Nobody ever causes their own abuse.
I am a trained systems therapist, with 26 years of practice behind me. I am trained to both believe that each person plays a role in a relational system and to identify that role.
While in many cases relational dynamics have something called “mutual causality” in which both parties play a part in “causing” the conflict, this is not the case in the dynamic of abuse, and especially not in cases of abuse perpetrated by someone with a personality disorder.
A personality disorder is a pervasive pattern ingrained not only in an individual’s behavior but in their entire world-view. This pattern is cemented in their personality and highly unlikely that it will ever change.
Abuse perpetrated by a personality disordered individual is not in any way provoked by someone else. It is inherent in the disorder. Also inherent in many of the Personality Disorders is the underlying dynamic of all abuse behaviors; the willingness to assign blame to the victim by the disordered individual.
People who believe ALL marriage problems are 50/50 and who have no training or awareness regarding this type of disorder and abuse, will unwittingly join the abuser in looking for what the victim did to “provoke the abuse”. Many professionals still operate with this harmful assumption and do damage when dealing with abuse.
It IS true that the victim in the case of abuse plays a role, but that is different than assigning them responsibility for the reactions and misbehavior of the abusive individual. The role the victim plays is to stay in the dynamic and accept the responsibility for trying to change the abuser.
Keep in mind, in many cases an abuse victim may be a dependent minor and their options to walk away are extremely limited. When they ask for help, it often leads to the “what are you doing to cause it?” question. Many adult victims grew up with this kind of dynamic and believe they are responsible to carry the weight of a disordered individual’s inappropriate behavior.
For the victim to actually stop playing their role in an abuse dynamic they must stop tolerating the abuse, and in many cases must walk away from the abusive relationship. In most religious settings this is seen as wrong and abuse victims are often counseled to “Go back and do something better so that the abuse will stop”
Especially with a personality disordered perpetrator, this is a sentence to a lifetime of abuse.
Let me state this plainly. When dealing with true abuse, and especially with a personality disordered perpetrator, to question what the victim did to cause it, or recommend they try to change their behavior to manage the abuse plays right into the hand of the abuser.
Whether you are a counselor, a pastor, a motivational speaker, or just a friend, DO NOT question a victim about their role in being abused. And DO NOT recommend they go back and try to manage the abuser’s behavior by improving their behavior in some area. This strengthens a deadly dynamic that you should be helping to stop. Ask instead what they need to be safe.