Have ever thought, or been told, that you “attracted the abuser and the abuse”? Sadly, given the current overlap between self-help and spirituality, the notion that the victim of abuse attracted the abuser and the abuse is all too common. In this article, we need to unpack the concept of a victim of abuse attracting the abuse and come up with a more accurate – and less judgmental – approach.
Whether or not there is a good intention underlying the argument that the victim of abuse attracts the abuse is, at best, debatable. The wounding effect of the notion, however, is not debatable. So we need to step out of our own reaction long enough to explore who comes out with such things, why, and how best we can make sense of them.
Who even says these things?
First off, we need to look at who says these things. As far as I can see, there are at least five different groups.
1) The Law of Attraction Squad
The Law of Attraction(LoA) is, at best, a delightful idea. You just have to vibrate at the right frequency with what you want and it can be yours. What’s not to like about that? Apart from the flip side.
The flip side of the LoA) that if things you really don’t want land in your life, then, you attracted them, too, is a tad more problematic . It is heinous to suggest that anyone attracts child abuse, cancer, or genocide, for example.
2) The Fear of Contagion Squad
The inescapable reality is that bad things happen. They happen randomly and they sure as hell happen to good people.
It seems to me that there are a lot of unspiritual people around who live their lives in as much denial as it takes to feel comfortable. Since they are not comfortable with the Law of Attraction, they have to distance themselves in a different way.
They can’t deny the existence of domestic violence. However, they can fall back on forms of denial like,
- “Yes, but why did the victim stay?”
- “It takes two to tango.”
- “That would never happen to me.” *
- “He/she must have done something to bring it on him/herself.”
Similarly, they may well find an explanation, in negativity or poor health habits for why someone contracted a terminal illness. They do this to reassure themselves that they are different and therefore immune.
Sadly, the Fear of Contagion Squad go one step further. With their faltering hold on reality, they fear that major misfortune may be contagious. So, they seek to avoid people who are struggling with major misfortune.
3) The Downright Nasty
Narcissists often have their own band of emotional thugs, formally known as The Flying Monkeys. In thrall to the Narcissist, these folk will happily beat you up emotionally.
In addition to the Flying Monkeys, I truly believe that there exist the Downright Nasty, those people who just love to kick a person who is down. How that relates to their own back story, I don’t particularly care. We survivors of abuse can’t waste precious time and energy on the feeling of others when we need to be focusing our empathy and compassion on ourselves.
The important thing is this, bad things happen and nasty people exist. In the right context, if you put clear boundaries in place, they may do no harm. But if you appeal to their better nature, chances are, they will reply by showing you their worse nature.
4) The Ignorant and Arrogant
There has to be a certain overlap between this and previous category. These are the annoying people who assume that because they are who they are and you are who you are, they must know more about your life than you do. Sadly, this group can include people in the caring professions – like the counsellors and therapists who retraumatize victims of abuse, by buying into the abuser’s story.
You don’t want to waste your breath on any of these groups. For as long as you are explaining, they aren’t listening. These groups have long forced you to make allowances for them – since they make none for you. In the end, you have to make allowances for yourself and just leave them to whatever garbage they want to believe.
5) The Insufficiently Thoughtful
This group are my own personal bugbears. They just LOVE to have all the answers, to feel that they know all about “it” – whatever it is. In fact, they are SO keen on parading their –dubious – “caring credentials” and knowledge of The Answer that they don’t bother listening carefully to the issue.
This group are always quick to volunteer that victims of abuse should take responsibility for what happened to them. So much so that the part that the Narcissist played becomes secondary to irrelevant.
Their kind of attitude has me reaching for my battle axe. Let me explain why.
The more accurate approach
- You are not responsible for an abuser’s behaviour any more than you would be responsible for being hit by a car if you were a pedestrian on a sidewalk. The abuser drove into you. You did not hurl yourself across the bonnet of the car.
- You are responsible for your own healing. What happened to you shouldn’t have happened to you. However, it leaves you with a stark choice; you can either position yourself as the victim – which you were, but that is no way to live your life – or else, you can work on your own healing, so that you never go through the same suffering again.
- There is a BIG difference between taking responsibility for what was done to you and taking responsibility for what is down to you.
As I see it, the best answer in the world is pointless if it does not fit the situation. As Clint Eastwood famously said, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” However, nobody wants an anus anywhere other than where Mother Nature positioned it. By the same token, nobody wants an idiotic answer that serves only to generate further confusion and self-doubt.
“But did I attract the abuse?”
Now, the description of the various groups that espouse the Abuse Attraction argument, should already be a clear indication that there is something fundamentally amiss in their thinking. For all of them, the idea that you attracted the abuser and the abuse fits their agenda.
Obviously, their agenda matters massively to them. However, there is precisely no reason why it should matter to you. It only distracts you from the important issue of your own healing and happiness.
“But did I…?”
The bottom line, as I see it, is that you absolutely did NOT attract the abuser. Abusers play a numbers game. Most commonly, you are just one of the prospects that they have in their sights. They persist with you because they sense that they have leverage and benefits there.
The real issue
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. Your real issue is that you are not very good at repelling toxic people. That, most likely, is a consequence of childhood programming. You were probably taught that you had to be nice to people. As small children, most of us were ordered to kiss and/or smile at adults we might not have liked at all.
We learned that our feelings really didn’t matter.
We were likely taught, also, that we had to earn love from people who were next to impossible to please. If so, telling someone who appears to adore you to get lost, can feel like killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
The vital difference
So, you were set up for an abusive relationship. You didn’t attract it. But you didn’t have the self-defence skills to repel it. That is not your fault or your responsibility. What is your responsibility, now, is to learn the skills that you need to repel toxic people before they can ever wound you so deeply again. That is the difference.
* For the record, the people who are so deep in denial that they come out with “That would never happen to me!”, are usually those who are blinding themselves to the fact that “it” is happening to them. But if they can put their hands in front of their eyes and say, “I can’t see it!” it can’t possibly be happening…can it?
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.