Many of us feel like we have a target on our backs. It is as if users and abusers can see us coming. Somehow, like a shark who smells blood in the water, they know we are an easy mark for their manipulation and evil. Does this mean that it is our fault if we are treated poorly by others? NOT AT ALL! They were abusers and users before they met us and will probably be after we are gone. However, if we make a few changes, we can erase that target off our backs, so we will be safer from these types of people in the future.
The following was written by Leslie Vernick in a group letter sent to her followers on April 24, 2018.
Many people wonder if there is something about them that attracts abusers, especially when they have experienced multiple abusive relationships. For a number of reasons, some people* (women and men) may be more vulnerable to predators.
A woman may be more vulnerable to being abused because she is too naive and/or too nice. She has not been taught by her mother or father to “bare her teeth” when she is in relationship danger. Instead, she learns to ignore the warning signs, to pretend everything is fine, to make nice, to be accommodating to her own peril, and to go the extra mile.
While being accommodating and kind are fine qualities, a girl must also be taught how and when it’s time to speak up, set boundaries, say no, and walk away from a relationship that is disrespectful and dishonoring to her before it ever becomes abusive.
When a woman does not know how to protect herself against a predator, or she’s taught it’s ungodly or unfeminine, she is far more vulnerable to being manipulated, intimidated and abused. Tweet This
Thirteen Traits that Make You a Target for Abusers
In my counseling and coaching work, I’ve observed 13 traits people possess that make them more vulnerable to being abused. Having any one of these traits or all of them does not make the abuse you experience your fault, but in your naiveté and/or unhealthiness, you do become a magnet that attracts abusive people.
These traits are not in any specific order nor do you need to have all of them to make you more vulnerable. Just having one of them can make you an abuse magnet and put you in an unhealthy or dangerous place in your relationships.
1. When you are initially attracted to someone you don’t look for good character qualities (such as honesty, faithfulness, diligence, and responsibility) but easily get swept away by charm (such as a great smile, a lot of money, the way he kisses you, his flattering words).
2. You frequently ignore your early gut instincts that something isn’t right. Instead you rationalize, minimize, or tell yourself you are imagining things or overreacting.
3. You believe you don’t deserve a better relationship, therefore, you settle for what you can get and what he gives you, even if it’s hurtful and abusive. You believe that having someone is better having than having no one.
4. You fall for smooth words and fast-talk instead of looking at the hard facts and his past behaviors.
5. You feel empty without a man (or woman) in your life.
6. You have a hard time sticking up for yourself in assertive ways. Sometimes you try but it’s usually in an aggressive over-the-top manner, which you later regret. In your guilt you revert back to your passive accommodating ways.
7. You typically over-function in your relationships. You feel all the responsibility to repair what is wrong and take all the blame. You tend to not think for yourself or make your own decisions. You allow yourself to be controlled.
8. You perpetually avoid conflict and feel bad or guilty for saying no to people.
9. You cling to fantasy story lines and love myths such as if you love someone enough he/she will change, and God will make everything work out in the end.
10. You have few or no boundaries or you allow others to violate your boundaries with no consequences.
11. You accept unacceptable behavior from others and blame yourself.
12. You do things for the other person that is against your own values and better judgment (like co-sign a loan, let him sleep over when you barely know him, lie for him).
13. You make excuses for abusive behavior or minimize and rationalize it. (He’s tired, he had an abusive father, he’s depressed, he’s had a hard day, he has poor self-esteem).
I absolutely loved this article. I think Leslie made some great points here. Another way to think about this is to be on the lookout for the “shark bump” that Emily Avagliano describes in her book Dating After Trauma.** In her book, Emily focuses on preventing rape, but the same thoughts apply to protecting ourselves from any type of user. She says that every attacker tests his/her potential victim before they attack in the same way that a shark will knock its prey first before eating it. If we have been raised to avoid conflict, and “think the best of a person,” we will most likely ignore our gut instinct that something is wrong and rationalize or minimize the user’s aggressive action in our minds. When we don’t react immediately to set boundaries, the shark will take his bite out of us. Emily advises we not go numb, stay in contact with our body and feelings, and be ready to protect ourselves.
What might a shark bump look like? Abusers are adept at this, so it could look a million different ways. I will give you an example from my life. When I met my first husband, we dated casually for a few months. When I told him that I needed some time to myself, he stopped speaking to me. We had a college class together, and he came in and out of class as if I did not exist. Knowing what I know now, I would think to myself, “What a jerk,” and run the other way. But, being the pushover I was then, I could not stand to be ignored. After a few weeks, I started talking to him again. Soon, we were dating exclusively, and eventually we married. The sad part to me is that when he became abusive after several years of marriage, his favorite tool to hurt me and to get his way was to use the silent treatment. My reaction to his shark bump of silence way back then let him know that I was a sucker for it.
In Emily’s case, she was getting a massage by a male massage therapist. His shark bump was to allow his hand to go too high on the inside of her thigh. When she did not react, he raped her. Other types of shark bumps might be calling you “stupid” if you make a mistake, getting angry if you do not respond to his text immediately, or acting jealous if you speak to another man. The point isn’t to be aware of specific manipulative actions, but to listen to yourself, and learn to be willing to say a forceful “NO!” if needed.
Some of us have been taught that it is a “sin” to be angry or to say NO to others. In reality, setting boundaries is very biblical. Here are a few verses that talk about setting boundaries with those who might want to use us:
A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty;
rescue them, and you will have to do it again.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Question: Have you been taught that you should not stand up for yourself? Has that belief put you in danger?
Dear Lord, I pray each of us will take a look at our beliefs about setting boundaries with others and discern if these beliefs have allowed others to use and manipulate us. Help us learn how to protect ourselves from unscrupulous users. Amen
Blessings to each of you today,
*Leslie focuses on women in this article. Both women and men can be vulnerable to predators and can learn to protect themselves.
**Emily Avagliano, Dating After Trauma: How to find the love of your life after experiencing an abusive relationship, rape, or sexual abuse, (USA:Bad Kitty Print Shoppe, 2013), pp 110-111.