Recently, a local TV station ran a series of stories on victim abuse in theSouthwest Floridaarea. I can only assume that it received a good deal of viewership attention because of the relatively widespread incidences of this problem in our society. Having been a psychotherapist inNew YorkState, I know that the problem manifested itself in large proportions there as well and I’m sure that every locale has its population of victims. In my work with people in relationships … whether casual or marital … I had the unwelcomed opportunity to work with couples in these kinds of relationships. My usual work was with the victims of abuse but there were times when I was able to work with the victimizer as well … albeit separately. My usual procedure was to take a detailed history not only of the present situation but of each partner’s personal history dating back to their family of origin or birth family. In this article, however, I will be taking somewhat of a different “twist” to the problem in order to enhance a better understanding of what are called “the dynamics” involved in the patterns that develop.
I don’t mean to “pigeon hole” people but the histories of the victims followed a consistent pattern of abuse … whether physical, sexual or emotional or all three … with those life experiences usually moving into the formation of a personality pattern that resulted in a good deal of guilt-ridden feelings. The patterns usually began early in their lives and not uncommonly were associated with parents or parental figures. The pattern may have existed for long periods of time and even with sexual abuse, those episodes might have gone un-reported for many years, if at all. Those feelings tended to make them feel very weak, vulnerable and worthless in terms of their self-concept. As a result, they were inadvertently (and almost magically) drawn to people who were very strong and controlling. Although this pattern might be most associated with girls and women, it would not be unusual for this pattern to be played out with men as well. In those cases, as they grew into adulthood, they were attracted to strong, controlling women who tended to abuse them.
Now, it would seem that if anyone were abused that they should feel angry. That would be the natural course that someone’s feelings would take, right? Well, in fact there is a great deal of anger involved in these patterns for the victims who are subjected to this kind of abuse. However, if you place yourself into the shoes of a child who is being abused and who is very angry at the person abusing them you need to ask the question: “how can I get so angry at someone I love so much?” For a child, the answer is “you can’t (or aren’t allowed to).” And so, instead of feeling the anger let alone expressing it or acting it out, the anger turns to guilt in terms of the child coming to believe that they must have done something wrong to incur the abuse. What a turnaround that is. In effect, one feeling is transformed into another in order to survive within a relationship in which the child feels helpless and at the mercy of those who say they love them. This same process can follow a victim’s entering into adulthood in seeking out adult relationships similar to those experienced as a child.
Now, let’s look at the victimizer’s pattern. Essentially, his or her pattern could be identical to the victim’s except that the transformation of the anger into guilt may only last for a brief period of time or be masked with those inflicting the abuse. Victimizers might, outside of the abusive relationship, become aggressive or even adopt bullying behavior with peers and begin to show signs of being antisocial, reclusive, controlling and abusive. As the victimizer grows into adulthood, their search for a partner is centered on finding someone who is weak and vulnerable so that they might control them. The anger may become more serious and abusive as time goes on. Initially, there may be an approach that suggests sensitivity and altruism but underneath that façade is the need to resort to the behavior described above which is manifested once the relationship is “cemented.” I compare this process to the bait used in catching fish. The lure is too much for the fish to resist but once bitten, they’re hooked.
I’d like to make two observations at this point. The first is that with the process being similar for both victims and victimizers, the end result can go either way. In other words, if the anger is successfully transformed into guilt and that remains intact, then the process produces victim-like behavior. If the underlying anger, even with some guilt being manifested toward the abuser as a means of survival, persists, then we have the makings of a victimizer. Of course the reader must realize that I am simplifying the processes for the sake of understanding and there are usually a number of circumstances that present themselves which tend to complicate the processes and solutions.
Along this line, I need to point out that the patterns that evolve are usually very well developed previous to entering into a lasting relationship. They are so well developed that even the process of counseling a victim and finding a safe haven for them to stay (sometimes with their children) and moving them out of the abusive situation can result in their being exposed to changing their pattern but some while later (days, months or years), they may well return to the same abusive situation and/or find another abusive relationship in which to play out the pattern of being the victim. Unfortunately, many of the situations in which I became involved as a psychotherapist resulted in this type of repeat behavior. Logic and reason have no bearing on the need to remain the victim. The same holds true for the victimizer who, after a lengthy period of therapy may seem to have changed their behavior but at a later point return to abusing victims … either the same one or others to whom they are attracted. I should point out that many of the dynamics that tend to describe the victimizer are attributable to stalkers as well.
The second point that I’d like to make is that the attraction between victims and victimizers is almost MAGICAL. In other words, there is not a conscious intent or choice involved in such a relationship being formed. The forces that are operating that bring these types of relationships into the realm of reality are based on the unconscious needs of each individual stemming from the experiences explained above in their childhoods. This learning is so well entrenched and developed that it has become “second nature” to each and both parties. The process might be described as taking place between two strangers meeting at a function and immediately being attracted to the personality type that they need in order for them to feel complete. From the outset meeting and on into a more developed relationship pattern, as the needs are mutually met, the pattern grows deeper and less able to be changed. Neither partner considers the relationship to be abusive until it might be too late. Unfortunately, one of the determining factors that brings the abuse into focus is the harmful effects of the relationship on children but even then, it might be too late. One last word. As children are exposed to the abuse, their learning can take on the very same effect as occurred with their parents. And then, the process starts all over again … sad but true.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.