Is there something in the victim that the perpetrator latches on to? And do women ‘attract’ abusers?
Some people think there is something in the victim that the perpetrator latches on to, otherwise he wouldn’t have someone to abuse.
Is this true?
Another, perhaps more hurtful way of putting this idea is that victims need to work on why they attract that sort of dynamic.
Women often feel great shame because they believe they somehow attracted the abuse.
Here are my thoughts in progress… which may be subject to change. The points are not ranked in significance, they are just my thoughts.
1) I admire the book by Joanne Robinson called He Loves Me Not? [*affiliate link] (You can see my review of it on Amazon UK.) Joanne’s ministry is to Christian women who are tired of having disappointing, destructive or heartbreaking relationships. Some of these women have formerly been in abusive relationships, either marriages, dating, or boyfriend/girlfriend. Joanne herself experienced an abusive relationship in the past, so she doesn’t look down on survivors, she empathizes with them.
One of the things I appreciate about Joanne’s book is that she combines the principles of discipleship and relationship-recovery in a gentle way that is appropriate for many women. Readers of her book may discover that it not only helps them heal from the disappointments, it helps them in their desire to find and maintain a healthy relationship in the future. This is not to blame women who have been through abusive relationships; nor is it to say “They attract abusive men!” It’s simply acknowledging that personal growth – which as Christians we call discipleship – is a good thing to be doing, and there are specific areas of growth that are beneficial to women who’ve had bad relationships with men.
2) The psychiatrist Robert Hare, who is an expert on psychopathology, says that a psychopath can pull the wool over absolutely ANYONE’S eyes. Who am I to question him? Nor do I wish to question his statement, because it fits well with my experience and the reports of so many survivors. So it’s not the victim’s fault that she got targeted or sucked in. He (the abuser) deceived her.
3) But it appears true that abusers tend to target women who have lower self confidence or have been previously traumatized. An abuser often tests a woman out very subtly to see whether she has strong or weak boundaries, whether and how far she tolerates mild disrespect. (Read Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear [*affiliate link] chapter one for a brilliant and chilling account of this.) Women who are more complaisant and willing to please are easier targets; it seems that abusers tend to go for them, whether instinctively or with full cognizance I don’t know, but they do.
3) But we also hear stories of emotionally healthy, confident and un-traumatized women who get targeted, trapped and severely damaged by abusers. So in my opinion it’s wrong to say, “There is something in the victim that the perpetrator latches on to”. Sometimes this might be so, but not always. And I would never say, “These women need to work on why they attract that sort of dynamic.” That is blaming the victim, no matter how much you deny it. It blames the victim because the victim in that sentence is the agent of the active verb – she attracts, meaning she is the one doing the attracting. And that is not true. I don’t believe any victim deliberately sets about attracting abuse. We want to be loved and to give love. That’s all.
Rather than telling a survivor: “You need to work on why you attract that sort of dynamic,” it would be better to say:
“Perhaps, only perhaps, there is something in you, some natural quality or way of thinking, that the abuser saw and utilized against you…
[In that sentence, the abuser is the agent of the active verbs, not the victim:– he saw, he utilized.] … If that is the case, it might be worth working out what aspects of your personality he manipulated, so you can try to protect yourself against it happening again. However, there are no absolute guarantees that you can prevent it re-occurring, because abusers are so skilled at camouflage.”
* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link