Who attracts an abuser?

I have heard severally that not everyone can get into abusive relationships. While I know this to be true, I acknowledge that people who get into abusive relationships carry certain traits developed in their early childhood.

Robin Norwood explains this concept further that people tend to marry those who enact the same environment they are familiar with – the environment that they learnt as children. To simplify this even further, people tend to marry people who take them through the same emotions they went through as children.

This means that the person one attracts has everything to do with the background where the person was formed – the family of origin. So what are some of these traits that attract potential abusers?

  1. A person who believes that if they love someone else in an exceptional way, that person will change and becomes better. The common thing that abusive people do is to convince the person they intend to win over that the people they dated/married previously did not love them and that is why they feel and behave the way they do. The impression given is that they will change if the new person is different.

Potential abusers will show you how it is just you that truly loves them among all the others that they ever loved. Love, acceptance and making every possible effort does not change an abuser. The person needs not only to heal and love themselves well enough to teach others how to love them, but also accept that no one can love anyone more than they love themselves.

  • A person who believes that the other can be productive, successful and wealthy if they had someone to boost them, give them resources, get a job for them or finance their venture is setting themselves up for abuse.

 Any adult who needs to be rescued from their own helplessness learns to depend on the purported saviour. If they are not able to use their God given resources to get themselves out of their position, send them to a therapist or any other professional who can equip them with the required skills.

  • A person who believes the other is a victim of circumstance. I am in this situation because I am an orphan, because my parents did not educate me, because I was treated as a black sheep at home… Every single person has had challenges, some bigger than others. The question is, what makes particular people get stuck in their challenges while others get enriched by the lessons?

This victim mentality may continue even in relationship and it may end up as a “state of being”. This means that the other partner will feel abused as they carry most of the burdens in this relationship to keep the victim from feeling further victimized.

  • A person who believes that marriage/settling down will provide escape from poverty, “single person” labels, from a violent family, from lack of love, etc., is likely to attract an abuser. This is because they live in fantasy of getting their needs met that they do not watch out for the “red flags”.

This person forms an image of what they want in the long run and continues to pursue their mental ideal in the person they are dating. They only see the strengths, overlooking the weaknesses. The healthy way is to acknowledge, heal and grow so that the decision is not influenced by one’s unmet needs but by facts.

  • A person who engages passionately only when together or during sex but gets cold when away is a potential abuser. They either lack capacity to emotionally connect or they have no intention pursuing it.
  • A person who believes they will heal a wounded person through their love and patience. Healing takes more than love and patience, it takes deliberate effort, it takes work. Since it is true that hurt people hurt others, instead of reciprocating your love, they are likely to continue to cause pain because they see life through the eyes of their pain. Continuous pain is abuse.
  • A person who was emotionally abandoned by parents and has not healed is likely to seek after a person who will complete the love they missed which plays out in patterns of clinginess or emotional detachment. (parents may be physically present but emotionally absent to a child)

Clingy individuals attract those people who easily offer superficial love and that is the fantasy they dream of. These people cling onto their imagination of the love they share that when abuse happens, they begin to believe they are at fault because the other person is so perfect. They continue to fill their void of love by not letting go.

In the setups where a person internalized the detachment style they learnt as children, they may live with the constant feeling that their partners will walk out on them. This makes them insecure, picking signals of being abandoned even where they do not exist.

  • A person who believes that by avoiding conflicts they will have a peaceful relationship.

Conflicts are good for the growth of any relationship, they are evidence that two different people are free to express their different opinions. Some feel that it is entirely their fault that that conflicts in a relationship are happening and if they do more, conflicts will end.

Others believe that for their partners to behave in any unpleasant way including being aggressive, it is their fault. When we take responsibility for other people, we entertain abusers who will blame the victim of abuse for their behavior.

  • A person who gets involved with a partner who has addiction issues or, has manifested some form of risky sexual behavior. This person may blame it on loneliness so that the person they are dating believes that, by accepting to cure their loneliness, they will become responsible and stop their addictions. Love does not cure any addiction because addiction is a disease.
  1. A person who meets another and feels the need to upgrade their lives so that they can own a better car, have better wardrobe, live in better neighborhood or eat in better restaurants. If you do not feel comfortable with a person as they are, its only better to move and find one that fits what you want.

Insistence on upgrading another is a form of control and the controlling person is likely to become the perpetrator of abuse.  The perpetrator is likely to dictate how life needs to be while the victim continues to follow even when its unpleasant for them.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera


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How does parenting contribute to bullying?

Bullying is repeated attack which may be physical, verbal, social or emotional by person or persons in place of power (real or perceived) to those who are powerless. Bullying is done with the intention of causing distress.

Bullying includes teasing, use of offensive jokes, insults, constant harassment, name calling, racist remarks, spreading rumors, mimicking, deliberately excluding a person from some activity, damaging someone’s reputation, body shaming, hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, etc.

Parenting contributions are:

Lack of emotional bonds between the parent and the child

John Bowlby puts emphasis on the role of emotionally bonding with children in their early years of infancy and that when proper bonding happens, individuals are able to relate positively later in life.

When proper bonding does not happen (insecure attachments) the growing children appear emotionally detached from the parents and by extension they are detached from the world. Since they have not experienced love, these children do not care for the feelings of others and therefore they can hurt others easily through bullying.

Some of the children who lacked emotional bonding are constantly in a state of doing anything to “buy love”. They work hard trying to please the people they feel need to love them just the same way they learnt to work harder and do everything in order for the parents to accept them. This “people pleasing” attitude attracts the bullying and these children then become victims of bullying.

Parents who use strict/rigid rules with no warmth

This is called authoritarian style of parenting. This style of parenting produces bullies. The parents who use this style of parenting expect obedience without question even when they have not explained the reasons behind the rules. They believe by virtue of being parents, they know what is best for their children and as such, the children need to follow without any discussion.

This kind of parenting leaves children feeling controlled and angry and immediately they get someone to displace this anger to, they do it. The children from such families displace their anger to other vulnerable children as they demand obedience with no excuses. They learn the act of bullying right from their homes.

Neglected and abandoned children

The children who were neglected and abused are likely to turn into bullying others. Neglect and abandonment involve failure to meet physical and emotional needs of children. Children who feel that their parents are uninvolved in their lives are likely to act out their frustration and aggression towards others and in this case they turn out to be the ones who bully others.

Another set of neglected and abandoned children are likely to embrace the victim mentality and feel completely powerless therefore becoming the victims of bullying because they feel incapacitated to do anything about the perceived state of being victims.

Permissive parenting

Children who get everything that they want grow up with the sense of entitlement that is directed towards the other children and the world. Since they do not take “no” for an answer, anyone who says “no” to them deserve punishment and that is how they turn to bullying as a way of punishment directed at those who do not comply.

Child abuse

Children tend to replicate the very behavior they have learnt from their homes. These behaviors learnt whether use of verbal abuse such as name calling, hitting, biting, punching, or demeaning others are forms of bullying. These children may repeat the same behaviors and become the ones that bully others.

Some of the children from abusive homes become so fearful and traumatized anytime someone else repeats any patterns of abuse that they observed in their homes. These children get frightened that they are not able to speak for themselves so they become victims of bullying.


The children who were largely criticized lack self-confidence because they grow up believing that something was wrong with them and that is why their parents could not find something good in them. Children who lack confidence become victims of bullying because they are easy to pick on and they have no capacity to protect themselves.

Overprotecting children (enmeshed) families

These families where parents do not allow their children to interact with the other children are slowly raising children who will be victims of bullying. These children live in enclosed spaces and therefore they have not learnt how to interact with others. Over protected children lack social skills and when placed in an environment with other children, they are likely to be picked on and bullied.

Lack of skills

Children who lack life skills such as interpersonal skills, communication, problem solving, taking initiative, creative skills, self-care skills (such as feeding, dressing, using the toilet etc) find it very difficult when interacting with children who already have these skills.

These children feel inferior to their peers and this opens up an opportunity to be victims of bullying. Needless to say, adults who lack life skills because they did not acquire them in childhood are likely to be either bullies or victims of bullying.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera

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Martin fell in love with Diana when they were 23 and 20 years respectively. Martin got attracted to Diana because she was orphaned and taking care of her two younger siblings. Apart from the fact that he thought she was responsible, he felt he was better placed to help Diana raise her siblings since he had a job and she didn’t.

When they got married, Diana stayed home to take care of her siblings and the husband continued to work. Three years down the line, they had two children of their own and a household of 6 members in total to care for. Martin started feeling overwhelmed by his situation and felt like the wife was comfortable, doing nothing to improve their situation.

On the other hand, Diana felt helpless and wondered what is it she needed to do. She felt the work of the husband is to provide for the family while the wife was to support him. Even when it was clear that the burden was too unbearable for Martin, Diana did not do anything to make the situation better.

Martin, being a first born raised by a father who was struggling with alcohol addiction, took up the role of taking care of his younger brother and mother who both had no source of income. He felt very guilty saying no even to his brother who could use all the money on alcohol. When asked, the brother blamed his problem on joblessness and the father who was absent in his life.

Martin was getting tired but found it very difficult to share his feelings with his family or his wife. He felt unloved, unappreciated and overworked. Everyone praised him and regarded him a hero because he cared so much and helped anyone who came his way, something that led him into accumulating many debts.

At work where he was a supervisor, his juniors praised his goodness. He would severally warn them of misconduct yet he took no actions. When some failed to report to work, he would end up covering for them because he couldn’t imagine them losing their jobs.

These characteristics described above are synonymous with codependency. Codependency is a behavioral condition caused by unhealed childhood trauma whereby an adult attempt to meet their bonding needs on other people. (http://joankirera.com/2020/03/30/childhood-trauma/) These bonding needs are supposed to be provided by parents.

Dr. Hemfelt in his book “Love is a choice” puts it this way; it is the responsibility of two parents to fill the love tanks of their children. If the two love tanks of the parents are empty or very low, the child will only get very little on its love tank. These children who get so low are always looking out for someone who can fully fill the tank, or add to the love tank.

 Symptoms of co-dependency.

  1. Inability to leave relationships that are hurtful, controlling and demeaning.
  2. Taking blame for what others have done –  an example is the case of Martin, he constantly owned to his juniors’ absenteeism afraid that they would lose their salaries and end up like his family.
  3. Inability to speak one’s thoughts, feelings and needs for fear of rejection.
  4. Forgetting, neglecting or delaying self needs to meet other people’s needs before yours.
  5. Depending on what others say about you to feel good about self.
  6. Difficulty in being vulnerable making it hard for them to experience intimacy.
  7. Feeling of need to save and rescue others from their troubles- they tell themselves that if they do not intervene, the person will not find help.
  8. Codependents find it difficult saying ‘no’ to loved ones.
  9. Even when codependents do very well, they still second guess themselves.
  10. They are dealing with one or more addictions to numb the pain caused by the attachments they never got during their childhood.
  11. Codependents control those close to them – they expect people to behave in a certain way for them to feel okay.
  12. They experience so much shame and have their self-worth and self-confidence challenged.
  13. They often feel they do not deserve the very opportunities that they have.
  14. They do not take responsibility in areas of challenge, they blame someone else for their own issues.
  15. Codependents use magical thinking- if I improve on this area, the other will automatically change certain behavior and get better.
  16. Addiction to caregiving – they are not attracted to stable individuals (these appear boring to them), they attract people who are in need of some fixing. (those challenges and instabilities give them a high as they figure out how to fix them)
  17. Self-made guilt trip where codependents believe the reason why anything negative happens to them is because they are not okay or they actually attracted it.

Who is more prone to codendancy.

  1. Firstborns.
  2. Parentified children– these are the children who were given the parenting roles because their parents were at work, the parents worked away, the children were too many that the parenting roles were divided or because parents were incapacitated in some way, are more likely to be codependents.
  3. Children whose parents had addiction issues.
  4. Children of parents with untreated and unmanaged mental illness.
  5. Heavily criticized children.
  6. Family heroes/ saviours – they are high achievers who work so hard to change their lives and that of their families.
  7. Children from violent homes.
  8. Abandoned children – children whose parents were emotionally unavailable.

By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit: www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera