People who recover from abusive relationships of any type, including cult situations, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and even “run of the mill” types of abusive relationships often ask themselves the question, “How did I let this happen to me?”
There are a few common reasons people stay in abusive relationships, but the primary reason they get caught up in one in the first place is one reason: Grooming.
What is grooming?
Grooming is a manipulative process used by a sexual (or other) predator for the purpose of creating a sense of trust with a targeted person prior to the act of actual victimization.
People of all ages can be groomed. Here is a list of common grooming tactics used by predators prior to actually abusing their victims:
- They pretend to be someone and something they’re not. They pretend to be someone you can trust, so you put your guard down. They do this in a variety of ways, as will be described next.
- They are very charming and present themselves as people who are the answer to all your needs. They seem to be “better than life.” This is because they aren’t really who they are portraying. Their charm is merely a ploy and involves superficial connecting at best.
- They appear to be very empathic – mirroring you and showing a great amount of “seeing’ you and validating your felt needs and experiences. If the groomer is a an adult and the victim is a child, the abuser will put himself at the child’s level and act as if he really “gets” the child and meets him where he’s at.
- Groomers act very innocuous and light-hearted. They don’t seem heavy, dark, or full of some deep, hidden secret. Victims do not suspect that he/she is anything but easy to be with.
- They pretend to be your protector, acting outraged if anything bad happens to you and promising to protect you from all evil (how ironic.)
Once you’ve been groomed, the perpetrator uses more overtly abusive tactics:
- He/she starts using direct coercion. “Come in here.” “Take off your clothes.” “Do this; do that.”
- He/she holds a psychological (metaphorical) knife to your throat. Examples, such as, “Have sex with me or I’ll find someone who will.” “You’re lucky to have me. No one else could possibly want you.” “If you tell anyone I’ll kill your parents.”
How victims think:
Victims of abuse, after being groomed, feel confused. They have been told to stand on a rug; stood on it; and then they had the rug pulled out from under them, “Psyche!” Victims feel devastated and humiliated over how they are treated, confused because of mixed messages, and self-loathing. Victims always blame themselves.
Why do victims put up with the abusive behavior?
For the following reasons:
- In the beginning stages of grooming, if the perpetrator is an adult, the target of the grooming has become completely smitten initially, wondering, “Why hasn’t he/she been taken by someone else yet?” “Why is this awesome guy/gal still available?”
- Victims start filling in the unknown blanks by explaining the crazy or abusive behaviors away.
- Victims start living in a state of shock. They are numb and don’t experience their emotions. This is protective because numbness protects people from pain; numbness is a psychological analgesic.
- Victims believe they’re the problem. The groomer is such a master-propagandist, he/she has groomed the victim to believe he/she (the victim) is the problem.
- Victims take responsibility for causing the abuse.
- Victims assume they are the only ones being victimized.
- Victims are ashamed that it is happening and just pretend that everything is fine.
The main thing to understand about perpetrators of abuse, is that they somehow have a sixth sense and seem to know how to exploit the weaknesses of their victims. They somehow tailor make their tactics to fit the vulnerabilities of their targets.
It is helpful to identify a perpetrator of abuse at the grooming stage of the relationship, in order to prevent further damage from occurring. Teach yourself and your loved ones to trust your own instincts and don’t ignore the small little voice in your head that tells you, “Something is not right here.”