"Reflection of your own dysfunctional self-beliefs", looking at victim-blaming in the alternative spirituality movement when it comes to abuse

Please note that for the purposes of this post I will be using 'he' for the abuser and 'she' for the victim. Statistically this is far more accurate, although I acknowledge men can be abused it does not always carry the same threat of physical violence or the subjugation of men as a class.

I follow a page which posts really enlightened, alternative viewpoints about how we view ourselves and the world around us. I follow a lot of pages like this as I enjoy the daily pick me up some of the messages inspire.

One such post that the page made yesterday really did not sit well with me. It was a small essay about how we attract the energy we are putting out into the world (much like the book The Secret asserts) and that if we are attracting abuse and negative behaviour in our close relationships we need to look at our self-esteem and the energy we are attracting. There is a huge difference between a dysfunctional relationship and an abusive one and they should not be lumped together.

Due to my past experience and knowledge of this subject, this really riled me. In particular this statement:
"If you are attracting abuse, emotional unavailability etc from a partner instead of the conscious partner that you desire, it's a sure reflection of your own dysfunctional self beliefs and fears, especially feelings of being unworthy or not enough on some level.
Like attracts like, you've got to first be the energy that you want to attract in another"

Further discussion with the author of the piece led me to discover that they themselves had been in an abusive relationship and that they had been lucky enough to be able to leave. The author asserted that anybody with healthy self esteem would watch for the signs of abuse and leave as soon as they discovered who their partner was. Staying due to the threat of violence or lack of funds was declared as being "not self-loving".

While I am all for promoting self esteem amongst individuals as a way to healthy relationships, these blanket statements about self-love and warning signs are horrendously uneducated. I saw posters on the topic blaming themselves for seeking abusive relationships and for the effect this had had on their children. A victim of abuse taking the blame on themselves for the energy they had been putting out that had attracted an abuser to them.

I was horrified. This is my exact problem with the law of attraction theory. Vulnerable people who are recovering from trauma who readily accept and take this blame on themselves. The truth is that anybody can be a target of abuse. You can be educated, financially secure, with high self-esteem. An effective abuser does not display warning signs that enable you to make a clear decision to leave them. Clearly, they are not abusive all the time as there would be no incentive for a woman to partner with them. There can also be a certain appeal to taking a woman with a good support network and high self-esteem and changing her completely to become subservient to you.

Abusers can come across as really charming and charismatic at first. The characteristics of high self worth and strong convictions can be attractive qualities when beginning to date this person. Everybody else is an idiot, they alone are the pinnacle of intelligence and morality. What an honour that they have chosen you to be their partner. Abusers like to "love-bomb" their partner at first, lavish her with attention, speed the relationship on through moving in, engagement, marriage, children. This is intended to make her feel wanted and loved and also to isolate her from outside influences. There are incredibly happy times at the beginning of the relationship and the hope of these returning is what keeps women in relationships far too long.

The problem is that the abuser is unable to put anybody else first. In his warped mindset, his needs are the most important and he is incapable of seeing his victim's point of view. To him, she is stupid and incapable and needs him to rescue her from herself. He is willing to use whatever means necessary to get his own way, be that violence, the silent treatment or manipulation.

Abuse does not always begin with a punch or a slap. It an be insidious, like a frog being warmed up in a pan. As soon as it realises it is boiling to death it is already too late. It can begin with little comments about what you're wearing, sulking when you go out with your friends, taking control of finances or giving you hurtful nicknames. There is a common technique called 'gaslighting' where an abuser will say something hurtful then later deny they ever said it. This is designed to confuse and disorient the victim so she believes she is the crazy one.

It is easy to say "if anybody did that to me, I would leave". Abuse is cyclical, which means it is punctuated by good times as well as bad. There is the build-up, where the abuser is calculating your transgressions and is building tension against you. There is the explosion, or torrent of abuse. Then the happy period where the abuser is apologetic and loving again. This happens over and over to keep the victim in a state of dependency and confusion. It is not uncommon for trauma bonding to occur (or Stockholm syndrome), where even though it is the abuser comforting the victim for his own behaviour she is so weakened from the abuse that she is grateful for this kind and loving behaviour and grows more attached to him as a result. It is true that if abusive has never been physical and eventually escalates to a physical incident, that can be a motivation to leave.

This abuse can be emotional, verbal, financial, physical or sexual. Frequently it is a combination of them. Contrary to popular belief, the abuser never 'loses control' of himself. Studies and interviews with abusers of all kinds have revealed that the perpetrator always knows where the line is and what his victim will tolerate. If he has gone too far one time, he will be aware of it next time. A violent abuser will never destroy his own possessions in a fit of rage or seriously hurt his victim if he believes it will get the attention of the police. They can rarely change because they genuinely believe their needs come first and these must be fulfilled by their partner. They do not even see her as an autonomous person, just an extension of themselves.

Why is it so hard to leave? Perhaps the abuser has isolated the woman from friends and family, either through lies or manipulation. Maybe he has made her financially dependent on him. If there are children involves she will need to bear the burden for splitting up the family even though the abuser's behaviour is at fault. Frequently it is promises to change and penitent behaviour which draws her back in as she sees a glimpse of the man she knew at the beginning and believes he can return. 

There is also the problem of being believed. Due to the charming and charismatic nature of the abuser and the way he portrays his partner in stories or anecdotes, it is easy to see him as a great guy and her as a neurotic nag. Domestic abuse is often seen as violence and therefore emotional and verbal abuse is not always taken as seriously. Nobody apart from the man's partner knows what he is really like and she may worry that she will look more unstable than ever if she leaves or tells people the truth.

My problem with telling women that they need to build self-esteem and not tolerate abusive behaviours or it is their own fault is that abuse is pure manipulation and can happen to anybody. It is nobody's fault but the abuser's. It is true that they may target more vulnerable women but there are very few warning signs at the beginning of a relationship, unless you are skilled at detecting minor elements of control and the "love-bombing" technique.

When we are caught up in love and romance these two elements can seem charming and elusive, particularly when many men are reluctant to commit or share their lives with their female partners. Women can feel like they have finally found the one for them. Leaving is admitting your whole relationship was a lie. Women who leave abusive partners are also at serious risk of harm as the abuser cannot bear the thought of her living free outside his control. 

If anybody is interested in abusive relationships and the abuser mentality I highly recommend "Why does he do that?" by Lundy Bancroft. It breaks down the disturbed thought patterns and personality types of abusers and the way they regard their own relationships. For anybody reading who worries they may be in an abusive relationship please contact Women's Aid who can help you leave this situation. 

If a partner makes you feel stupid, belittles you, coerces you into sex, calls you names, gives you the silent treatment, physically assaults you (can be low-level such as pokes and pinches), there is a very good chance they may be an abuser. It is not because of the "energy" you are giving out, it is not that you are weak. You have been targeted and controlled through subtle means that play on your desire to give and receive love and ensure others' needs are met. It is never your fault and I reject this idiocy of the alternative spirituality movement that the events in our life can be changed just by changing ourselves. It is not as simplistic as that and it is dangerous to suggest women bring abuse on themselves. You cannot prevent abuse by 'thinking positively'. Would you tell your daughter, if she was in an abusive relationship, that she needs to change her energies so she doesn't attract abuse? Hardly. So stop telling other women.