In an abuse situation, there is an abuser(s), a victim(s), and often a third party who does or does not rescue the victim. For people who experienced abuse as children, these roles feel familiar and are compelling. When we have grown up in a home with abuse, we tend to fall into these roles in our adult relationships. These roles may feel compelling even when there is no actual abuse taking place. In a relationship between two adults who were abused as children, both people in the relationship are vulnerable to playing at least one of these roles, if not two or three. All three roles can also play out in our relationships with our children.
Someone is being abused and I must rescue them or I am morally culpable as a Bystander. If I do not rescue them, bad things will happen to them and it will be my fault.
Due to my actions, someone else is experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In the moment of my actions, I am either oblivious to the impact of my actions on the person I am abusing and/or I actively want to cause them harm. I may feel in that moment that I am fighting the abusive actions or words of the one I am abusing.
I am being abused by someone else. I feel helpless to stop it. I feel my only choices are to submit to the abuser, dissociate and/or freeze. My lack of choice may be either because 1) someone else is actively coercing me or because 2) I am emotionally unable due to leave the situation or otherwise protect myself in that moment due to my trauma history.