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. This is post 2/4 for the victim love style. This post is directed toward those who think they might have a victim love style.
If you are here because you have identified yourself as having the victim love style (Check out The Victim Love Style if you aren’t sure), you have just done something huge toward your personal and professional success. It is clear you want to take control of your own life for the better.
You can do this.
What’s at the Core
The first step to becoming a secure connector is learning to recognize and notice what lies at your core. You may not have realized it, but at your core, you have a deep sense that quietly enduring pain is better than being alone.
Anything is better than being alone,
You may feel:
- No one truly knows me or what goes on in my marriage.
- Sometimes I’m scared of my spouse
- I am often walking on eggshells to prevent other people from becoming angry at me.
- Being quiet and submissive helps me.
- I live with an underlying current of anxiety and/or depression.
- 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.
- Sometimes life doesn’t seem worth living.
- Calm and good never lasts in my life. The other shoe will always drop.
- My spouse mistreats and doesn’t unconditionally love me or respect me, but it would be worse to be alone.
Consider How You Got Here
It started with your imprint from growing up in an environment in which the love you so desperately needed from your parents was just not there the way it should have been. Perhaps it was even replaced with hate.
If you have a victim love style, you likely grew up in a chaotic, unsafe, and often downright dangerous environment.
It might be helpful for you to have an idea how you got here. It could be 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.
- Experiencing angry outbursts, violence, and/or neglect.
- Feeling anxious, like if there was calm you were just waiting for the next destructive episode.
- Having your feelings, perspectives, and needs devalued, rejected, hijacked, 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.
- Functioning like the parent in your home and missing out on a childhood in which you felt seen, heard, safe, secure, and loved unconditionally.
(Information adapted from How We Love Workbook p. 68 and other resources from Milan and Kay Yerkovich)
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.
Your Unique Way Of Coping Started with Hurt
An important step in growth is offering yourself self-compassion. You have to realize that 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.
Everyone learns various tools in childhood that they continue to use in adulthood. Some are helpful and some are not. Some ways of coping simply helped you survive childhood. They served their purpose. Now you can begin to learn how to not just survive, but to live as a wise adult. You can learn new tools. Here are some new ways of thinking to replace ways you potentially coped:
Stop Being the Fault Bearer
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. Now, you are an adult, though. Begin to consider what was really going on in your home. Parents’ bad choices are never their children’s fault. Look at a picture of yourself as a child. Begin to speak truth to yourself:
It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault.
Other people’s bad choices are just that: other people’s choices.
Stop Taking Ownership for Other People’s Emotions
You might often believe that you have the power to control other people’s feelings. If you can get it right, the other person won’t get angry. If you do well enough, the other person might feel more calm. The reality is, though, that you have no control over how another person feels. It isn’t your responsibility. And (as hard as this reality is)- it isn’t helpful. It’s actually a self-protective form of manipulation and control on your part to try to control other people’s emotions in hope of creating a more stable world for yourself. Don’t be deceived- other people’s emotions and responses to you are completely in their control and their responsibility. If you struggle here, check out Codependent No More or other resources on codependency.
Realize that Abandonment is Not the Worst Thing
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. One of the most helpful shifts I had inside was to realize that being alone would not be the worst thing. I’m never alone with God. He loves me and cares for me perfectly. Groveling to maintain a relationship that is hurting and making me sick is not healthy. Learning to walk in God’s presence and let Him carry and protect me is very important. Letting go of my death grip on maintaining unhealthy relationship at all costs to me is also important. Learning my value is also critical. Most things are worth what someone is willing to pay for them. We are worth what was paid for us. The Almighty Creator of the universe and all that is in it sealed our worth when He offered His own life on the cross to pay to redeem us.
Care for Your Emotions
You may 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 might have been the norm for you. It is important to treat yourself with the kindness you would treat a friend who was hurting. Give yourself a self-compassion break. Get professional help for your depression and anxiety. Local women’s shelters might offer counseling to help you deal with the deeper emotions caused by victimization. In Springfield, Missouri Harmony House and The Victim Center do this exceptionally well, with both having options for individuals who have been abused and need training and coaching in how to have healthy relationships and deal with deep wounds.
Choose Life- Life to the Full
You may have chosen numbness in the past in place of the abundant life Jesus shows He wants you to receive (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.). You may not believe you are truly worthy of receiving God’s blessings- or they are just for someone else. But His blessing is for you. Life to the full is for you. He is offering them to you. It’s your choice to offer Him your pain. And it’s your choice to receive from Him more of Himself. You get to choose the receive the blessing He perpetually extends to you- or to snub it.
Learn to Set Healthy Boundaries and Stop Complying
You may have learned to comply as a sort of all around 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.
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 (Again, He gave up His own life because He deemed you that valuable).
Give Space for Your Emotions, Including Anger
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. You must be in a safe relationship or situation for your anger to have space to be dealt with. 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 have to have safe spaces and relationships to express my anger. If you can relate, I pray we both continue to mature in healthy anger.
Make Sure You are in a Safe Place to Grow
Note: if you aren’t in a safe situation (if you are still suffering verbal, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or physical abuse), then that is not a safe place to express your anger. Get safe. Get with safe people. And grow in expressing your anger there. If you and your spouse can get into counseling together, this can be a safe place for you to begin to express your anger. But, it wouldn’t be marriage counseling. You would need a counselor who understands abuse and could work on helping your spouse develop empathy and remorse and change in their behavior toward you. Normal “marriage counseling” isn’t possible in abuse situations. Underlying issues of safety, trust, and possibly addiction need dealt with before you work on the marriage itself. Many well-meaning counselors commit secondary abuse by going straight into marriage counseling and unwittingly place blame or responsibility on a victim without walking with the couple to help ensure the abuse stops. For a victim reaching out for help- perhaps for the first time- this can be very damaging, further isolating them and compounding the hurt. Check out Mending the Soul:
It may be that you are in a relationship with a controller, vacillator, or a person who is not treating you with the value and dignity Christ declares you have. Check out Help! I’m Married to A Controller or Help! I’m Married to a Vacillator. If you experience psychological, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, or physical abuse in your relationship, it’s time to take steps to set healthy boundaries and create safety for yourself and children. That is beyond the scope of this blog, but if this is you, begin getting safe community and support to help you as you learn how to do this. Healing takes place in a safe nurturing environment. You may have been isolated through the years, buy you will need safe community from caring people to heal.
- Look up the nearest domestic violence shelter and see what services they offer. They may offer you and your children a place to get safe while your spouse chooses whether or not to get safe. They may also offer outpatient services, like our local Harmony House that offers relationship training, which is like amazing educational coaching to help you know what boundaries you might need and how to set them, how to relate to others, and how to be whole and healthy yourself.
- Check out 12 step groups such as Celebrate Recovery. Addictions are often a part of a controller or victim’s life (whether you or someone else is addicted), and groups like this offer support to both the addicted and those who love them. And the support can be amazing. If you visit one 2-3 times and it doesn’t seem like a good fit, try a few weeks at another. Each community has a different feel.
- If you are in an violent or physically abusive situation, call 911.
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. Growing up, you were never able to grieve or feel sad. Your feelings and needs were given no place and shown no respect. The only vulnerable emotions you felt were dread, fear, humiliation, and shame. Trying to avoid vulnerable emotions at all cost, you have not grieved and may be unaware of the wrong done to you in your childhood. 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 need the courage, time, and a compassionate listening ear to help you acknowledge and validate your feelings and childhood pain. Taking the time and having the courage to face this and truly grieve is the key to healing and growth.
Grow in Trust with Safe People
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.
Safeguard Your Physical Health
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.
God Doesn’t Expect You to Have it All Figured Out
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.
“Freedom” That Controls and Destroys You
You may tend to escape through shopping, perfecting, organizing, working, playing video games, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, doing pornography, gambling, or overspending. You may say, “These help me feel better at least for a little bit, especially when I’m really stressed out. In a way, these can hit a reset button that you know no other way to hit.” Milan and Kay put it this way:
“Addictions are the most common method of finding relief. The constant torment they once endured on the outside has traveled inside to become their closest “friend”: a familiar place of pain with no apparent escape.”
The problem is that these are controlling you. You cannot get free of them, but need them to make it through the week, day, or hour. As these control your behavior, they strongly affect how you treat those you care about and how you treat yourself. 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 get the support you need. Your default coping mechanism is to just handle it on your own, but to get control of this, you will need the compassionate help of others.
Milan and Kay’s solution is to learn to find relief in relationship with safe people. Supportive, real relationships with honest people who get it can replace those unhealthy ways of coping. They explain it best in their books in describing the comfort circle.
Manage Your Stress
Since you never had the chance as a child to gain control of your emotions, strong emotions of stress, such as anger and frustration can leave you withdrawing or shutting down. What you need, though, is not to bury your emotion or negate it. You need to be seen and heard by others and by yourself. See and hear your emotions. Your thoughts, needs, desires, attitudes, perspectives, dreams, and goals are all important. To do this, you must first recognize they are valuable. God set your value on the cross. Your worth can never be stolen from by anyone that hurt you. Your worth is always extremely valuable no matter what has happened to you. That’s because, the value of something is set by what is paid for it. And the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of the Universe laid down His life to pay for you. So that is what you are worth always. If you can begin to hold your feelings as valuable, you can begin to offer yourself compassion and find others who are wise and healthy enough to do the same in a meaningful way.
Take a Self-Compassion Break
This was a new concept for me, but an extremely helpful one when you’ve lived under control or pain.
- Notice that this is a moment of pain for you. You can tell yourself, “This hurts.”
- Recognize you aren’t alone: “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
- Physically show kindness: Close your eyes and place your hands over your heart.
- Verbally show kindness: Ask yourself what you really need to hear right now. Talk to yourself like a friend.
Written version: https://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/
The Road to Peace Inside
God longs to help you give safe voice to and process your thoughts and feelings about work, life, relationships, stresses, everything. He says He wants to guard your heart and mind with His peace that surpasses all understanding. What is the road to this?
Pray. Casting all your anxiety on Him with gratitude. Read more about this in God Longs To Do This For You.
Have an outlet– something fun to do- something you enjoy doing, even if you have to do it alone. There’s real, solid science behind it.
Exercise. During season’s I’d stopped exercising, when I’d restart, I’d realize just how depressed I had been by the contrasting feeling after I restarted. Exercising regularly can really help. And sometimes you just need to Give Yourself a Break.
Breathe deeply. I’ve be fascinated by Stig Severinsen’s ability to hold his breath for over 22 minutes. Breathing deeply turns off your stress system, and turns on the system in your body that calms you. In a breathing training I recently saw, Stig recommended breathing and out in a 1:2 ration (for example, in 2 seconds out 4). Another option is to breath in, hold, breath out in a 1:4:2 ration (for example, in 3 seconds, hold 12, out 6).
How Does This Look in Relationship?
As a victim, you might:
- struggle with anger and rage toward your own children. (I’ll be writing about Transformational Parenting for the Victim)
- fail to protect the vulnerable ones under your care. After all, you don’t protect yourself. But if you don’t protect these vulnerable ones, what other person will? You want something better for them- not to grow up with a victim love style, too.
- hide yourself (or not even know your wants and needs) from others in an attempt to appease them or caretake them.
If you are a victim desiring to give your children a different childhood than your parents gave you, be sure to read Transformational Parenting for the Victim (I’ll be working on this next).
Time to Grow
If this is you, there is no need to continue to function as a tool, slave, doormat, or caretaker of others. This really doesn’t help them, either. It’s like giving someone a pat on the back for being destructive and hurtful and watching them grow into a worse human being. The best gift you could give them are your healthy boundaries that create safety for you and require them to own and deal with their own stuff.
The best gift you could give others is to learn to take care of yourself. I went through burnout in my early 20’s. My understanding of that is that from research is that if you go through it once, you can easily recover, but if you go through it a second time, that is the point that high level physicians move to Alaska and start hunting bear and living in a cabin alone (it’s much harder to recover a second or third time). Before I began to actually believe that it honors God to take care of myself, my biggest motivator was the very keen reality that if I don’t take care of my health, I literally have nothing to offer others that matter to me. That was one step in the right direction for me. It might be a first step for you, too.
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.
Married to someone with a Victim Love Style?
If these behaviors seem to reflect your spouse, take a compassionate look not only at your spouse, but also your own pain. You can’t invite and create space for your spouse to bloom and be fully, his/her self without giving space to your emotions, too. According to Milan and Kay, people have a way of finding others with similar levels of pain when they marry. You might need to consider whether you felt comfort from hurt in relationships as a child. Read more about this in First Lessons in Love, and 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. If you aren’t sure, find out First Lessons in Love and Do You Have A Destructive Love Style? Take This Quiz.
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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 writing about Transformational Parenting for those with this love style as well as writing to the spouse 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 © 2022 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.