushed so far that they can no longer bear the abuse they are experiencing, which makes them react,” says Jarquin.

It’s important to be able to tell the difference between reactive abuse and mutual abuse so that the reactive abuser doesn’t end up falling into the narrative that they’re the abuser, Jarquin says.

“If a person notices that their partner is making them react in such a big way, that’s a red flag. Something is wrong with the relationship. A person can then decide what they want to do with the relationship,” said Jarquin.

Signs of Reactive Abuse

If you are being abused, it is important to be aware of the signs of reactive abuse and how an abuser may use it against you. Here are five signs:

1. The aggressor deliberately antagonizes his victim

The abuser will intentionally provoke their victim, only stopping when their partner reacts angrily or has some sort of outburst, Jarquin says.

For example, they may use one of the following verbal abuse tactics until the victim snaps:

2. The abuser upsets you in public

While reactive violence can certainly happen behind closed doors, an abuser may try to make it happen outside of closed doors.

“The abuser may do this in public places so that others witness the reaction and mistakenly believe that the victim has a problem, is unstable, and/or is an abuser,” Jarquin says.

This is an attempt on the part of the abuser to get others on their side, by giving the impression that they are not wrong in this situation.

3. The abuser cites “evidence”

When the victim eventually loses control and reacts to their abuser, the abuser then has the “evidence” they hoped for from the victim’s alleged abuse or misbehavior, Jarquin says.

These “evidences” are stories that the abuser can tell others or hold against the victim. However, in some cases, an abuser may even try to take the opportunity to record video of the reactive abuse as more tangible evidence, Jarquin says.

Additionally, the abuser uses the evidence they have of the victim’s reaction to justify their own abusive behaviors, Jarquin says.

4. The aggressor plays the victim card

“Once the abused person has responded to the prolonged violence, the abuser will reverse the script and label themselves as a victim,” Jarquin explains.

An example of this would be if an abuser has been physically aggressive and controlling for the duration of the relationship, and the victim has always remained silent so as not to make matters worse.

But one day after months of dealing with this, if the abuser grabs the victim and starts insulting them and the victim pushes them away, knocking them down, and yells at them, that’s a case where the abuser would play the victim card and claim their partner is abusive, Jarquin says.

This can affect the victim because the abuser may go and tell their partner’s friends or family what happened, trick them into thinking the other is actually the main abuser, or even call the police to report The behaviour.

How to deal with reactive abuse

If you don’t act, chances are these unhealthy relationship patterns will continue for the duration of the relationship, becoming more and more dangerous, Wenger says.

To disengage and interrupt the cycle, try the following:

1. Develop awareness: Wenger says you should try to be aware of when a conflict is happening in order to argue or “bait” reactive behavior, rather than actually trying to resolve an actual conflict.

2. Get in touch with your feelings: Take note of how you feel physically and emotionally. “If you feel anger or stress building up internally during a conflict or in reaction to your partner’s statements, leave the situation if possible,” Wenger says.

3. Relieve your stress: When you remove yourself from the situation, try to do something soothing or comforting. Wenger suggests:

4. Don’t lose your self-esteem: Unfortunately, abuse can harm your overall well-being. Be sure to engage in activities that affirm your identity and a positive view of yourself, Wenger says.

5. Talk to someone you trust: After dealing with a fight or abuse, you may want to reach out to someone you trust to process your feelings and voice your concerns rather than react to your partner, Wenger says. This can prevent giving your abuser the satisfaction that you are reacting to him and that he gets this “proof”.

6. Work with a therapist: “Individual therapy is important for managing your emotions, getting professional support, and maintaining your self-esteem,” says Wenger. If possible, getting your partner into therapy so they can address their unhealthy behaviors can be very beneficial. Of course, couples therapy is also a great option.

Insider’s Takeaways

Reactive violence occurs when a victim reacts to the behavior of their abuser once they have reached their breaking point, which may involve them insulting, yelling, or hurting their partner.

Ultimately, it is a vicious cycle with the potential for danger. If you’re being abused, Wenger says it’s important to let someone know what’s going on, whether it’s a loved one, a friend, a family member. family or a health professional. Do not suffer in silence.

If you need immediate assistance, do not hesitate to contact a domestic violence hotline for help and resources.


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