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Answer: Why did my abuser target me?

Reposted from a September 25, 2018, answer on Quora. I have deleted my account there due to harassment, and will be reposting some of my favourite content here.

Originally answered: “When you figure out that a narcissist targeted you, do you agree that means you were lacking boundaries, had low self-esteem, were gullible and easily manipulated and that’s why he was able to destroy you?”

Abusive people (with and without narcissistic adaptations) target very specific traits in people, and these are not bad traits.

In her book Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding, and Escaping Abusive Relationships, author Lynn Fairweather writes about “super traits”:

In her book Women Who Love Psychopaths, psychologist Sandra L. Brown, founder of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Psychopathy Education, writes about “super traits” in women who become involved with dangerous men. Most of the characteristics are seemingly positive, but when presented to an abusive mind, they become weaknesses ripe for exploitation. While all abusers are not psychopaths, their characteristics often match up, as does the mental and physical damage they inflict on intimate partners. Sandra’s discoveries are important because they warn about traits we may unconsciously possess that enhance our vulnerability to a batterer’s victim-tuned radar. The super-traits include:

• Hyper-empathy
• Extreme altruism
• High relationship investment and high attachment
• Hyper-focus on the sentimental aspects of the relationship
• Low impulsiveness
• High resourcefulness

In my extensive work with abused women, I have found that women who become involved with pathological and nonpathological abusers alike share similar traits. Women who are “savers”—those scoring high in empathy, altruism, tolerance, and sentimentality—will almost always be drawn to a relationship where they think they can help or reform a “diamond in the rough” partner. Highly invested, nonimpulsive, and attached women will often try to stick it out and fix a bad situation. Those who are highly resourceful frequently try to handle risky scenarios all on their own without seeking the necessary assistance of others.

I will say that anecdotally, this fits with my own experience. The abuse survivors I know are some of the kindest, strongest, most resourceful people I have ever met. It’s a weird, bittersweet sort of compensation for surviving misogynistic abuse: you suffer indescribable psychic damage, but find yourself in this amazing sisterhood of incredible women and nonbinary folks, bound together by an experience only those who have been through it truly understand.

If you were targeted for abuse, it was likely because you possess these “supertraits,” and that is nothing at all to be ashamed of. It takes a special kind of evil to turn these wonderful, valuable human traits into weapons. This is especially devastating since there seems to be a cultural idea that people who’ve experienced abuse are somehow weaker, more unstable or more manipulable than people who haven’t—and abusive people will turn this idea against you in the process of abusing you, making you believe you are weak and unstable. There’s also a related idea that people with strong partners cannot be abusive; nothing could be further from the truth.

It wasn’t your fault. Avoiding future abuse doesn’t mean snuffing out these qualities, but learning to recognize dangerous and exploitative people early on and swiftly removing them from your life.

The urge to be a “saver” or to “reform” someone is incredibly dangerous, though, and won’t lead to healthy relationships even if those relationships don’t become abusive. If this is something you have a tendency to do, then it’s worth working on—it will make all your relationships, and your life, much better.

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