Why Was I Abused? Part Two: Targeted and Exploited by an Abuser
This is Part Two of the Why Was I Abused series. Part One is here.
After reading Part One, I hope you’ve stopped going down the back hole of self-blame and trying to understand why you “chose” an abuser. (If you haven’t read it yet, spoiler alert: you didn’t choose an abuser.) And I hope you’ve realized that co-dependency didn’t cause your abuse.
There seems to be a big temptation to profile victims so they’ll fit into a nice category, but victims comes from every race, religion, and income level, every type of background and childhood, and every temperament. This is just another example of putting the responsibility for abuse on the woman and taking the focus off the abuser, as I mentioned in Part One.
So how did I end up being abused?
You were abused because you were targeted by a character disordered, skilled abuser.
Everyone is vulnerable to covert abusers because they are experts at their game, just like a con man who swindles so many people. They’re so skilled at fooling and exploiting others that almost anyone can be duped.
How many people in your life believe your abuser’s a great guy? Probably almost all of them. Are they all co-dependent? I doubt it. Do they all have the traits that you blame yourself for having that “caused you to be abused?” I doubt that too.
Covert psychological abuse victims are conned into a relationship by an expert deceiver who presents a false persona to fool her into trusting him.
Why was I targeted?
We don’t attract abusers because of something wrong with us, we are targeted by abusers because of things that are right with us!
Victims are usually:
~ good natured
~ emotionally giving
~ truth seeking
~ hardworking in relationships
We have a big heart, put others first, want to understand people, and tend to think the best about others. We are highly responsible and committed to working through things, and have been taught to turn the other cheek.
Some abusers will target women who are very strong and confident because they like the power trip that comes from destroying their strength and self-esteem.
All these good qualities made us vulnerable to be exploited by a man with evil intentions, but they are wonderful to have with healthy people! We live in a crazy, upside down world where our goodness makes us vulnerable.
Just because you have traits that an abuser used against you doesn’t mean that you “attracted” an abuser or enabled the abuse.
We do have work to do on ourselves though
Although you are not at fault in any way for being targeted and exploited by the abuser, you do need to gain awareness about what increases your vulnerability. Part of healing is to take an honest look at yourself to see where you need to toughen up and get smart around unsafe people.
Since getting smart means identifying how they might use you, let’s look at a few ways these good traits are exploited.
Our trust is exploited
Abusers know we want to get things right in relationships and that we easily doubt what we can’t prove, and they use this against us. Covert abuse is very hard to prove, so we are kept in doubt and abuse for years and even decades.
Therefore, we need to believe that there are evil people out to exploit us.
We need to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt and stop believing they aren’t hiding malicious purposes.
We need to stop doubting and blaming ourselves for suspecting negative intentions.
We need to trust ourselves when our gut tells us someone is unsafe.
It’s time to stop thinking that making a negative judgment about others means we are callous, insensitive, and mean.
Being innocent until proven guilty is only applicable in a court of law, and living this way kills our intuition.
Our conscientiousness is exploited
We are given the role of the responsible party in the relationship; responsible to make the a marriage work entirely on our own, responsible for the problems in the marriage, responsible for keeping the peace, and on and on. Because no wife can “save” an abusive marriage, we can’t succeed, and then we also become responsible for the failure of the marriage.
Our compassion is exploited
Many psychologists, as well as our pop culture, teach us that our abuser is only treating us this way because he’s broken and wounded. There are times that he will also use this as an excuse. Because we have compassion, we try to “help” him for years and decades, which is an impossible task because he’s not interested in changing. His abuse does not come from woundedness but from entitlement and a lack of empathy.
Our niceness is exploited
Some victims have qualities that aren’t helpful in any relationship, even healthy ones, such as being a “nice,” submissive woman, or a people pleaser. (Remember, you can be a people pleaser and not be co-dependent.)
It can take us years to see the covert abuse and then more years to set boundaries or leave. The abuser takes advantage of our desire to be nice by manipulating us into tolerating abuse and confusion by accusing us of being unreasonable when we set boundaries.
Our wounds are exploited
Some victims have wounds from growing up in a dysfunctional home or being abused as a child. Even though these were exploited by the covert abuser, they didn’t cause the abuse. But to live a peaceful life, these wounds need to be healed.
Remember, many women who are people pleasers, or who were abused as a child, never get involved with an abuser! Neither of these things caused your abuse– the abuser caused it.
What are some other qualities that are exploited?
As you look through this list, try not to accuse yourself for having these traits. You probably have many friends who also have these traits who never ended up being abused. These traits didn’t cause your abuse!
Examine yourself for:
Naïveté: Do you think everyone (including an abuser) is like you inside with the same thoughts, motives, moral character, and conscience? Do you not want to accept that there are people who are cunning and devious? Do you consistently give others the benefit of the doubt, believe excuses, and remain hesitant to identify evil intentions? Do you think that everyone means what they say? Do you believe them when they deny manipulating you?
Trying too hard understand other people: Do you believe that uncovering and understanding the reasons for your abuser’s behavior will make things different? Do you assume people only do hurtful things if there is a legitimate, understandable reason? Do you get so wrapped up in trying to understand what’s going on that you forget the simple truth that he is fighting for control over you and you need to protect and empower yourself?
Confusing interest with caring: Do you believe that because someone is interested in you or desires you (for what they will get out of it) that means that they care about you?
The following are some traits that you may have had before the relationship but that most likely got stronger and stronger because the abuser did everything he could to take away your power and develop these traits in you so you would become more and more vulnerable to him.
Some of these overlap with the co-dependency model, but they are also common for women raised in our sexist society, and in the church. You can have these traits without being co-dependent.
Over conscientiousness: Are you harder on yourself than anybody else? Do you give others the benefit of the doubt? If someone hurts you are you much too ready to see their side of things and too willing to blame yourself when they go on the attack or are on the defensive? Are you easily ashamed and do you often feel guilty?
Low self-confidence: Are you self-doubting and chronically unsure of your right to pursue your legitimate wants and needs? Do you lack confidence about your ability to face conflicts directly and resolve them effectively (with healthy people, not abusers)?
Low self-reliance: Do you trust your gut feelings? Do you trust your own judgment and reactions? Have your decision-making abilities been diminished?
External locus of control: Do you think that things that happen to you in life are more under the control of others, or of factors outside of yourself, than under your own control? Do you think that there’s very little you can do to influence or change your life?
Emotional dependency: Do you have a submissive personality and a fear of independence and autonomy? Do you have a fear of abandonment?
Lack of assertiveness and inability to say no: Does saying no make you feel guilty, anxious and uncomfortable?
Shame based self image: Do you feel inadequate, unable, unworthy and unlovable?
People pleasing habits and mindsets: Are you controlled by your need to please others, even desperate to have the approval and acceptance of others? Does your identity hinge on being a nice person? Do you think that fulfilling needs of others gains you love, self-worth and protection from abandonment and rejection? Do you identify more with being nice than being real?
A fear of negative emotions: Are you driven by conflict avoidance?
The vanishing self: Do you not know who you really are and what you really stand for (outside of what you do for other people)? Almost all abuse survivors experience this and need to rediscover themselves in the process of healing. Many did not feel this way before the abuse.
Christian women are especially vulnerable
As you may have noticed when you were reading this list, many of the doctrines you have been taught in Christianity create beliefs that make you vulnerable. The church’s blindness to evil, and belief that anyone who claims to be a Christian is truly following Christ, encourages naiveté.
Many women of faith are taught that being a “Godly woman” means taking on traits that are similar to co-dependency– not being allowed to have strong boundaries, being subservient and dependent on their husband, being a people pleaser, having a “quiet spirit,” being long-suffering in the hopes that grace will fix the abuser.
The process of unlearning the false doctrine you’ve been taught, and experiencing who Jesus really is and what He really teaches, will help dissolve these lies. Jesus wants you to be fully you in all your strength and empowerment as a woman. And He doesn’t want you to be abused. Ever.
So how do you heal?
There’s no quick fix but healing is possible!
There are many different aspects of healing. Here are a few:
Letting yourself off the hook by understanding and accepting that you were deceived by a skilled con man who also deceived many others in your life. You need to put the responsibility for the abuse onto the abuser and release yourself from any false responsibility that you’ve taken on.
Getting the abuser’s voice and mindset out of your head. You can begin by journaling and looking for lies you believe and replacing them with truth.
Getting re-acquainted with who you are and seeing yourself accurately. I believe you’ll find that you are a loving, caring, patient woman who had these wonderful qualities used against you, and that you don’t want to lose these qualities because you see that they are good.
Learning to embrace these wonderful qualities while keeping yourself safe, through strong boundaries, from those who would use them against you.
Accepting that the coping strategies you used are not your fault and no longer serve you.
Healing from how the abuse affected you and changed you. This includes healing from PTSD, timidity, indecision, fear of speaking up for yourself, self-doubt, self-blame and the tremendous cognitive dissonance you have lived with.
Learning about how trauma affects your brain and neurobiological techniques to help the brain heal.
Give, but don’t allow yourself to be used
Love, but don’t allow your heart to be abused
Trust, but don’t be naive
Listen, but don’t lose your own voice.
Do you have work to do on yourself? Absolutely. So does everyone else, even those who have never been abused.
Do you need to learn to set boundaries, to lose your naiveté about predators, to find your voice, and to rediscover yourself? Sure.
But were you responsible for choosing an abuser? NO.