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Am I the Toxic Partner? Things You Need to Know About Reactive Abuse

by | Jan 17, 2023 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

TINY - Pins - Short (1) (1)Toxic relationships are based on all kinds of abuse that can cause victims to become withdrawn, but what happens when you find yourself lashing out against your abuser?

Does this make you toxic too?

I asked this question in my support group, and one of my members commented with this term:

Reactive Abuse.

I had never heard of this before, so I had to dig deeper and Google “reactive abuse meaning.”

What I found explained so much of what I had gone through with my ex.

I had become a screaming, insane rage monster during our relationship, and while I knew it was because I was angry, I never realized that it was intentional on his part.

So if you feel like you are or were the toxic one in the abusive relationship, keep reading to learn more about reactive abuse and how to deal with it:

What is Reactive Abuse?

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Reactive abuse, often made worse by underlying mental health issues, occurs when a victim reacts to the abuse they are receiving, frequently reaching a breaking point, and may involve lashing out in anger and even physical violence.

Subsequently, the abuser manipulatively turns the tables, accusing the victim of being the abuser.

In some cases, abusers deliberately provoke their victims, pushing them to their breaking point and exploiting their emotional and mental health vulnerabilities, all with the intention of shifting blame onto the victim.

A Method of Manipulation

Manipulative behavior is a way for an abuser to exercise power and control over a person and situation. This manipulation often involves tactics associated with narcissistic abuse.

So, when an abuser tells you that they are the ones being abused, they are manipulating you into believing that the abuse is your fault.

They are conditioning you to accept the blame (also known as “blame-shifting”) so that you believe your reactive outbursts are your fault – and you may start to believe that you deserve the abuse you receive from your partner.

Eventually, you may come to believe that you are the toxic one in the relationship. This insidious manipulation can perpetuate the cycle of emotional abuse, leaving the victim feeling trapped and powerless.

Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding is a toxic relationship cycle that forces the victim to become co-dependent on the abuser and goes hand-in-hand with reactive abuse.

This cycle involves the repetition of abuse and love-bombing (affectionate behavior, apologies, etc.) that leads the victim to believe that they deserve the abuse, so they stay.

Trauma bonding can easily push the victim to their breaking point and cause them to lash out reactively.

Reactive Abuse Versus Mutual Abuse

Mutual abuse occurs when both partners are equally abusive to one another, but it’s very rare, and many experts don’t even believe it exists.

In toxic relationships characterized by power and control dynamics, it’s nearly impossible for both partners to be genuinely abusive.

Instead, you often find a dynamic of emotional abuse, where one partner manipulates and exploits the other, often leading to reactive outbursts in response to the ongoing abuse.

Why Do Narcissists Use Reactive Abuse?

Toxic people and narcissists use reactive abuse to “prove” that you are mentally unstable and/or mentally ill, particularly in the context of an abusive relationship.

They will hold your reactions against you, even years after the fact, making you feel like the victim of abuse.

This is all a ploy for the narcissist to avoid responsibility for abusing you. Instead of admitting that they treat you terribly, they provoke you to react and then call you the abuser.

Reactive Abuse Patterns

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Reactive abuse is a complex psychological phenomenon characterized by three distinct phases: Antagonism, proof, and table-turning.

During the Antagonism phase, the individual subjected to abuse behaviors may respond defensively or confrontationally in an attempt to protect themselves.

The Proof phase often involves the victim seeking evidence or validation of their feelings, and the Table-turning phase may emerge as a coping mechanism over the long term, where the victim shifts blame or control dynamics as a means of survival.

Let’s take a look at these more closely:


This stage is the groundwork for reactive abuse, the provoking and prodding that gets under the victim’s skin.

It usually starts small and is often unnoticeable, but over time the abuser increases the intensity of these behaviors, focusing on things that trigger you.

During this time, the abuser may also gaslight the victim, which can further push the victim over the edge.


Eventually, the victim loses their cool and snaps, which is exactly what the abuser wants.

Now they have “proof” that the victim is the emotionally unstable one in the relationship and that they are the actual victim of abuse.


In the final stage of reactive abuse, the abuser will point the finger at the victim and say, “See! You’re the crazy one! I’m the one being abused!”

They will tell the victim, and anyone who will listen, that the victim is unhinged and they only behave the way they do to defend themselves.

Reactive Abuse Examples

Here are some examples of reactive abuse shared by Reddit users:

Does Reactive Abuse Make You An Abuser?


Reactive abuse is actually a form of self-defense.

When you react abusively, you are not starting a physically or emotionally aggressive action but defending yourself from one.

This all has to do with your mind’s flight-or-fight response to stress and danger. Your stress hormones are reacting against your abuser, and you can either fight or flee.

Many people end up trapped in abusive and toxic relationships, so fleeing doesn’t feel like an option. Sure, you can go to another room, but over time this is not going to diminish the way you are being poorly treated.

Instead, you instinctively fight back as a way to survive the abuse.

How to Stop Reactive Abuse

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It’s not likely that you will be able to change the abuser’s behaviors, this is something they must change on their own, and abusers (especially narcissists) don’t believe that they are doing anything wrong.

So, stopping reactive abuse has more to do with how you think and act.

Here are some ways that you can disable your abuser and end reactive abuse:

Leave the Relationship

First of all, you can end the relationship. Leaving a toxic relationship can be difficult, but it’s the best way to stop reactive abuse.

Your toxic ex may try to win you back, but it’s important to remember that you deserve to be treated well and that they will never change.

Talk to Someone

Talk to someone that you trust about your situation. They can provide support, and this can help those around you better understand the change in your personality.

If you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to, you can always seek professional help.

Look into government-funded mental health programs or budget-friendly online options. You can also contact a domestic abuse hotline or other public services to seek help.

The National Domestic Hotline is open 24/7 and can be reached by phone (800-799-7233), by text (text LOVEIS to 22522), or through a live chat on their website.


If you can’t get out of the relationship right away, you can start ignoring your abuser and leaving the room when they begin to instigate you.

Ignoring the way your toxic partner treats you is easier said than done, but the more you can fortify yourself against their nonsense, the less reactive you will be to the abuse.

Remember that they are purposely saying things to upset you and not speaking the truth. Remind yourself that what they say doesn’t matter.

How to Get Over Reactive Abuse

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If you are at the receiving end of reactive abuse, you may develop trauma and long-term stress over time, which can lead to emotional and psychological issues.

Long periods of stress can also take a toll on your body and lead to physical issues as well.

Eventually, you may start second-guessing everything about yourself, convinced that either the abuse didn’t happen or that you deserved it.

In order to heal from reactive abuse, you must begin by facing the abuse you suffered and then work through any feelings of shame and guilt you have because of your outbursts.

You need to accept that you were treated poorly and that your behaviors were prompted by the situation and not something you chose to do.

You are not to blame for reactive abuse because, again, it’s a form of self-defense. Deep down, you were not trying to hurt your toxic partner, you were trying to protect yourself.

If you find it difficult to heal from the reactive abuse and move on from the shame and guilt, you should speak to a professional who can help you through the process.

Reactive Abuse Meaning

Now that you know what reactive abuse is, I hope that you can better understand the situation you were in and why you behaved the way you did.

Reactive abuse is a defense mechanism and a point of rage that is purposely instigated by an abuser.

You are not to blame for the way you acted!

By dealing with the shame and guilt, you can begin to rebuild the perception you have of yourself and begin to see the awesome person you are.

Have you dealt with reactive abuse? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below:

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