Easy Targets for Verbal Abuse: Why Me?

August 8, 2017 Emma-Marie Smith

Are some people easy targets for verbal abuse? When I look back at my 20-year-old self, I see an easy target for abuse. Knowing that can protect me. Here's why.Could you be an easy target for verbal abuse? Or have you ever wondered why you were verbally abused in a relationship? By that, I don't just mean why your partner was abusive, but more specifically why he picked you as his target. The general consensus seems to be that anyone can fall prey to an abuser, but is that really the case, or are some people more susceptible to emotional abuse and manipulation than others? Are some of us easy targets for verbal abuse?

You may have heard of "negative grooming," an umbrella term for the things verbal abusers say and do to establish control in a relationship. This occurs over time, gradually undermining our sense of self until we become codependent. It may help to explain why we stay too long in an abusive relationship, but not how we wound up there in the first place.

There Is Such a Thing as an Easy Target for Verbal Abuse

When I look back at my younger self, I see an easy target for verbal abuse, and here's why:*

  1. I had just ended a three-year relationship and had nowhere to live.
  2. I had low self-esteem and was cripplingly self-conscious.
  3. I had recently stopped taking my antidepressants against my doctor's advice and started drinking too much.
  4. The guy (let's call him John) was my employer when our relationship began, so he already had the upper hand.
  5. I had a habit of falling in love with inappropriate men.

Was my vulnerability a factor? Probably. But I don't believe it was that straightforward. There was a reason I was more attracted to John than guys my own age -- guys I was certainly more compatible with. Yes, he was kind of charming and had a way of winning people over, but it was more than that. It was like my brain was propelling me towards the person who would cause me the most pain.

And cause me pain he did. Verbal abuse was the third wheel in our relationship from the beginning. One of the first nights I spent at his flat ended with him forcing me out of bed and calling me terrible names for no reason whatsoever. I left in tears, scrabbling about in the darkness for my clothes, wondering what had happened in the last five minutes to make him flip like that. But at least I left.

That night, I texted him to say it was over, though I knew deep down it wasn't. I got used to crying myself to sleep, afraid of the person lying next to me, and it stayed that way for two years on-and-off until the day he finally pulled the plug, leaving me a shell of the person I'd once been.

What Attracts Us Easy Targets to a Verbally Abusive Partner?

Author Alain de Botton says that our romanticized culture is partly to blame. If there's one thing we've learned from fairy tales and love stories, it's to follow our hearts rather than listen to our brains -- to rely on instinct over common sense, no matter the consequences. The problem with this is that our instincts aren't always reliable.

When it comes to love, we learn much of what we know from our parents. And while there may be no shortage of love in those early relationships, there are also various kinds of suffering. In this case, "suffering" doesn't necessarily mean abuse or cruelty -- it could be something as commonplace as feeling let down or being humiliated by a parent.

As Alain de Botton says:

We think we're out to find partners who will make us happy, but we're not. We're on a quest to suffer in ways that will feel familiar.

This might explain why some people move from one toxic relationship to the next, not appearing to have learned from past mistakes. Each time they do, they're reinforcing a pre-existing belief that love is only "real" if it pains them. This speaks to my experience too: my father was barely present during my childhood, vanishing for good when I was eight years old. I was left with the feeling that I was the reason he had left -- that I wasn't enough to make him want to stay.

Fast-forward into adulthood and I found someone just as unreliable to love. Someone who threatened to walk out on me unless I changed X, Y or Z about myself. Someone who reinforced the belief that I wasn't worth sticking around for. It may sound like a cliché, but it's a cliché that exists for a reason.

* I don't think any of these things are the reason I was abused, and they are certainly not excuses for his behavior. However, it has been helpful for me to recognize my own vulnerabilities and how they might have contributed to my situation, but I see that others may find this triggering.

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2017, August 8). Easy Targets for Verbal Abuse: Why Me?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Emma-Marie Smith

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