On Writing Abusive Relationships

The subject matter of this post is a bit serious, but… it’s nothing I haven’t mentioned here before.

I thought that writing about certain character types I’ve gained experience writing over the years was a good idea and… I decided to start with this one because not only is it quite a touchy subject, but I’d honestly like to see people get more creative and open minded about it.

Be warned that this will be a long-ish post and will obviously touch on some story points I’ve covered previously here, so… If you just want to get to the point, scroll down until you see bullet points. ^^”

My RP character, Luckas, is in an abusive relationship.

Now this statement when made to some people whilst discussing my RP has led to some skeptical responses because a) Luckas is a man and his abuser, Sam, is a woman, b) there is no physical abuse the way they see it (I beg to differ and I’ll explain why), c) Luckas is a sadist and a serial killer and apparently that justifies her being a crazy obsessive child molester (okay, I need to take this less personal >.>).

*sigh* Let me elaborate.

Luckas and his brother were abandoned/sold to this cult when they were around 3-4 years old. Sam’s father ran that cult at the time, however, Sam was already a little psycho in the making at only 12 years old. The Order (said cult, and no; no relation to Silent Hill whatsoever, I didn’t even know about SH when I came up with it), what they do is take ‘pure subjects’, that is with no magical affinity in their bloodline, and imprint them with magic.

The process in itself is painful as heck and has a very small survival rate for starters, but should one survive they are put through a process referred to as ‘conditioning’, in which they are isolated and basically tortured into giving up their will. Little 3 year old Luckas was imprinted by a 12 year old Sam. He was her first ‘subject’ and she became EXTREMELY, uhm, let’s say attached, to him because of it.

While he was going through conditioning, Sam would visit Luckas and his brother, in fact… She didn’t know their names and so she started calling them Luckas and Matthew and those are the only names they could remember after some time… She was literally the only person in the world that didn’t hurt or hate them and so she gained Luke’s trust very easily. In his mind, at that time, Sam was the only person to ever love him. He was entirely dependent on her.

Luckas was ‘rescued’ at age 9 and he and Matthew were sent to the city orphanage. He and Sam were separated after that and he only recently saw her again after believing she had been killed. Their reunion took place after Luckas ‘rejoined’ The Order with the intent of bringing them down. He jumped through some pretty nasty hoops in order to meet their “Master” only to discover that it had been Sam behind them all along. Since avenging her death was one of the reasons he was there and he was now discovering that she was the one responsible for all his torment, Luckas was clearly messed up in the head, however, Sam was quickly able to convince him that she was acting on her father’s command back then and that she did everything she could to protect him. Now let me tell where the creepy part begins… Yeah, all of this wasn’t the creepy part yet.

After they had their little reunion Luckas went to sleep. His clothes were filthy from an altercation he’d had earlier in the day so he stripped them and got into bed. Next morning Luckas woke up and Sam was in his bed watching him sleep; despite the fact his door had been locked. When he questioned her on this she assured him she ‘hadn’t seen anything’ and that it was her house, therefore she had all the keys. Luckas learned to never ever sleep naked in that house, for more than one reason, but also that was the first of many instances of Sam going into his room while he’s sleeping to watch him. She constantly touches him without his consent; and here I will call it physical abuse because Luckas has touch-phobia and she KNOWS it makes him uncomfortable, but does it under the pretense he ‘never said it wasn’t okay’.

Now, the reason for this lengthy explanation was to point out the fact that writing an abusive relationship is not something limited to spousal abuse, it’s not limited to physical violence, and it’s certainly not limited to a male abuser and a female victim. Luckas shows every trait of an abuse victim. He’s clearly in denial of the fact Sam is harmful to him, he frequently makes excuses for her behavior, both to himself and others, he can be easily persuaded by her that the hurtful things she does are in fact his fault, and last but certainly not least… Despite the fact he has someone else in his life who is everything she isn’t and who actually makes him feel comfortable and safe, he keeps going back to her on a regular basis. He feels almost physically ill being in that house, but he goes back anyway.

On the other side of this little equation we have Sam. Sam believes she loves Luckas. I believe that, to her definition of love, that’s one hundred percent the truth. She believes that if not for her he’d be dead and; again, that is the absolute truth. However she believes that because of this she is allowed to own him. That she is entitled to every part of him. Whether he likes it or not. And on some level she’s managed to convince him of that as well.

And no, Sam’s not made any actual sexual advances on Luke so far, but I strongly believe that between his childhood and their current ‘quality time’ together, she broke him to a point that, if she wanted to make them, he wouldn’t be able to stop her; even if he wanted to.

Okay, with that long story out of the way, here’s my take on writing abusive relationships:

– There is a difference between sadistic and abusive behavior. Now, one doesn’t exclude the other, but they are different things. A sadist wants to inflict pain on the other person. An abuser is not necessarily in it to cause pain, maybe they don’t believe they are causing pain or any form of harm, what they want is to exert control over the other person. A relationship doesn’t need to be physical, or even violent, to constitute abuse. A relationship where one party is made by the other to be completely dependent on them is by itself abusive. A relationship where one party is conditioned to not see their own worth apart from the other, is in itself an abusive relationship. It’s not necessary for one character to cause physical pain or harm to be considered an abuser.

– The psychological aspect needs to speak louder than anything else. You want your readers to feel trapped in that situation as well and not react with “pfft, he/she could just walk away from that!”. It has to be done in such a way that even when they are apart the abused character feels the other’s presence, feels their eyes on them, their voice in the back of their mind. You can’t just walk away from that kind of mental scar. This is important, most of all, when there is physical or sexual violence involved. You have to show the readers that this person has been broken to a point when they are unable to react to being brutalized in a way we all believe is normal which is to fight back; to leave. They can’t. If you put all the focus on the violence you’ll aggravate your readers because they’ll want the victim to react and it’s not happening.

– You have to be able to see both sides. This is advice I give with a bit of caution, because I’ve had at least one RP story that I had to quit because I couldn’t play that abusive character anymore. It was affecting me psychologically BECAUSE I was able to relate to him so well. I felt sick about it and I had to give up writing him. I don’t have that problem with Sam, I can write from her perspective, I believe, very convincingly and I can relate to her, but I don’t feel as ill about it… Because I hate her with a fury. I don’t see her as someone as human as that other character was. Sam is past the point of saving, she’s rotten down to her core.

But what I was saying, about seeing both sides, is don’t make your abuser a one-dimensional ‘he/she’s EVIL’ kind of thing. You don’t have to justify the abuse – Abuse is not excusable or justifiable – but you should show what that person see their abuse as. In their mind what do they believe they’re doing to this other person? Sam believes she loves Luckas, that she’s going to make him stronger, that she’s going to save him by keeping him under her control. And she does pine for him at times, you see that she clearly has feelings for him; twisted as they are. That’s important. You don’t have to love that character or make them likable, you only have to give them depth; show their emotions, however twisted and misguided they may be.

– Your victim does not have to be weak, passive, fragile, whatever. I don’t consider Luckas to be a weak character. He’s not. He’s a force to be reckoned with 99.9% of the time. He’d kill someone for looking at him or his Lady the wrong way. He’s a hunter. He’s a smart and effective killer… He’s near goddamn fearless. When Sam becomes involved though he reverts back to a frightened child. It’s not something he can control, and it’s not something easy for him to admit to himself, even less fight. And I’ve gotten comments along the lines of “Oh, Luckas will freak out if anyone touches him, why can’t he just tell Sam to piss off?”. He can’t. Or rather, he couldn’t; he’s starting to currently. He’s afraid to. He’s afraid that she’ll leave him even though he hates her, because in some part of his mind her leaving means being alone. And that’s what it comes down to. What is that person’s deepest fear and how can it be used to control them? What does it take to put them on a leash?

I think, honestly, people have this notion that one can’t be abused if they’re strong enough to overpower their abuser, that if they’re mentally/emotionally competent, or strong willed, that it can’t happen to them. And you know, that’s completely not fucking true. The moment you surrender trust to another person they can bend you or break you if they’re ill intentioned. And, especially if you love them, or if they can convince you that they love you, you’ll not see it for what it is. I think translating that into fiction is important and people often overlook it.

Anyway, that’s my take on things. Take it as you will. 🙂

B.B

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