When you are the target of covert abuse, your abuser may present as a victim. This can be particularly confusing to you, the real victim, as you spend countless energy trying to prove to the perpetrator your undying love in order to save the relationship.
An abuser who uses the victim mentality to manipulate his/her partner is a master manipulator.
This article is written to the true victims of this type of abuse.
Note: For purposes of this article, I will use the term, “Victim” to mean the true abuser and “Target” to represent the true victim of abuse.
If you are the Target of a Victim, then you know all too well how confusing your relationship can be. I’m sure when you first met your Victim you felt deep concern for his/her struggles and most likely, over time, wanted to show him/her that you could love really well and thus, cure him/her of his/her victimhood.
Unfortunately, you were wrong.
Victim abusers usually portray themselves as innocent, hurt, blameless wounded souls, caught up innocently in the poor behavior of another person (usually a previous partner) or circumstance. Victims are very self-centered, and when in relationships are only capable of seeing their own hurt, even if it’s fabricated. Victims do not care about the feelings of others, showing a complete lack of empathy.
Victims frequently feel sorry for themselves. Even if they cause the problems in their relationships (which is usually the case.) they don’t see this reality and they feel victimized as they cause the problems. It’s amazing, really.
Victims also seem to twist reality on its head by blaming the Target for the problems in the relationship, making statements such as:
“You have a distorted sense of reality.”
“You just don’t understand me.”
“You’re abusive (narcissistic).”
“This relationship is destroying me!” (Implying that you, somehow, are the culprit in the destruction.)
The truth about the Victim is that he/she cannot be in a healthy interpersonal relationship and use the manipulation or “tool” of abuse to prevent the possibility of any true and meaningful connection. In essence, the Victim sabotages his/her own happiness and blames you for it.
And if you are like most Targets, you will turn yourself into a pretzel to try and convince your loved one that you can improve, care better, be more available, etc. You even ask the Victim how you can be a better partner. The Victim may not even respond to your requests to explain him/herself more clearly, preferring to imply that you’re fatally flawed and incapable of “getting it together” enough to meet his/her needs.
This is VERY frustrating for the Target, who cannot understand why the Victim is so miserable and is deeply perplexed over how to solve this problem. The Target, believing the rhetoric, becomes overly responsible for fixing the relationship. The irony is that the problem only exists because the Victim created it in the first place; and there really is no solution! At least as far as the Target is concerned.
For the relationship to truly improve, the Victim has to (1) develop insight; (2) take ownership of his/her contribution to the problem; (3) change.
According to Lundy Bancroft, in the book, “Why Does He Do That?” Victims have some common similar beliefs that are perpetuated in their intimate relationships. See if your partner displays any of these covert attitudes:
- Everyone has done me wrong; particularly my previous partner(s.) Poor me.
- If you start accusing me of being abusive you are just proving that you are just as cruel and unfair to me as the “rest” of them.
- It is justifiable for me to do whatever I feel you are doing to me, and even to make it quite a bit worse in order to make sure you get the message.
- I’ve had it so hard I’m not responsible for my actions.
The primary feeling of the Target of this type of relationship is that of guilt. Because of the implied messages of guilt constantly thrown toward the Target, he/she has been conditioned to believe (as mentioned above) that he/she is responsible to fix the problem. If the Target can’t fix the problem (and it really isn’t fixable) then he/she ends up feeling more guilt.
Because of the feelings of guilt, the Target has a hard time leaving this type of abusive relationship. Victims present themselves as helpless and pathetic souls, which makes it difficult for Targets to break free. In addition to this, Targets often aren’t even aware that anything abusive is taking place, given the insidiousness of “victimhood” abuse.
As a therapist, I have spoken with many Victims, themselves, who held to the narrative that all of their unhappiness is a result of the behaviors of their partners. The truth is, these Victims are often the true abusers in the relationships, putting the responsibility for fixing everything on their partners.
In fact, the convictions of the Victim are so strong, everyone believes this narrative – including the Target and onlookers. Thus, everyone starts believing that it’s the Target’s job to change in order for the relationship to improve!
Because the true cause of the Victim’s unhappiness has not been properly identified, the Target may spend countless years trying to “improve” only to find that he/she falls just sort of “making it.”
If you are in this type of relationship and want to break free then I recommend you develop three skills:
- Trust yourself.
- Set boundaries – do not allow yourself to be responsible for anyone else’s happiness or life.
- Dis-engage from the madness.
Remember, your life belongs to you, not to the other person. If you believe you are being manipulated, stop participating in the drama. Allow yourself to have a good day. Give yourself permission to let your loved one feel bad if he/she wants to.
Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.