In one of my classes, we are currently talking about Domestic Violence and a discussion ensued yesterday regarding whether or not victims love themselves prior to getting into a relationship with the abuser.
Some of my students said you can love yourself, but still fall for the abuser because of their manipulation, idolization, and mask they wear. Others said that only someone who didn’t love themselves would fall for that…would be vulnerable to their attention.
But, here’s the thing: abusers are smart. They are predators. They know how to bait their hooks and trap their prey. NO ONE would stay with a person who beat them on the first date! Of course not! All of my students say they would never ever stay with an abuser, but the truth is that many of them might do just that because what they don’t realize is how insidious the abuse is. Abusers start out by idolizing you. Making you feel like you’re the most special person in the world who can share anything and everything with them. They are your soul-mate and once that’s felt, the hook has been set. The next step is chipping away at what confidence, esteem, and love they have for themselves; slowly these things are chiseled away and the abuser is getting you to a place where you aren’t who you used to be. They are devaluing you…making you feel less than…and eventually, your emotional/psychological boundaries have been compromised. Also, that stuff you felt you could share with them? That’s being used against you now. They know your ‘weak spots’ and will use them any way they can. Then, physical boundaries start to be tested. A grab here. A push there. All the while seeing what your reaction is.
Have you ever heard the myth of a frog in boiling water? It goes like this: put a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll squeal and do anything he can to hop out. BUT, put him in tepid water and turn the heat up very low to where the boiling is a process. Because it’s so slow, the frog never fights it. It’s in an environment that slowly becomes natural to them.
Now, even though I truly believe that anyone can be a victim of abuse by an abuser, I do believe that vulnerability to abusers can be attributed to different things.
- First, I do think situations we go through can make us more needful of attention. Partnership. Togetherness. It can validate someone who’s been rejected. Abandoned. Although we all need our own internal sense of self and self-love, external experience of this is important to us too.
- I also believe certain emotional traits can be seen in victims. In this article, by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, he says that women of DV often:
- have a poor self image
- have low self-esteem
- believe, unrealistically, they can change their abuser
- feel a sense of powerlessness
- believe that jealousy is ‘proof’ of love
- Along with this, I believe personality traits can be tied to victimization too. For example, people who are highly empathic have more sensitivity…they can align themselves with people more and feel with everything they have inside of them. It’s more than just their heart that feels…it’s all of them that feels. They are capable of giving so much in a relationship, and might believe that their care and love will ‘fix’ an abuser. A great book to read regarding this is: The Empaths Survival Guide by Judith Orloff.
- I’m a huge believer in the MBTI (You can take a free, online test and learn more about this assessment tool here: Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and feel there are some aspects of personality as described by the MBTI that could be correlated to DV:
- Extroverts – extroverts often have difficulty with boundaries and let people in more easily than others.
- Introverts – are often more isolated which is something attractive to abusers. Also, they are more prone to depression and may also take on more blame because of ruminating over the situation and seeing blame in themselves.
- Intuitionists – although you would think people with strong intuition would be BETTER at determining someone could be abusive, I believe (based on my own experience) that the gut feelings instead say things like this: “But, I know there’s a good person in there!” “I can tell they are suffering too, and I just need to figure them out.”
- Feelers – feelers tend to make decisions based more on a personal, emotional level (thinking with their hearts more than their heads) and tend to personalize situations which can lead them to feeling guilt or culpability in abusive situations.
- In terms of mental disorders/illnesses, I think the following can be tied into victimization:
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Dependent Personality Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
- I also study a lot about attachment. The attachment babies make to their first caregiver, usually their mothers, makes the ‘framework’ for all other future attachments. This attachment can be secure or insecure:
- Secure attachment makes the baby, and then later adult feel that:
- They’re lovable as they are
- They are important and valued
- They are worth protection and understanding
- They are safe
- Obviously, my belief is those with insecure attachments (one being the avoidant type and the other being the ambivalent type) don’t see the value, worth, and loveableness they have and will stay with an abuser out of insecurity and perhaps the feeling that they don’t deserve any better.
- Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that people who grow up in abusive homes have a much higher chance of becoming abusers, or victims, themselves. In the PBS documentary No Safe Place, it’s said: “We (also) know that women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called ‘battered women’s syndrome’. Such women may come to believe there is nothing they can do to get out of an abusive relationship.”
So, the answer to understanding the ‘whys’ behind women and abuse are complicated, and can be a combination of everything above, or circumstances unique to the victim themselves.