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why are some wonen attracted to abusive men

(81 Posts)
londonniceguy Thu 03-Oct-13 09:20:19

Some women seem to be serially attracted to abusive men. Nature or nurture?

queenbitchapparently Thu 03-Oct-13 09:24:16

Nurture. Bad childhood, an abusive relationship, differing things leading to ignoring red flags or not thinking they deserve better treatment.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 03-Oct-13 09:24:47

I think that's an entirely false premise. Abusive men are not one homogeneous bunch. There are different ways to abuse someone. No-one sets out to get into an abusive relationship.

WeeHelena Thu 03-Oct-13 09:35:01

Think its more like abusive people are attracted to vulnerable and susceptible people.

Abusive people are 'nice and normal' in the beginning of a relationship but slowly or immediately test the boundaries of the other person to see how much they can treat or get away with and chip away at the other persons self esteem depending how much there was in the first place will depend how severe the abuse will be/get at first imo.

I think a lot of it is society and nurture from childhood.
It's often said woman as a whole are expected to work at relationships and tolerate men's bad behaviour and much more.
The nurture applies to both sex's in which you learn how relationships are and what is right and wrong in general by adults around you,it is ingrained in you,this applies to the abuser as well as the abused.

Dahlen Thu 03-Oct-13 09:54:03

I don't think men are by nature more abusive than women. As society becomes more equal that is becoming sadly apparent by the massive increase on male domestic abuse victims and female street violence. However, one of the reasons there remains significantly more female victims is social conditioning. As a PP referred to, women are conditioned to work at relationships more so than men.

Take a look around you socially and you'll probably find many happy marriages in which it is plainly obvious that most domestic work and childcare is carried out by the woman even if she too works full time. It remains the case that women generally earn less than their male partners and in many cases are financially reliant on them. All this benign inequality sets the playing field for abuse to flourish. One couple's normal, happy set-up can be manipulated by an abuser to create a situation in which the woman is constantly expected to wait on her abuser hand and foot and suffers consequences if she doesn't.

While I think the majority of people - men and women - are non-abusive, I think a sizeable minority are abusive. Current figures suggest 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience abuse, and by that we're talking about significant patterns of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Abuse is accepted in our society. Not happily, admittedly, but accepted nonetheless. Court-imposed sanctions for abuse remain low. Abuse is no barrier to the abuser seeing children of an abusive relationship (even though the link between domestic abuse and child abuse is well established). Funding for refuges and emergency funds to help victims flee their abusers and start again have disappeared. Victims are encouraged to stay and put up because leaving and complaining creates a social problem that no one wants to face up to because there are no easy solutions.

Even if you are a perfectly normal, well-balanced person with high self-esteem, it would be very easy to pick up an abuser without being aware of it. There are simply so many of them around. People think some are more easily susceptible because of poor childhoods themselves, but the converse is true as well - if you've had the good fortune to experience a good childhood you can be ignorant to the signs of abuse. If you believe the best of people, it's easy to take the excuses and apologies as genuine.

chocoreturns Thu 03-Oct-13 10:04:39

I can't speak for everyone, but the reasons I have identified as to why I've had more than one abusive relationship are:
- My parents happy, stable marriage led me to believe that you should always give the benefit of the doubt, your partner is always doing the best they can for you, and compromise is worth it in the end. (What I didn't recognise was that I was the only person making excuses, doing my best and compromising myself - until it was too late)
- My early sexual and romantic experiences taught me that men only want one thing from you, so you'd best be willing to give it to them. That a womans worth is tied up in how she meets her mans needs. (I now know this is appalling and I am no longer willing to measure my worth in this way, but it IS ingrained in many teenage girls minds from the get go)
- My first abusive relationship was so goddamn awful that every grade 8 bastard after that seemed like an improvement on the grade 10 one I'd left behind, and the less obvious abuse (financial, emotional) didn't become obvious to me at all until I was well and truly enmeshed.

know it's only my experience, and it's not universal - but that's my two pennies worth.

Keepithidden Thu 03-Oct-13 10:16:53

No-one sets out to get into an abusive relationship

I'm sure the abuser does, hence the seeking out of vulnerable partners to abuse.

OP - I think WeeHelena hit the nail on the head, it's more a case of the victims being sought out, than them seeking perpetrators*. Almost like victim blaming (though I'm sure that wasn't the intent!).

* I'm sure this happens sometimes, as in "I can fix this person" type approach, it just doesn't appear that frequently AFAIK.

sillymillyb Thu 03-Oct-13 10:26:36

I have had a lot of psychotherapy to try and figure this out - in my case I seek out and actively choose men who are "bad" choices, because to me that is safer because it is then a known quantity. I ironically don't trust "good" men because I am always waiting to find out what the hidden abusive side will be. Better the devil you know sort of thing!

Hope that makes sense? I have been single now for several years as I have a little boy and would never risk involving an abusive man in his life, for me, dating is still too much of a risk.

Blondeorbrunette Thu 03-Oct-13 10:52:19

My parents divorced when i was 14 and my father would often come home from the pub and sit me down for hours and verbally abuse me.
He would tell me that I would grow up to be a tramp.

I think he singled me out as im the spitting image of my mother. She left my dad for my best friends father.

As an adult I asked my father why he had said those cruel things to me and he denied it. I said how interesting you didnt ask what cruel things and he went bright red.

We did make our peace and I know that he loved me- but the damage to me had been done. My father would often tell me I was very good looking but I had such poor self esteem. In my adult relationships and much to my shame I have caused pain to other people for reasons I just cant articulate well enough for it to make any sense. An example would be when a new partner tells me they love me I will finish it and almost make them prove it. Isnt that dreadful.

In the early days of my abusive relationship I simply didnt read the signs. Now when I look back I can recall them and recognise them as red flag.

I think my self esteem and self worth were through the floor and I fell for a man that presented himself to me was going to be my happy ending. The one I should have got. Once I could see the real him I was already sucked in.

Their grip on you is so strong that it is so hard to put into words.

Dahlen Thu 03-Oct-13 10:57:58

I think a lot of abusers are acting entirely subconsciously rather than purposefully looking for victims. I've seen a pattern with some where they are genuinely bewildered why the vibrant confident person they took up has become a shadow of their former self and are completely unable to recognise that this is effect of their own behaviour which they see are perfectly normal and reasonable.

It's further complicated too by the fact that in some cases the abuser isn't displaying characteristic controlled aggression, but generalised aggression. Typical abusers tend to reserve their aggression for specific people - e.g. on MN we see posters asking if the abusive partner treats their boss as badly, etc. However, there is a sizeable portion for whom violence is a normal social currency. These people can be found lashing out at friends, family and even colleagues as well as with their partners.

I did once come across some research which ties in to sillymnillyb's psycotherapy. It suggested that the parts of the brain connected with fear and sexual excitement are very close together, create similar responses and can become confused. For example, a woman who has been abused before (either in childhood or by a previous adult partner) could subconsciously recognise signs of an abusive personality when meeting someone new and the brain would respond with the fear response. If the abuser was sexually attractive to the potential victim and a relationship ensues, the two elements become connected. If moving on to a relationship after that with yet another abuser, the fear response triggered when the victim subconsciously recognises signs of an abusive personality is interpreted by the brain as sexual attraction. This creates a pattern where the victim is only sexually attracted to those who trigger the fear response. It can be unlearned but obviously requires an awareness by the victim that it's happening.

I'm not sure how common that is though. Bancroft's research, for example, shows that contrary to popular belief, most women get significantly better at spotting the signs of abuse and avoiding it. I wonder if it is linked to how young the victim is when they first experience abuse.

I think Dahlen put it really well.

My mum was a 17 year old runaway who'd had a shit childhood when she met my dad, who was 10 years her senior and a secret alcoholic. He saw her coming a mile off.

I think there's a lot to be said for this 'stay and make it work' attitude and the fact that gaslighting seems to be a common thing among abusive relationships and I think if a person is made to believe it's them that's caused the abuser to abuse and that they're 'mad' or whatever then even if they leave that person, they will take those skewed beliefs with them to the next relationship, which is why I think the emotional damage done by one abusive relationship can make you vulnerable to another one if that makes sense? Not that it's ever the person's fault! It just goes to show the possible extent of the emotional damage that can be done.

^ saying that, after my mum's bad childhood and a few nightmarish years with my dad she's never been in a bad relationship and rarely talks to her parents/my grandparents as they are 'toxic'. She managed to turn it all around, meet a nice bloke and bring us up to have normal self-esteem and a good, close relationship with her.

I study psychology at the moment and there's a lot of evidence to prove that if you have a healthy secure relationship in later life, it can undo a lot of the damage that has been done, even if you've not had a 'secure' healthy attatchment with anyone from birth. It's a strangely comforting thought smile

JuliaScurr Thu 03-Oct-13 11:34:11

www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-articles.asp?section=00010001002200020001&itemid=11

men are rarely victims - if they are, usually the attacker is also male

Dahlen Thu 03-Oct-13 11:44:45

The link doesn't work.

The 1 in 6 figure is based on Home Office research (largely based on the British Crime Survey, which has its own statistical failings of course). Violence in same sex relationships are counted for both men and women though and seems to occur at the same level in both (about 1 in 4).

It's worth bearing in mind that the difference between 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men may not sound a lot but if you actually look at numbers it makes a massive difference. Likewise, the fact that men generally don't end up with responsibility for children and on average tend to earn a lot more, means that female victims are more vulnerable than male ones and will find it a lot harder to leave.

Jan45 Thu 03-Oct-13 11:54:40

Self worth, if you value yourself and expect a certain standard of behaviour towards you from a partner then all should be well, if you don't have self worth, don't think you are of any value then you will attract the kind of man who will treat you with little respect.

I had a friend who was actually beautiful looking but her self worth was rock bottom, no matter how many times you told her she was very attractive, it's mental. I think it all stems from your upbringing.

londonniceguy Thu 03-Oct-13 12:03:23

I agree with WeeHelena. I think that abusers either deliberately or subconsciously seek out their victims

happybubblebrain Thu 03-Oct-13 12:06:28

I think it's mainly down to low self-esteem (there are many different reasons for this); and mainstream media manipulation - any man is better than no man bullshit. Lots of women will see past the flaws and see the good in everyone because we are supposed to be 'nice' like that. If you are not meeting a man, getting married and having kids you are still seen as strange by many in society. There is nothing wrong with being single.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 03-Oct-13 12:07:47

"if you don't have self worth, don't think you are of any value then you will attract the kind of man who will treat you with little respect."

It's that word 'attract' that I have a problem with. All kinds of people find all kinds of people attractive and it's often on very superficial grounds. A person lacking in confidence may be specifically targeted by an abusive person as vulnerable but I've seen too many outwardly strong, capable people get into abusive situations to know it's as simple as that. If self-worth comes into it (and I agree that it does) it is the confidence to choose being alone. The physical desire for a companion is very powerful.

PostBellumBugsy Thu 03-Oct-13 12:10:46

We seek out the familiar. We often don't realise this, but we look to mirror relationships we understand & know how to deal with.

If you grow up in a family, where you are undermined, belittled, the subject of physical or mental abuse - without really know it, you seek out similar relationships because that is what your brain is wired to respond to.

It takes a great deal of effort to step back and recognise this pattern and even more effort to try and do something to break your desire for familiar relationships, even though you know they are dysfunctional.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 03-Oct-13 12:16:55

"I think that abusers either deliberately or subconsciously seek out their victims"

I don't. I think abusive people are motivated by self. They approach everything in life as being there for their benefit. What they want is so important that how they get it is immaterial. Other people are simply a means to an end, including partners. If things go wrong in life, it's always other people's fault.. out to get them. They have discovered various methods to get what they want and that can include techniques like charm, guilt-tripping, pity-making, bullying, violence... and they'll mix it up as it suits.

So I don't think it's that they seek out victims so much as they regard everyone as a victim as standard.

ChelseaBun Thu 03-Oct-13 12:18:49

As someone who came out of an abusive relationship some months ago, and now await to give evidence at his trial for sexual offences against me, I would never have identified myself as "serially" attracted to abusive men.

My relationships before him were non abusive and I would also say I was the stronger partner in those relationships in many ways.

What does concern me now is that I may be "addicted" to abusive relationships. If I'm honest, the idea of a relationship to a "nice" man sounds lovely but it holds no interest to me.

I fear I have become addicted to the "highs" of the abusive relationship. This is possibly something that should be given more prominence when talking about abusive relationships. Erin Pizzey got a lot of flack 30 years ago for saying this very same thing.

But I feel the continual surge of adrenaline in my body caused by the stress and anxiety during the relationship, has created an addiction in me. I also am sure it has caused a chronic physical condition that has no cure. And this addiction goes on as I await trial and have to deal with police and receive updates on him - it is like we are still in a relationship.

Despite the fact I have contempt and dread of my ex, no one has ever created such euphoria in me as him. And no one has made me sadder. I just wonder if a more middle of the road relationship is ever going to be mine.

Until I've dealt with this through therapy and counselling, I will stay single.

Jan45 Thu 03-Oct-13 12:19:17

Cog, true.

I have a friend who definitely attracts the wrong kind of man, she openly offers sex on a plate and goes back for more even after they have quite obviously ignored her for weeks on end.

I think you can unwittingly get involved with what you think is a nice man but if you have self worth and belief in yourself as a good and decent person then you soon wise up and kick him to the kerb.

If you're with a man who treats you well for years and then becomes abusive, that's a whole different dynamic, and not so easy to walk away from, esp if you have children together.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 03-Oct-13 12:27:00

"goes back for more even after they have quite obviously ignored her for weeks on end."

That's the part about having the confidence to choose being alone. Your friend is making herself more vulnerable to ill-treatment by behaving the way she does and persisting with something that is obviously not working but, unless she's really unlucky, she still shouldn't be abused. No-one should.

PostBellumBugsy Thu 03-Oct-13 12:34:46

It is not so much the confidence to be alone, as the awareness of what you are actually doing with your relationships. If you aren't aware of the awful mistakes you are making in your choices of partners or even friends, then you will keep on making the same mistakes.

Sometimes, you will even keeping making the same mistakes when you do have awareness, because you are attracted to dysfunctional, abusive people.

These are usually very difficult patterns to break free from. Your brain has been programmed from an early age to recognise and accept certain types of behaviour from the people closest to you. You probably will need some kind of therapy to break free.

londonniceguy Thu 03-Oct-13 12:35:57

<<<<<<< Nice man, has never abused women. This may make me decidely boring. Which I am not

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