How Lack of Personal Identity Creates Vulnerability to Abuse

ConfusedTeen2When a woman leaves adolescence without having developed a sense of identity, she is at greater risk of finding herself feeling alone, even if she is able to successfully establish a relationship with someone. True intimacy involves allowing your partner to truly see you for who you are; it cannot be attained without a clear sense of personal identity. When you have a clear sense of yourself and a potential partner says or does something that goes against your sense of yourself, warning bells go off in your head and you move away from that potential partner. When your sense of identity is frail, a potential partner need only tell you complementary things that make you feel good about yourself (often without knowing you well enough to say those things) and that potential partner gains the upper hand; he uses a few compliments to get you to believe that your worth can only be seen through his eyes. Finally, you think, someone understands and values you in a way you have craved for so long . . . .

This is the danger zone. In a relationship that develops into violence, the victim allows herself to be defined as “beautiful,” or “smart” or “perfect” by a potential suitor. She never questions his words or motivation because, for now, he makes her feel so good about herself. Her sense of herself isn’t typically strong enough for her claim her own sense of confidence. Usually, his compliments fill in the gaps where her self-confidence is missing. The problem is that these complementary moments are often short-lived. But the woman, having believed that this suitor could “fulfill her,” gave away power for emotional self-soothing to him. In short order, the enmeshed, completely submerged woman looks only to him for her value.

40-days-of-datingThis, in turn, causes her partner to feel smothered and suffocated because of her endless neediness and inability to sufficiently provide for her own emotional stability. She isn’t “good enough” in her eyes and she consistently looks to her partner for feedback to indicate that she is okay. He, on the other hand, had the right lines to be “Casanova” at first glance, but no personal development or relationship skills to sustain the courtship behaviors that won her over. Unwittingly, these two people have laid the groundwork for a violent relationship, it is the mutual lack of individual development that leads to the ongoing pattern of abuse wherein an enmeshed, aggressive partner who is unable to provide for his own emotional stability blames and punishes his victim based on his own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. The two create an ongoing, self-propelling cycle that is difficult to break.

The cycle is propelled and perpetuated as each partner believes that coming back to the other for validation constitutes intimacy. For them, intimacy is synonymous with being the same or being in agreement. They keep coming back to each other out of fear of being alone. Isolation and abandonment seem worse than the sometimes terrifying dance they have created together. Because the relationship has the intense cycles of isolation, anxiety, violence and “re-connection,” neither partner sees the necessity for looking within to begin the process of self-healing. They simply continue to blame one another for the current problems and look toward the other for solutions. Indeed, most participants in relationships involving violence have never considered the idea that their unmet needs for safety, emotional security, self-esteem and love require personal action toward the self and cannot ever be adequately met through another person.

You must begin with yourself.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.


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