The Prey – Characteristics and Behavior of the Victims

The Prey – Characteristics and Behavior of the Victims

1. What makes you so vulnerable?

Let’s start out with a look at what makes you so vulnerable to the manipulator. What signals are you sending out that draws them to you like a magnet?

Here are some questions for you:

  • Are you needy, deep down inside? Are you desperate for love, attention and approval?
  • Is your self-esteem based on how others see you?
  • Are you caring and conscientious? Do you tend to be sympathetic and giving, wanting to help others?
  • Do you tend to think that others are like you? Do you have the tendency to believe in the best in others? Do you see the glass half full?
  • Do you magnetize users and narcissists? Are you driven by the need to fix or rescue broken people that in part you may feel sorry for, and then find yourself the one needing repair? Do you find yourself exhausted and depleted in the process?
  • Do you tend to be gullible and just can’t believe it when someone crosses or betrays you? Are you easily bamboozled?
  • Are you a bit of a Pollyanna? Do you see yourself as optimistic?
  • Do you believe that love can solve everything?
  • Do you take on people as projects, feeling that with enough love and support, you can change them? Do you take on other people’s responsibilities (and then secretly resent it)?
  • Do you stay in a painful relationships and try to “work it out” even though the other is not trying in good faith to work it out too? (This is called inappropriate loyalty!)
  • Do you tend to minimize the hurtful behavior of the other, to minimize the pain you feel, thinking that that this is just part of being in a relationship?
  • Do you do more than your part, giving and giving – because this is just who you are? Do you then feel drained with all that energy going out and very little positive coming in?
  • Do you sometimes feel that your head is in the clouds, or have others accused you of this?

Some of these qualities sound like such wonderful and positive ways of being, don’t they? You might say, what’s wrong with caring and believing in the power of love? What’s wrong with seeing the best in others and being loyal, in spite of relationship difficulties?

When mismatched with a user, the relationship is a disaster! If you drew someone more like you, you would not be at risk! Later we will get into how to discern how to know whom you are drawing to you. Discernment depends on tuning into your own deep feelings and responses when you meet someone or are in their presence. Your connecting with the feelings in you in response to the presence of the other is key! Otherwise you are swimming right into the mouth of the whale.

2. Fear-Based Behavior

Think about this: are you motivated by fear? Do you tend to make decisions based on avoiding confrontation? Do you make choices to avoid upsetting or getting others mad at you? Will you do anything to avoid being in the eye of the storm? Do you have a hard time saying no? If so, you may find yourself vulnerable to being manipulated and dominated. This may make you overly compliant because you focus on pleasing others.

Ironically, even though you try to avoid confrontation at any cost, you walk every day with fear. That avoidance actually draws aggression to you, your fear answered by the other’s challenge. You invite it by keeping in your presence one whom you don’t trust. It’s like walking a tiger!

Internally the constant presence of danger stimulates fear. Fear induces the endocrine system to run on high alert. Adrenal fatigue can result and even the thyroid can be thrown off balance. You may have the tendency to be triggered into the fight, flight and freeze mode (numbing paralysis). If the trauma is intense and prolonged enough dissociation can be induced. What this means is that you don’t actually feel fully present; it is a means of removing yourself from fully experiencing the pain. The problem is that this numbing can prevent appropriate action actually designed to promote survival. The numbness overlays the pain keeping it covered and in place like a blanket. The pain remains intact, like a time capsule, deep inside.

You may be giving away your own power out of fear without even knowing it. You may discover you focus on the other and you are left out of your own equation. You may find yourself thinking, “How can I make him or her happy? What do I need to do to make my world safe? How do I need to act in order to keep the world around me calm? How can I placate the other so I can be safe?” When you find yourself thinking in these ways, then you know the fulcrum of your life has shifted dangerously away from your own center.

When you give away your power, you give away the ability to control your own life. Do you try to micro-manage certain areas of your life because in the big picture someone else is in your drivers seat? Do you stay engaged in the relationship out of fear you can’t make it on your own? Do you believe you really are unworthy and no one else would care? Staying in the relationship for these reasons (the wrong reasons) are fear-based and are sure to lead you to feel inauthentic in your own life, as though you are a hypocrite. You may feel like you are in a secret war within yourself; if that is so you are a war casualty!

There is an epidemic of these types of abusive relationships with teenage girls. The boys are trying out their aggressive and masculine ways, looking for a girl to dominate and control. Is this what it takes for them to feel powerful? Does it take demeaning and controlling their girlfriend and putting her down, putting her into a jealousy box for him to appear manly to himself and others? Do you girls really need to accept this behavior, to sacrifice yourself in order to make him look “bigger?” Are you afraid to shine your own light because no one will “like you?”

3. Are you prone to create fictional reality?

As the relationship progresses do you shift your perceptions to agree with the other? Are you worn down and come to accept the perspective of the abuser? Are you justifying an alternative or fictional reality that sets you up more and more as the bad guy? If you have a tendency to deny signs of aggression, meanness and disrespect you actually give permission for the abuse to continue and grow. Is it possible that you are emotionally naïve? If you don’t face another person’s meanness does it mean it doesn’t exist?

In the fully developed stage of abuse the victim can develop a delusional version of reality that joins with the abusers view. This may sound like, “It must be me” or “I know I’m not perfect” or “I must have done something to deserve this.” It may be that you justify the disrespectful behavior or make excuses for him or her. And do you then believe it yourself?

Sometimes those under the yoke tend to avoid those who truly support them. Is it out of shame and the desire not to be “found out?” Whatever the motivation the victim often forms a protective bubble around him or herself, keeping out potential sources of support and perspective.

Intense feelings of shame can keep the relationship going when it should be stopped. Fear of others seeing just how bad things are can promote a smiling mask put on over the truth of suffering and pain. Rather than be embarrassed by others seeing how diminished you are, do you hide the truth and act like everything is all right?

It can go so far as defending the person who is hurting you. Have you ever done that? Maybe you say, “They can’t help it,” “They must be hungry, tired or sick,” “they are under so much stress,” “I can’t blame them,” “I must have done something to set them off, “After all, I am not perfect.”

For one wounded over the years, especially since childhood, an even more dire scenario can develop. The wounded can become one who wounds: victim turned persecutor. Tired of fighting, tired of being the one on the bottom, some turn to victimize others. I see one person in this situation and she wonders, “Will I ever find my real self? Have I lost my innocence forever?” The suffering she has experienced is so overwhelming that she turned to identify with the aggressor. And now even more tragedy: the (apparent) loss of her beautiful self. So poignant, when she was only 4 or 5 years old she turned to her mother and said of her father, “Mommy, if you leave me with him he will ruin me.” He did. She ultimately became as cruel, vindictive and twisted as her father.

But I say her true self is yet to be re-discovered. She has only to call for it. Beneath the twisted wreckage is the bright and beautiful essence of herself – waiting, just waiting to be recognized.

But remember, it is not your job to rescue her. Only she can save herself. Your job is to save you!

4. Do you have loose boundaries?

As the abuser tends to penetrate boundaries, do you invite the abuser into your inner realm without regard for your own safety? Does he or she stray into what should be sacred territory, like your computer, cell phone or work life, or your very mind? Do you give them the key to your world then feel profoundly unsafe? Do you fail to set up safe boundaries for yourself?

Once penetrated the danger is that you “internalize” the emotional bullets that have been shot at you. Do you take “hook, line and sinker” what has been projected onto you? It’s as though you lost yourself, the self you once were. Do you recognize how much you’ve lost?

5. Do you have low self-esteem?

If you started out confident, it won’t end that way if you are being ambushed at every turn. If you started out self-doubting, anxious and submissive the damage can even more pervasive. Low self-esteem makes you available for “the hook.”

Low self-esteem can also lead to not trusting yourself. Do you have intuition but then deny it and go ahead anyway against your own better judgment?

Bottom line: if consciously or unconsciously you feel unworthy you may draw to you someone who acts like that is true. If you feel you deserve punishment, the abuser is ready and waiting to make you “dream” or as it may be, your “nightmare” come true. Do you think you can “dream” up another reality?

  1. Do you find yourself taking excess responsibility

I have seen this over and over. If you have a tendency to look to yourself for wrongdoing in the name of “taking responsibility” and if you are in relationship with an abuser, that will be used against you. Your tendency to be fair and look to yourself for “your part” will lead to projection of blame on you only. After all, “It’s all your fault.”

  1. Did you have a dysfunctional traumatic childhood?

The background music of abusive relationships is the history of traumatic, abusive or neglectful early childhood experience. That theme song can be set for the future: the nature of later abuse often reflects a similar pattern established in childhood.

One wounded often draws the same type of abuser to them, as experienced in childhood. It makes no logical sense but this is the way the mind works. We are drawn to the familiar patterns established in childhood even if they hurt. Freud called it the repetition compulsion and it is amazing how powerful it is! It can put it all in motion even without your obvious awareness. It can be insidious.

The lack of self-confidence based on damaging childhood or early experiences can lead to minimizing your own worth, and over-valuing the other. This creates a setup for just the “wrong” person to take advantage.

There is hope: once we know who we are and what we draw we have choices. More to come!



The Cycle of Abuse

Lenore Walker

The origin of the cycle of abuse rests with the work of a woman named Lenore Walker in the 1970s. Her seminal work explained the pattern that she saw in abusive relationships.  While she focused on the patriarchal misuse of power, the pattern can be seen in other relationships – whether it be between man to wife, wife to husband, mother or father to their child or children, children to the mother or father, or homosexual relationships.  It can be seen in relationships in the workplace or between so-called “friends.”  I find the theory Walker developed is perceptive and very useful in seeing through the maze of the complexity of all types of relationships.

The First Phase she calls the Tension Building Phase.  It is characterized by poor communication, passive aggression, rising interpersonal tension and fear of causing outbursts in one’s partner.  The victim may try to modify his or her behavior to avoid triggering their partner’s outburst.

The Second Phase is identified as the Acting Out Phase.  It is characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents.  The abuser attempts to dominate his or her partner with the underlying threat of violence.

The Third Phase called the Reconciliation or the Honeymoon Phase.  It is characterized by affection, apology or it could be actively ignoring the incident.  It marks the apparent end of violence, with assurances and promises that it will never happen again.  The abuser promises that he or she will change and often the abuser may express feelings of overwhelming remorse and sadness.Some abusers deny the situation happened but in some small way some sign of reconciliation or apology may emerge.  There may be a return to less noxious ways of communicating or behaving.  In situations that have built up to an intense level the abuser may use self-harm or threats of suicide in order to gain sympathy or to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship.  The abuser can be very convincing and the victim, having been worn down by long repetitive bouts of abuse, may hope against hope that the abuser will actually change.

This may make the problem even worse.  By behaving in a calmer or conciliatory way the victim may feel that it is harder to leave the relationship because she or he may then perceive that “The relationship isn’t all that bad.  There is some good in him/her.”

The Forth Phase is called the Calm Phase.  An extension of the honeymoon phase, this part of the cycle is relatively calm.  However, there will soon be signs of “trouble in paradise.”  Tension will inevitably arise, leading back to the tension building phase.  Here is a diagram used by many Domestic Violence Support groups based on Walker’s model:

The phases of this cycle can take a short or a long time, but the progression is from longer to shorter time frames.  In the worse case scenario the Calm and Reconciliation phases may virtually disappear.  Once established these relationships are characterized by a predictable repetitious pattern of abuse, whether it be emotional or physical, with psychological abuse nearly always preceding and accompanying physical abuse.  One of her most helpful concepts is that the cycle leads to learned helplessness and a battered person syndrome.

The concept of learned helplessness is enlightening.  It assists us in trying to understand why, against all rationality, the victim stays and perpetuates a condition of great pain.  This occurs when the victim has learned (or been taught)  to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for help. 

This is the most confounding aspect of victimization:  it is against self-interest and the basic survival instinct.  The apparent attachment to an unhealthy and hurtful situation mystifies those who see it from the outside, as well as in the victim him or herself.  Why do I stay?  Why can’t I say no to obvious disrespect and hurt?  The learned helplessness theory helps us understand that the victim perceives they are helpless – by training – and therefore is stuck or numbed into a static course.  The victim feels they are unable to control their fate and that lack of control leads to devastating self perception and paralysis.

It was her observation that the only way to stop the cycle was for the victim, turned survivor, to abandon the abusive relationship.

 Out of the Fog (

A different perspective on the abusive cycle is proposed by an organization called Out of the Fog designed to help those at the mercy of those identified as having Personality Disorders.  FOG stands for fear, obligation and guilt and was first coined by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier in their book “Emotional Blackmail.” 

 They classify the abusive cycle as an ongoing rotation between destructive and constructive behavior, which is typical of many dysfunctional relationships, and families.  It is a repeating pattern where both perpetrator and the victim of abuse contribute to the conditions which prolong the cycle.  Both Walker and Out of the Fog focus on the abuser, but also look at the ways in which the victim plays into the hands of the abuser.  They both understand there is a dance between the two. 

At the center of the cycle FOG identifies the First Phase: a process they call the Flashpoint Phase.  The Abuser has maximum power in this phase and the victim minimal power.  The emotional energy in the relationship increases dramatically and the “fight or flight” response kicks in for both.

They then identify the Second stage as the Retribution Phase.  After the offensive behavior the abuser begins to fear the consequences of their behavior while the victim may pull away emotionally or physically.  The abuser may “hoover” their victim (suck them back in) with affection, favors, gifts or promises to change.  Out of the Fog brilliantly identifies that the victim is in maximum power during this phase.  Lists may be drawn up as to the conditions that must be met for the abuser to win back his or her good graces.  The abuser may feverishly try to meet those demands and the victim’s morale is most high.

Out of the Fog identifies the next stage as The Reflection Phase.  Once things quiet down the victim’s walls come down and the abuser is less worried about losing the relationship.  The Abuser may reflect with resentment that too many restrictions and conditions have been levied.  The victim may also feel resentment at having “to play the role of prison guard.”

Out of the Fog identifies a Third Phase called The Regression Phase.  At this point both drift back to their original or default state.  Both parties become resigned about the nature of their relationship.  They are moving to their “normal.”

Like Walker, they both agree, “Abusers need a victim.”  They agree that the most effective strategy for eliminating abuse often begins and ends with the victim “taking action to protect themselves.” (Please go to for extensive articles and in-depth descriptions of personalities disorders, traits, guidelines and forums.)

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