If you’ve been following my series on love styles, then you have a clear idea of what a secure connector, avoider, pleaser, vacillator, and controller are. Today, we’re going to begin the first in the series of the victim love style. This post is directed toward those who think they might have a victim love style. If you love a victim, you will find helpful information throughout and a note to you at the end.
Do I have a Victim Love Style?
Read the following statements and consider, do these resonate with me? Do I believe a good amount of them are true of me most of the time? If so, you might be a controller. You can take the quiz to be sure.
- When I was growing up, I experienced anger outbursts from others, violence, addictions, abuse, and neglect.
- One of my parents was abusive, and the other was passive.
- Being quiet and submissive helps me.
- I keep some things secret from my spouse so he/she won’t be angry.
- I often stick it out in relationships with people, even when they are destructive.
- At times, I’m honestly scared of my spouse. I’m afraid of making him/her angry.
- Anxiety and/or depression shade my life.
- Relationship problems are often my fault.
- Sometimes I feel life isn’t worth living.
- I have intense anger and stress from my past and live consistently with anxiety.
- A lot of times, my emotions are flat, detached, and disengaged. I feel that if I would let myself cry, I might not be able to stop.
- I felt like I had to be the parent when I was growing up. I missed out on my childhood and did not feel seen and heard, safe, secure, and loved unconditionally.
- My spouse complains no matter how hard I try.
- My spouse doesn’t treat me with love and respect consistently. When I am mistreated, I still stay, because it would be worse to be alone.
- I get nervous and suspicious when things seem calm or good. I know they won’t last, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Sometimes I pick a fight just to get it over with.
- No one really knows me or what goes on in my marriage.
(Information adapted from How We Love Workbook p. 68 and other resources from Milan and Kay Yerkovich)
What does it mean to have a Victim Love Style?
Reality: Subconsciously Distorted Your survival as a child depended on your ability to minimize, rationalize, and excuse how bad things really were and get used to living in intolerable circumstances. If a parent, who is supposed to love you, treats you in an unloving way, as a child, you internalize that reality as- you are intolerable, unlovable, unwelcome, flawed. Children can’t rationalize to say- Mommy is being very selfish, Daddy has been drinking too much and he isn’t able to control his anger, or Brother has been terrorized and is taking it out on me. They aren’t able to say the truth- It’s not my fault. They learn to internalize the shame and blame.
Others’ Negative Emotions= My job to prevent. People with the Victim Love Style often believe that they have the power to control other people’s feelings. If they can get it right, the other person won’t get angry. If they do well enough, the other person might feel more calm.
Abandonment: Your Worst Nightmare. The pain of experiences of abandonment as a child may drive you to frantically avoid any situation that might bring up that pain from the past. You might like me, stay in abusive, painful job situations or relationships for long periods of time, walking on eggshells.
Depression: A Given. People who grew up with this love style often feel deep sadness. Feeling unworthy of receiving the help of others can leave you in an even more hopeless situation. Self destructive behaviors, such as cutting, anorexia, bulimia, or other self-mutilation are common.
Numbness: Lack of the Full Life Jesus Offers in John 10:10. Detachment that helped you survive childhood often continues into adulthood. You may just dismiss the emotions you weren’t allowed in childhood. Or you may full out seek to numb them with addictions (perfectionism, shopping, eating, caretaking, drugs, alcohol, workaholism, sexual addictions, video games, gambling, etc.). If you find yourself in an addiction, groups like Celebrate Recovery can help you get on a team of compassionate people working together and supporting one another toward growth. Focus on the Family offers a free counseling session to help you find the support you need in your situation.
Complying: My Solution to Life. You may be willing to go along with very painful, hurtful behavior from others. It is what you did to survive as a child. Now as an adult, continuing in this behavior can put you through much more hurt. It can find you keeping secrets about that hurt. It can leave you still, like yourself as a child diminishing, hiding, and invalidating your own hurt- “It’s not that bad.” And by complying, you might feel you can manage the emotions of others.
The Victim Love Style Starts with Hurt
People with a victim love style have experienced hurt. They have at some point at least, been a victim. You may have:
- disassociated with the pain as a child, come be believe you really aren’t valuable, and/or had your soul fragment into pieces as a way to cope.
- decided that you were safer if you denied you had any needs or wants and focused all your energy on being your own protector- by caring for the needs of others.
- perfected and performed, because you could get scraps of love outside your home that way.
- let the wave swallow you and turned to addictions of your own to numb you or silence the memories for a time.
- learned to ignore signs of danger as a child and to accept mistreatment, and you may have continued doing this in your relationships in adulthood.
Your defenses developed over many years and they helped you make it to adulthood. They helped you survive. But you don’t have to stay there. You can develop into a wholehearted person, healed by God who is a secure connector in relationships.
It’s easy when you have been a victim as a child to grow up and not realize that you are an adult now, you can make different choices than your home of origin, you can set boundaries, you can protect yourself, and you don’t have to be a victim anymore. It’s easy to live out of the hurt, abused, neglected little girl or boy in your adult body. It is important to realize:
- You always have choices
- You always have options
- God stands ready to defend you, love you, heal your hurts, take your pain and exchange it for more of Him, and bind back up those parts of you that fragmented long ago.
- Your worth is not defined by how much you suffered or how much attention you get from it. Your worth is defined by how much God was willing to pay for you to be free (He gave up His own life because He deemed you that valuable).
Victims as Children
If you are a victim, you likely grew up in a chaotic, unsafe, and often downright dangerous environment. This may have developed from:
- Having a parent or other close relative that was addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
- Possibly having another parent who was not able to protect themselves, let alone you.
- Being abused mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, and/or verbally.
- Growing up in a stressful, unsafe environment.
- Feeling anxious, like if there was calm you were just waiting for the next destructive episode.
- Having your feelings, perspectives, and needs devalued, rejected, and/or attacked.
- Feeling humiliation, shame, rejection, and fear in your family home.
- Having nightmares, bedwetting, and/or sleep disturbances.
- Being left alone as a child to deal with something or someone that made your life miserable.
- Feeling that no matter what you did, someone was always bigger and stronger than you, so you lived in danger.
Childhood was a Prison
Victims were never given the chance or help to grow up emotionally and relationally. Safety and security are important elements of growing into wholeness. Instead, your childhood was a prison. You decided to survive the prison by coping any way you could. You likely to some degree accepted that the prison is where you belong. In a sense, you are still stuck there.
When childhood is full of difficult circumstances, these become the norm. The need for healing might not seem like something critical to your life. After all, life is full of the hard and painful- isn’t it just the norm for you to bear it? But the One born to bear it all- the hurt and sin (of others against you) and pain- He wants to carry it for you and to carry you through the roughest parts where you can’t walk on your own two feet with His support.
Unearthing those buried feelings of fear, hurt, sadness, loss of self, loss of childhood, and desperation from your past can help propel you to learn how to flex and grow your muscles in boundary setting. It can help you see the pain you have to offer to Jesus in exchange for more of Himself. It can help you heal so that you can establish and protect security, safety, and emotional health in your adult life.
Anything is better than being alone.
As a child, you were not able to express your own needs, wants, or anger. You may not even feel like you are an angry person. However, anger is a healthy signal of what is going on inside. It might tell you- that’s not fair, that’s not right, or that hurts. If you have tuned out that signal, you might not be standing up for what is right in your own life or for those that depend on you. Unfortunately, anger gets buried and when you are in a safe enough relationship to express when you are angry the rage that comes out when you are legitimately angry is very large. Milan and Kay express that if you grew up in a chaotic home, you will struggle with anger and rage toward your own children. When anger comes up, since you never had a chance as a child to express it and learn how to communicate it in a healthy, mature way, now that you are an adult, your ability to manage anger is just underdeveloped.
This is definitely something I am not mature in. I actually didn’t think I got angry as an adult. But I realize now when I get legitimately angry that the intensity of anger and rage I feel is not just the anger of the moment. It is festering boils from different ages and stages and hurts in my life all welling up together when I’m triggered. I have to learn to allow myself to be angry (without stuffing or dismissing it or taking the blame I don’t deserve). I have to learn to separate the anger of the moment from the stuffed anger over past moment. I will have to continue to mature in healthy anger.
I really couldn’t come to that realization about anger until I’d spent a couple of years learning to grieve. I hear all the warnings in Scripture about bitterness and resentment. Hebrews 12:15 speaks of a bitter root that grows up, causes trouble, and defiles many. I really, really didn’t want to be the cause of that. But to avoid that, I discovered I would have to grieve well. I began to realize just how much I had to grieve as both a Pleaser and a Victim. My pleasing meant I spent my life caring for others’ needs at my own expense. Call me a caretaker or co-dependent. Both applied. For me to heal, it took me a couple years to learn how to grieve and to give myself the freedom and to value myself enough to allow myself to do so.
If you grew up in a chaotic home, you likely shrug off the thought of grieving what you experienced. Learning to see yourself as a child- young and vulnerable- experiencing what you went through can be helpful. I’ll write more about this in the next blog.
You may struggle with interdependence in relationships- with not only making space for your own feelings of grief and loss but also with making space for vulnerable feelings in others. After all, being vulnerable and sharing needs can open you up to betrayal, abandonment, and further hurt. Trust is something that you didn’t have the safety of. Learning to distinguish safe people and to entrust yourself to only those who have proved themselves trustworthy will be crucial.
Squelched grief, anger, and self over time lead to internal problems. Not just the anxiety and depression that naturally follow living with an overworked stress system that never learned to function properly as a child (Check out Nadine Burke Harris’s talk on How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime or her book The Deepest Well). The pain from childhood is enough to cut your lifespan short and result in faster, more furious physical ailments. Continued submission to painful abuse in adulthood leads to an increase in the unwanted internal traumas of brain damage, ulcers, cancer, diabetes, fibral myalgia, heart disease…the list goes on. There are definite health benefits to setting boundaries, caring for yourself, and creating safety and community in your life- no matter how late you start learning to do this.
Unhealthy Independence and Self-Sufficiency
I’ve spent the last few years seeking to understand and change the horrible sense of guilt that used to choke me whenever I needed to ask for or was put in a situation to receive help. I truly didn’t believe God’s blessing was for me. For other people- absolutely. For you, for sure. But in my heart of hearts, I didn’t truly believe it was for me- not directly from Him, not indirectly from Him through others. I truly believed that God expected me to have it all figured out and dealt with- and if I didn’t, He would be disappointed in me. I lived in stubborn self-sufficiency and unhealthy independence.
He has been teaching me about how He is my Protector, my Provider. He is the only One who has it figured out and who deals with things. Learning to see Him as He truly is heals. Some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are free and available pinned to the top of You Are Worthy Ministry’s Facebook page. A great place to start in these Knowing God classes are the ones on Knowing God as Father and Knowing God as Strong Tower.
Time to Grow
If you see yourself to any degree in this love style, there is no need to continue to live as the victim. No time is like the present to seek God with your whole heart for growth. No time is like the present to grieve your hurt and get true control of your anger, relationships, and life. Your brain can be rewired, and your life and relationships can be transformed as you grow into a secure connector. Future blogs will address other areas, such as what you can practically do to grow and how this affects your parenting.
Married to a Victim?
If these behaviors are all too familiar for you, you will need the courage to seek help and support. Check out Focus on the Family’s hope line for free counseling to help you locate support in your area. Be sure to read the posts coming up, Help! I’m Married to a Victim and the posts on your own love style. These will help you be able to care for yourself, your spouse, and your children, as well as to come alongside your spouse with the victim love style in their journey toward being a secure connector.
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Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted and drawn from in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).
I’ll be going through the other love styles in the upcoming posts.
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
The key teachings of this post are consolidated from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s excellent resources. I highly encourage you to find out more from them directly:
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2021 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.