Society often labels abuse survivors as co-dependent. They already feel unseen and unheard, and when society confirms that the victim isn’t known or understood, it serves as another smoke screen that keeps the victim confused about who she is. Not the best environment for healing.
According to Everyday Health, a codependent person may have problems in the following areas:
- Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship
- Having difficulty identifying your feelings
- Having difficulty communicating in a relationship
- Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
- Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
- Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
- Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
- Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
How many of you would read that list and say, “Well – maaaaaaaybe. But I wasn’t anything like that before I had been married to an abuser for three decades…” Or maybe you’re thinking, “No way. I’m none of those things. But in my relationship, I need to behave in those ways in order to cope. Outside of my dysfunctional relationship I’m nothing like that.”
Enter Sandra L. Brown, MA, CEO of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and author of several books, including Women Who Love Psychopaths, and How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved.
With the help of Purdue University, she conducted the first of its kind research study on over 600 survivors of domestic abuse to find out what, if anything, in their personalities contributed to their being drawn into an abusive relationship. And what, if anything, caused them to stay in that relationship for so long. All the participants had to take three different personality tests, and they were also tested for adversive childhood experiences.
What they discovered was fascinating.
She has three rough recordings on her website HERE where she explains the results of this research study. Wouldn’t you like to know what made you susceptible to becoming an abuse victim? That’s what she found out. But it’s over three hours of listening, so I decided to write up a summary here using many of her own words as I took notes. If you want to hear her more complete telling, I encourage you to go listen HERE.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
What the study found is that over 60% of these women did not have adversive childhoods, which is common in people who have co-dependent characteristics, but they did have elevated levels of two personality traits in particular. Basically, abuse survivors are often targeted because of two super-powers:
These are the kinds of personality traits that top academic colleges and corporations hiring for upper management positions look for, because these particular traits are found in highly successful people. They are amazing personality traits to have! And yet, these very traits were what also made these women susceptible to getting into and staying in an abusive relationship.
Sandra Brown breaks down each of these traits into their different facets to give us a better understanding of how each one shows up in a person’s life and how they are exploited by disordered individuals. I took good notes on her lectures, and I’m sharing those notes. But again, to hear the full lecture please go HERE.
Agreeableness – the “Relationship Investment” trait that hooks a woman into an abusive relationship
- Trust – This woman is trustworthy and trusting of others. She is optimistic about human nature and believes in the ability for people to change and grow. She projects her own trustworthiness onto others even if they haven’t earned it.
- Straightforward – she is up-front and honest, not because she is needy, but because it’s part of her nature. She errs on the side of over-disclosing and making herself vulnerable. This ties into her propensity to trust others wholeheartedly.
- Giving Nature – she is sacrificial in her relationships, willing to compromise for the good of the other person. She’s generous, considerate, and altruistic. Outsiders may see this and think she is co-dependent, but this is her nature with everyone. Not just her intimate partner.
- Cooperative – She is sociable and reciprocal in relationships. She’s motivated by helping, sharing, donating, and volunteering. She values getting along with others and assisting them rather than attacking them. Again, others may be tempted to view her as a doormat, but in reality, she is wired to deeply care about creating safe spaces for others.
- Humble – she is modest in her portrayal of herself. She’s warm and likeable. She is not guarded or stand-offish but rather open and approachable.
- Empathy – this woman is compassionate and forgives easily. She enjoys peace and strives to make that possible.
- Loyal – she is committed to her obligations, faithful, and has high allegiance to those in her circles. This is the superglue that keeps her stuck in dysfunctional relationships. Her loyalty to herself will eventually help her break free.
- Tolerance – she has a high tolerance level for different opinions and behaviors. Her line in the sand of what she will and will not tolerate is drawn pretty far out there. This is what helps her find success in her relationships and her career if she is not being exploited.
Conscientiousness – The “Integrity Driven Life” trait that keeps the woman in the relationship for far too long
- Efficient – this woman is competent, resourceful, and slightly perfectionistic. She is a problem solver and naturally resourceful about whatever problems she faces. In a job she is successful and an asset to a company. In an abusive relationship she works relentlessly to solve the behavioral and relational issues her partner has.
- Organized – she is the opposite of the Cluster B personality types which tend toward chaotic. She has the personality most likely to be able to tolerate the disposition of a Cluster B individual. She can bring order out of chaos. After she has been in an abusive relationship for a while, she may suffer trauma that causes her to lose this focus and ability, but it is something that she was wired with from birth.
- Dependable/Reliable – she takes her obligations and commitments seriously.
- Achievement Oriented – she is hard wired to achieve and often expends effort to reach one goal at the detriment of her other goals. We see this as a problem when her abusive partner continuously raises the bar and keeps her hooked into this impossible goal of satisfying him.
- Self-disciplined – she is less likely than most people to give up on her relationships and projects. She is not a quitter. (Sadly, when she finally does get to the place of taking care of herself, she is often labeled as a “quitter” even though it is the opposite of her true character.)
- Deliberateness – She is cautious, reflective, careful, persevering, and diligent. Sandra points out that survivors are often confused about how they ended up in a pathological relationship when they were cautious and careful about who they dated and married. The reason is because the abusive individual wore a mask and mirrored the target’s qualities.
These character traits are found in leaders who are especially interested in social justice and innovation. People like Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, and a Martin Luther King Jr. had these traits. Nobody would label these people as co-dependent. Instead, they were world-transformers.
It’s tragic that millions of women today and throughout history have had the potential to rock their worlds in profound ways, but instead their character was hijacked, exploited, and neutralized by cultures and people who seek to power-over other human beings. This happens on a global scale, and it happens on a micro-scale in the home.
Jesus came to set women free from this yoke of slavery. He wants to use your gifts and your character – your Super-Powers – to bring love, and light, and healing to this planet and the human lives who live on it. That starts with you.
If you want to learn more about how you can be set free to be the woman God created you to be, I encourage you to join the Flying Free Sisterhood education and support community. You can learn more at joinflyingfree.com.