There is a phenomena that occurs among victims of abuse - for some reason, if you've once been an abuse victim, you are more likely to be abused in the future than someone who has never been a victim of abuse. There are various theories as to why one person ends up as a victim of abuse while other people are not victims. Some people believe that once a person has been abused, they adopt certain almost imperceptible habits, motions, body movements, or traits that an abuser is sensitive to. Some people believe that an abuser "selects" the victim based upon character traits the victim possesses that the abuser desires or is envious of. Some people believe that victims see a need or trait in the abuser that the victim is drawn toward, such as someone who "needs to be taken care of" or whom the victim feels they can help or "save". Some of these theories overlap, but the only thing that these theories seem to agree upon is that "victims" typically share one or more certain qualities or character traits, which for whatever reason tend to make them more likely to be victimized. I have searched for years for reasons I have been abused by one abuser after another - I've searched for something to help me understand WHY. The information that follows is by no means conclusive. However, it may provide some insight into some characteristics that are common in victims, and it may offer victims some sort of hope that they indeed did not do anything to "ask for" the abuse; victims are typically loving, compassionate individuals - they do not cause the abuse - they are, simply, victims.
According to Marie-France Hirigoyen in Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity "...It's common to hear it said of a person who has been victimized that they were predisposed to the condition, because of either weakness or character deviciences...on the contrary...victims are generally chosen for the positive qualities they have, which the abuser then seeks to appropriate.
"Why is the victim chosen? Because she is there, and for an unspecified reason becomes troublesome... She is only of interest to the seducer/abuser when she can be used or seduced. She becomes an object of hate as soon as she tries to work her way free or has nothing left to give... The nature of an abusive attack lies in aiming at the other's vulnerability, where weakness or pathology exists. Every individual exposes a weak point that the abuser will hammer away at...An abuser shows tremendous intuition about where the weaknesses lie, finding how best to hurt and wound. In some cases, the fault can be exactly the one a victim refuses to acknowledge in herself... [non-physical] Abusive violence confronts the victim with her fault and/or forgotton childhood traumas... the victim, once the hold over her occurs, does not have the psychological means to behave otherwise: she is paralyzed..."
"In an abusive relationship, the balanced equation disappears, replaced by the dominance of one partner over the other and the impotence of the subjected partner to react and stop the struggle. This is primarily why we are dealing with real attacks on a person's identity. By previously establishing control the power to say NO was taken away. Everything is dictated with no possibility for negotiation. The victim swept into an abusive situation tries to protect herself... 'Every individual wavers between a desire for independence and control, and a childish need to regain a condition of dependence, irresponsibility, and therefore, innocence.' The victim's basic mistake lies in not suspecting or fully appreciating the violence of the non-verbal messages. She reads the messages too literally, without translating what is actually said... Not only do victims suffer...but they are ashwmed of not being able to defend themselves...when they finally succeed wtih great effort in separating themselves, [they] feel a great sense of relief and tremendous liberation... They fall into the abuser's game during long periods because they are vital human beings and want to give, even the impossible task of giving life to an abuser: 'With me, he'll change!'"
"This energy is accompanied by a certain fragility. Despite throwing themselves into the hopeless task of 'resurrecting the dead', they feel uncertain of their own strength and become almost defiant in their course of action. They have to prove they are strong and capable because of their self-doubt and vulnerability. This makes them especially susceptible during the seduction phase, when the abuser validates them and increases their feeling of self-worth. Later on, their stubbornness becomes dangerous. They refuse to give up on the abuser because they cannot imagine that there's no solution and that change cannot be expected...they would feel guilty abandoning their partner."
"...In order to destabilize and unsettle someone, fostering and encouraging feelings of blame and self-doubt is an obvious and effective procedure... The ideal victim is a conscientious person with a natural tendency to blame herself... These people love order at work and in their relationships; they devote themselves to the people they care most about but hesitate to accept favors from others. The attachment to order and the desire to do good leads these people to assume more work than the average; this gives them a good conscience, but also makes them feel stretched to the limit with work and responsibilities... win the other's love by giving and putting themselves at his disposal; they also experience great satisfaction in being useful and giving pleasure. Narcissistic abusers take advantage of the situation. Victims can't tolerate misunderstandings and awkwardnesses, which they try to clear up. When difficulties pile up, they increase their efforts, feel overtaken by events, feel bguilty, work harder and harder, get exhausted, become less effecient and, finally, in a vicious circle, feel more and more guilty. They'll go so far as to accuse themselves: 'It's my fault if my partner is unhappy or abusive'. If an error is committed, they'll assume the blame. This overexaggerated conscience is linked to fear of failure which, together with remorse, causes them to suffer deeply and intensely."
"They [victims] are equally vulnerable to other people's criticisms and judgments even when they aren't valid, and they continually justify themselves. Abusers, sensing this weakness, take delight in instilling doubt. 'Maybe I was unconsciously guilty of what he's accusing me of?' Even if the accusations are unfiar, they are no longer sure of their facts and ask themselves if they shouldn't assume the blame anyway. Both abuser and his vicim behave in an extreme fashion. Their critical faculties become unbalanced, intensifying outwardly for the abuser and inwardly for the victim. The victims virtually asssume the other's guilt. They internalize the abusive element attacking them: the look, the gestures, and the words. The narcissistic abusers are able to project their guilt onto the victim. Denial is the only weapon an abuser needs to create doubt after an attack. In order to verify after the fact what has happened, certain victims resort to a variety of devices: they keep copies of mail, they arrange for a secret witness, or they tape telephone conversations."
"...The ideal victims of emotional abusers are those who, lacking confidence, feel obliged to exaggerate so they can present a better self image at any cost... It is therefore the victims' strong vitality that makes them 'fair game' for the abuser... They are compelled to give, and the abuser, to take... Added to which, one refuses to take any blame while the other has a natural tendency to take it..."
"The victims appear naive and credulous. Incapable of imagining the fundamentally destructive nature of the other, they try to find logical explanations and avoid misunderstandings. 'If I explain, he'll understand and apoligize for his behavior.' For anyone who's not abusive, it's impossible to imagine, from the very beginning, such a bottomless reservoir of ill-will and manipulation... In order to deflect abusive maneuvers, victims try to be candid and justify themselves. When a sincere person opens up to a suspicious one, the latter usually gains the upper hand. The keys to their conduct that victims hand over to their agressor only increase his contempt. Victims, when faced with an abusive attack, initially want to show understanding, adapt to the situation, and even forgive, because they love or admire the other person: 'If he's that way, he must be unhappy. I'll reassure and heal him.' In a wave of maternal feeling, they believe that they alone see what's happening and can help by giving them substance... Victims nourish the hope that the other will change and will finally understand and regret the pain he inflicts. They eternally hope that their explanations and justifications will solve misunderstandings and refuse to see that because one can intellectually and emotionally grasp a predicament is no reason to put up with it."
"While emotional abusers remain frozen in theri rigidity, the victims behave like chameleons: adapting, foreseeing what's expected of them by the abuser (consciously or unconsciously) and assuming more than their fair share of the blame. The manipulative methods work even btter if the abuser has previously gained the victim's confidence... The victim's' forgiveness and lack of hard feelings makes them, strangely, powerful. It's intolerable and frustrating for the attacker to put up with what basically amounts to his victim's withdrawal: 'I don't want to play the game.' The victim becomes a living reproof, which only increases the attacker's hatred."
"[Abusers believe that] The victims become dangerous adversaries when they begin to articulate what they have intuitively understood.They must be silenced by terror."
"...What makes a 'seizure of power' so difficult to describe is the fact that it happens gradually: first, a stretching of the person's limits. It makes pinpointing the exact onset of violence and abuse almost impossible. In this psychological battle, the identity of the victims is profoundly eroded and their persona erased. They lose all self-esteem in both their own eyes and their abusers', who have only to get rid of them..."
Typically, a victim is or has:
Low self esteem and feelings of shame. Often those in abusive relationships feel that they have attracted a batterer or they may have developed a "pattern" of getting into relationships with partners who hurt, degrade, humiliate, hit or otherwise abuse them. Over time the repeated insults, threats, put downs and verbal trashing from their partners wears away at the mental energy to fight back or to keep up a positive image of oneself. Shame traps many victims, having a pervasive influence on the self, relationships with others, and emotional experiences (shame as emotional abuse).
Self Blame for Abuser's Actions, believes the myths about battering relationships and believes the batterer when they use these myths as excuses for the behavior. The classic statement here is: "if I didn't do....then I wouldn't get hit" - or: "my partner only abuses me when I do something wrong" or: "I shouldn't have made my partner angry enough to hit me". This dialogue doesn't only come from within the victim, but is often mirrorer by the abuser who is always there to reinforce the idea that the abuse is the result of a failure on the part of the victim. The problem here is: everyone has moments of disappointment, anger, even rage; but the decision of how to REACT to or EXPRESS those feelings is a personal choice made by the abuser, NOT something brought on by the victim. An abuser can make the choice to talk through an issue or to leave the room until they cool down. The decision to abuse, and thus the responsibility for the violence ALWAYS rests with the abuser.
Is a traditionalist about the home. May strongly believe in family unity and the prescribed feminine sex-role stereotype. These stereotypes can be extremely strong, especially in certain ethnic groups, cultures or ultra-orthodox religions; thus, victims living within these structures are often the most at risk - not only because their abusers firmly believe they have a RIGHT to treat a victim this way, but because these same beliefs may be reinforced by friends, family and religious leaders to whom a victim might otherwise turn for guidance and support.
Suffers from guilt, yet denies feelings of terror and anger. Victims often feel extreme disappointment in themselves for not being able to accurately predict when violence will occur. (This unpredictability, by the way, is yet another tool in use by an abuser to purposefully keep the victim off balance and to reduce any possible sense of self-confidence in being able to appropriately detect and react to pending violence.) Victims also experience guilt at "letting things get this far" - sometimes so far that they feel they can't get out of it. These guilts can lead to denials; not only lying about and covering up the abuse, minimizing the abuse by trying to convince themselves that "it's only a scratch", "it doesn't happen that often", or "it isn't really that bad". Alcohol and drug abuse can often become a crutch or means of escaping the constant feelings of terror, even if just for a little while.
Has severe stress reactions with psychophysiological complaints. Exposure to domestic violence, especially over time, has been show to lead to increases in headaches, panic attacks, heart attacks, nervous disorders, stress syndromes, depression disorders and obsessive-compulsive behaviors (pulling out hair, rocking, excessive cleaning, etc.).Believes that no one will be able to help resolve the predicament and goes through cycles of assistance. Sometimes this belief is based on information planted by the abuser who might convince a victim that if assistance is sought, the abuser will know. They may claim to have friends "inside" the police department or courts or threaten additional violence or even death if they find out that the victim has been trying to get help. Other times, victims may have concrete ideas about what assistance they would need to escape - then when they don't find that specific setup, they become convinced that their situation is hopeless. For those trying to help victims, it is vital that even when a victim turns down help or doesn't seem interested, that information and options continue to be presented at every opportunity. Victims often have entire laundry lists of problems and fears that make them reluctant to try to escape abuse - the more of these you can help to address, the more hope becomes accessible to the victim who might Refuse help by: making excuses/"can't fit it into my schedule"; disposing of help from others (brochures/books/ referrals); avoiding those trying to help (friends/family/etc.); might Consider help by: calling a shelter or hotline for information; checking a website for information; writing down phone numbers and keeping them handy; might Seek help by: approaching friends; approaching relatives; approaching clergy; getting help from a shelter or social service agency; getting away, even for a little while (like going to a motel).