Before writing this article, I stopped and thought hard. By writing this, would I be putting potentially harmful information in the hands of abusive men? Would I be putting more women at risk? The answer kept coming back ‘no’ – although the question did bring to mind another characteristic of abused women that I’ll come back to.
The thing is, although abused women aren’t usually aware of what’s special about them, abusive men are. In fact,it would be hard to teach an abusive man anything he doesn’t already know about choosing a victim.
Abusive men often come across, initially, as the unusually sensitive ones. This they undoubtedly are – to their own real and perceived hurts; and also to their partner’s vulnerability.
Whether you choose to explain it as a sixth sense, a powerful conditioned response, or something akin to pheromones, doesn’t really matter. Abusive men are exquisitely attuned to pick out vulnerable, susceptible women, however these women may present themselves.
It’s unlikely these men could put the process into words. But they evaluate the responses of their prey very carefully. Whatever appears to be happening at the verbal level, at a deep level they are watching for the woman’s readiness to abdicate her own personal power.
The particular type of woman they’re looking for is characterised by a fundamental defencelessness. She may not present that way. On the surface she may be attractive, competent, able to take care of herself. At bottom, to a predatory man, she’s a soft touch.
So what are the characteristics that set an abused woman apart?
· She’s a naive romantic. She believes that love, her love will conquer all. It takes her the longest time to learn that love doesn’t excuse her partner from being accountable for his actions.
· She doesn’t know when to give up and walk away.
· She is a natural at guilt, apologies and shouldering the blame for whatever goes wrong.
· She takes responsibility for anything and everything. Hence my concern that writing an article aimed at revealing the specific characteristics of abused women might benefit predatory men.
· She doesn’t believe that she is good enough. Her low self-worth, progressively lowered in an abusive relationship, means that however imperfect her man is, she still feels inferior to him. She sees him as compensating for her own inadequacies.
· Her ‘no’ lacks authority. In other words, she is easily bullied and put upon. She may sound strong-minded, but her wants, needs and reasons never carry the same weight for her as those of her partner.
· She has little or no idea of boundaries. She has little instinct for self-protection or self-preservation. Her best ‘strategy’ is often to hope that others will do right by her. (This strategy causes frequent, painful disappointment.)
· She believes in gender stereotypes. Men are the strong, powerful ones. Women can’t manage on their own. Women need a man to complete them and to manage the challenging areas of life.
· She’s really into rescue. A generous soul, she may well yearn for a rescuer, but she can’t resist running to the rescue of anyone in distress. (This is often part of what attracts her to an abusive partner.) She’s slow to learn that the people she rescues are more likely to turn aggressive than to show gratitude and loyalty in the long term.
· She believes that she is entitled to far less from life than other people. Other people have rights, she only has wishes that she believes are probably unreasonable.
· She’s a generous, long-suffering person.
Does she sound familiar? It wouldn’t be surprising. Abused women make up a significant proportion of any community. And it tends to be their gentler, more feminine qualities that put them at risk. By acquiring self-awareness and learning to ring-fence their frailties with strong boundaries, they can safeguard their specialness. At the same time they can protect themselves from further abuse.