By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
Referenced from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book “How We Love”
This article is part of a series about the personality imprints covered in “How We Love.” You can find an introductory article about imprints here. It will be followed by a practical article with steps for dealing with your victim imprint. That article can be found here.
Statistics from the Center for Disease Control’s “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010”
Cultural catastrophes happen by degrees. Roughly 13 years passed between Hitler starting his political career and the opening of the first concentration camps. Russian activists agitated for almost two decades before they seized the palace and executed the Czar’s family. And I bet no one foresaw either of these movements taking the paths they did. It’s the same with smaller tragedies, such as the escalation of domestic violence. Your aggressor doesn’t usually start the relationship smacking you to the ground and then locking the door so you can’t leave. But, by the time they do, you are so accustomed to accepting the violence it is no longer shocking enough for you to leave.
Toads in Boiling Water
Milan and Kay Yerkovich analyze this “victim” imprint in their book, “How We Love.” People develop victim imprints because they grow up in chaotic, dysfunctional environments (or endured a prolonged abusive situation, such as molestation, outside the home that was never dealt with). They are surrounded by unhealthy, volatile, perhaps violent relationships and come to accept that as normal behavior. “Often their parents struggle with numerous addictions, mental illnesses, or are absent altogether. For these kids, parents do not relieve stress; they create it, leaving the children with a huge dilemma. They need their parents in order to survive, but their parents are the source of danger, anxiety, and fear.” (101) Unlike the other personality types detailed in, “How We Love,” parents who create victim imprints are unpredictable. While the other personality types discussed in the book are unhealthy, their behavior tends to follow a pattern. Because “chaotic” parents do not, the children are unable to develop any sort of system for handling stress. (104)
Because these kids live in a constant state of apprehension, either anticipating a blow-up or experiencing one, it pushes them to one of two extremes depending on their personality. More assertive children become aggressive, while meeker children become passive. This is the “controller/victim” dichotomy. There is another article about controller imprints here. (LINK TO THIS) Following one of these two paths helps these children survive.
While a lot of children in dysfunctional homes find an outlet in dangerous activities such as abusing others, torturing animals, substance abuse, or casual sex, many learn to “escape” the problem by dissociating. They find a way to hide away in their mind, “entering a self-induced, hypnotic, trancelike state,” not unlike getting lost in thought. This offers an escape from abusive episodes. (105) As children, victims survive by “learn(ing) to detach from the situation and diminish their distressing feelings by becoming invisible. They work frantically to avoid conflict and to do what is expected.” (104)
Why Doesn’t She Leave Him?
While the causes for the behavior and how it is carried out may vary from family to family, the structure is invariably the same. Victims almost always gravitate toward controlling partners to continue the dysfunction they are accustomed to. As children, they learned to connect with other people through examples of abusive tirades or lascivious seduction. Because of this, they develop a powerful need for intensity. They feel uncomfortable during lulls, so they instigate conflict. This gives them control over when the storm starts and how. Some may start fights with people who have given no indication of wanting a conflict; others may inappropriately seduce people.
Adults with victim imprints deal with their abuse by rationalizing it and trying to prevent it. Their imprint robs them of the wherewithal to leave the abuse, so they try to make it more bearable by telling themselves it’s not so bad. While they minimize the severity of the abuse, the abuser reinforces the poisonous voice in their head that tells them they deserve what they get. The victim believes “if only they could be better,” the abuse would not happen. So they acquiesce to whatever the abuser asks of them, no matter how heinous. All of this is fortified by the abuser’s periodic distraught apologies and promises it will never happen again.
Victims stay trapped in the prison of abuse even when they leave their home. Forced to lie and make excuses for any symptoms of dysfunction, they serve as their own jailers. Abusers often have gregarious, deceptive personalities that disguise the torment going on at home. Even when victims find the strength to tell someone about the abuse, they’re often dismissed because people can’t believe they’re telling the truth. (116) The unceasing terror wastes the body, often causing gastric problems, high blood pressure, headaches, weight problems, and fatigue.
Although they lack the strength to defend themselves against their abusers, victims sometimes manage to scrape together enough power to vent their anger on their children. The stress of dealing with the offspring of a chaotic household and the abuser’s absence gives the victim an opportunity to stomp around a bit. Especially as children may mouth off a bit more with the passive parent.
Be a Victor, Not a Victim
You may not have had much control over becoming a victim, but you can control whether you stay one. No one deserves to be abused by anyone; particularly not people who claim to love them. You can escape your marriage problems and people will help you. It may be debatable whether scripture gives husbands total authority over their wives, but there is no Biblical support for spousal abuse. “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” (Eph. 5:28-29 NIV) No one’s spouse cares for them perfectly, but if your spouse exploits you as a backboard for their anger, you need to examine whether it is healthy to stay. If you can’t leave for yourself, leave for your children. “Children are a heritage from the Lord; offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3) As a parent, your most important job is to reasonably protect your children. Anything is better for them than to stay where they may be abused or turned into abusers.
If you need help confirming whether you are in an abusive situation, or finding the strength to leave it, find a professional Christian counselor in Seattle. A counselor’s office provides a compassionate, safe place for you to tell someone about what is going on in your life. They will discuss your options for escaping the abuse, and work with you so you don’t fall back into the cycle. Professional Christian counselors want to help you see God’s purpose for your life and how to pursue that rather than the life of victimhood.
Until then, this article has a companion article of practical exercises from “How We Love” that offer help for how to resolve your victim imprint. Everyone has marriage problems, but that does not mean they can’t change them.
Women Helping Battered Women 802-658-1996 or statewide 1-800-228-7395
Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women
The Seattle Crisis Resource Directory
Community Information Line 2-1-1