Abusive Relationships: What’s Wrong With Her?

March 17, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

Mystery surrounds victims of domestic violence and abuse. “Why does she stay?” tops the list of most asked questions when she’s in the relationship and “What is wrong with her?” is the often unspoken follow-up. It seems to me that most people who study domestic violence victims ask “What is wrong with her?” at the top of their research. They seem to forget that it takes two people to create an abusive relationship.

I guess they think they’ve got the abuser pegged. He’s a narcissist, addict, chauvinist, controller, or has an anger problem or self-esteem issues. Pick a personality or mood disorder and maybe he’s got it. Case closed - on to their victims.

Staying in an Abusive Relationship

Because the abuser “has issues” then naturally, the victim must have issues. She must have come into the relationship warped in order to stick around. She stays, in part, because of unresolved issues from her past or pre-existing mood disorders (they seem to think). Perhaps she’s looking for “daddy”, thinks she deserves the punishment, is not self-aware, is codependent, or maybe she’s just not that bright.

Not All Abuse Victims Suffer Prior "Damage"

But what if none of that about the abuse victim is true? What if she came into the relationship a bright and shining star - capable, optimistic, loving, and well-adjusted? Because “they” tend to look at the negative aspects of a personality that would carry a person into abuse, the healthy person would not fit the profile for an abuse victim. But mentally healthy people do fall victim to abuse, sometimes for years. It happens all of the time.

Sandra L. Brown M.A., author of "Women Who Love Psychopaths" (watch video), uses these adjectives and many more to describe women before their abusive relationship occurs:

  • Outgoing, strong, competitive
  • Free-spirited
  • Able to function in chaos (personal and professional)
  • Impulsive or, its opposite, cautious
  • Invested in her close relationships, attaches deeply when she does attach
  • Sentimental
  • Highly empathetic, tenderhearted

Unfortunately, as you can probably see, the same positive characteristics that abuse victims embody before the relationship also help to keep them in the relationship once the abuser removes the mask and begins the abuse.

Abusers Need Their Victim To Stay The Same

These core values and characteristics are unlikely to change during the relationship. This fact encourages me. You see, I thought that my abuser had changed me into someone I didn’t recognize. I thought he successfully sculpted my weakened mind into someone unrecognizable, someone I did not like.

But, as it turned out, he didn’t erase “me”.

Behavioral Changes

Behaviorism is a psychological theory that says only behavior counts. Only what a subject does and can be observed by another person qualifies as a true account of the subject. This theory doesn’t bother itself with the subject’s thoughts and emotions; the “fuel” behind the actions is invisible, unprovable by both subject and observer, and therefore irrelevant.

Looking at “me” through the behaviorist’s eyes, I did change. My abuser successfully changed my actions and reactions. He changed my observable behavior in ways that I sometimes “allowed” and in other ways I found necessary to survive (emotionally/mentally). But my abuser’s mind games, intimidation, and brute force did not change “me” at my core. He did not win.

I am not unrecognizable. I am not broken. I survived. I won.

Choosing to Change

Now, in the aftermath of my victory, I am healing by conduction and “after actions review” of sorts.

  • How did “who I am” help trap me in an abusive relationship?
  • What do I want to change about myself, if anything, in order to avoid abuse in the future?
  • What green flags do I project to others making me a likely target for abuse?

How would you answer those questions for yourself?

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, March 17). Abusive Relationships: What’s Wrong With Her?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

March, 20 2012 at 3:55 pm

Not only women are abused in marriage and hang in there, sadly there are many men too.

March, 20 2012 at 10:18 pm

thank you

November, 2 2012 at 10:11 am

One reason we do not hear about the huge number of abused men is the enormous stigma of shame there would be for a male to admit that a woman had abused him. It is a silent epidemic. To admit to abuse, and seek help for it is something male pride usually won't let a man do. And it is true that he would be faced with either being thought of as a wimp, or faced with dibelief. Another reason is that the wonderful work of opening up the issue of domestic abuse and publicising it has partly been carried out by a certain feminist viewpoint that discounts the small amount of data that does exist on abuse of males in relationships. It is important that domestic voilence is countered, but it is another sort of crime to ignore that women abuse men, physically and voilently. Often, the man is someone who would never lay a hand on a woman anyway.

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