Daily Bread: Are You Dealing With A PROFESSIONAL Victim?

‘Daily Bread’ is a segment dedicated to sharing passages, excerpts and learnings from our personal experiences that have empowered us to think, heal, take action, or even just laugh when we needed it the most.
Special thanks to Luis Antonio for sharing this installment.

Blame and Rage: What Abusive Women Call “Problem-Solving”

by Dr. Tara Palmatier

  • Have you ever wondered why your abusive wife, girlfriend or ex blames others, makes excuses or rages when you question her behavior?
  • Does she often act like an out of control child?
  • Does arguing with her seem like a losing battle?
  • Does she have a comeback for everything you say that pushes your buttons?
  • When she’s angry, does she say “not fair” and that nothing’s her fault?
  • Does it feel like she sets traps for you during arguments?
  • Have you ever wished you could put her in a timeout chair just like you would a toddler?

Believe it or not, several of the above questions are adapted from the first paragraph of a parenting article, ‘Child outbursts: Why kids blame, make excuses and fight when you challenge their behavior’ by James Lehman. Men (and women) who are in relationships with abusive women often say that they feel like they’re dealing with a child in an adult’s body in regards to their wife, girlfriend or ex.

This is especially true if she has a Cluster B personality disorder or traits (Histrionic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder). Not all, but many individuals with these diagnoses (or suspected diagnoses) are developmentally arrested at an emotionally immature age.

Children often blame others when an adult tries to hold them responsible for their behaviors. This is a natural behavior in children and it’s a parents’ job to teach their children how to hold themselves accountable and face the consequences of their actions, so they can become responsible, functioning adults.

If this developmental milestone isn’t reached in childhood, it creates a lot of stress and dysfunction in adulthood. One of my clients states that he clearly sees his 6-year old daughter growing out of this phase with his guidance; he wishes he could say the same for his 36-year old wife.

Professional Victimhood Starts Early in Life

“Very often children see themselves as the victim, no matter how aggressive or abusive their behavior is. Thinking of themselves this way gives them the ability, in their mind, not to take any responsibility—and if you don’t take responsibility, then you won’t have to change”.

This victim mentality is the result of immature and distorted reasoning or thinking errors in troubled children and adults. Thinking errors allow this kind of woman to blame others for her own behavior, not take responsibility for her actions and not make positive changes. Her distorted reasoning allows her to avoid thinking about how she hurts others.

Both children and adults with these issues view any questioning of their behavior, no matter how gentle and well-phrased, as an attack.

Lehman recommends that parents who identify these behaviors in their children break the pattern by challenging their distorted thinking, setting boundaries and enforcing consequences. Great advice. As a parent you can make rules, enforce them and model good problem-solving skills. But what do you do when it’s your wife or girlfriend who is acting out aggressively and abusively? What do you do when she attacks you even harder when you try to discuss this topic with her?

You can’t ground your wife or take away her car keys or credit card. Well, you could, but then she’d claim you’re trying to control and abuse her, so what do you do? Disengage, detach, don’t step into her traps and avoid power struggles. Easier said then done, of course.

Her Problem-Solving Skills Are the Problem

This type of individual has dysfunctional problem-solving skills. Instead of holding herself accountable for her bad behavior and making positive changes, she tries to solve problems by shifting blame, making excuses, verbally attacking others, vilifying others and fighting or fleeing. In her reality, these are problem-solving techniques. To a rational adult, these behaviors create the majority of the problems and conflicts in a relationship.

There is usually a sequence to how these maladaptive problem-solving behaviors play out. For example, you confront your girlfriend with something hurtful she’s done like being rude to your family. She begins with, “I only acted like that because I know your family hates me. I wouldn’t say those things if they were nicer to me.” Translation: “I already explained it’s your family’s fault. Why are you bothering me?”

If you persist, she adds some force and venom by becoming verbally abusive, “You’re not being fair. You always blame me when things go wrong with your family. Your family’s a bunch of liars. They always give me dirty looks. They hate me. You never stick up for me. You’re such a #!%@*!” Essentially, this is a warning: “Agree with me or face my abusive acting out.” She uses aggression and intimidation to get you to back down and leave her alone, which has probably been a highly effective technique for her since childhood.

If you continue to persist, she may then escalate to the fight or flight response because she perceives any criticism as life threatening: “I can’t talk with you about this. [Breaks dishes, slams door.] Screw you, I’m leaving.”

This response occurs because she’s run out of coping mechanisms. She hurts others, breaks things and/or withdraws in a misguided attempt to problem solve. These are highly maladaptive and abusive behaviors. They don’t resolve problems; they make problems worse.

These behaviors and distorted beliefs are indications of “(her) inability to communicate, (her) inability to solve problems and (her) world view that (she’s) a victim and ‘it’s not fair.’

If things aren’t fair, then the rules about cursing at people or breaking things don’t apply to (her), because it’s not (her) fault. And that lets (her) off the hook. These kids (and women) have a way of thinking that justifies violating other people’s boundaries and that sees them as a victim of everything. When you try to interfere with or challenge that kind of thinking, these kids (and women) will get more upset, threatening or destructive”

It’s a parent’s job to challenge their children’s distorted beliefs and hold kids accountable for their behaviors. However, as a spouse/partner/friend it is not your job to re-parent another adult. Even if you wanted to do so, it’s highly unlikely she’ll allow you to hold her accountable. Most mental health professionals are unable to do this. Teaching skills like personal accountability and empathy to children at the appropriate developmental ages is often very challenging.

Teaching these skills to adults is extremely difficult, if not impossible. First she has to recognize that she’s a big part of the problem and give up her victim mentality. If she won’t or can’t do this, then she will continue to blame the world and you and never become an adult. These behaviors are barely tolerable in children; in adults they’re far worse.

If only you could put these, eh-hem, adults into timeout. However, there’s no reason why you can’t give yourself a timeout as an optimal mental health break.

Blue’s note: As someone who has had to deal with a loved one who suffers from this – I learned the hard way that there comes a point where you have to let go of the delusion that you can change them. Nothing short of professional help can even begin to make a chink in the armor of a person who is this far gone into the “victim space”.

If they are not willing to seek counseling then it may be time to start the difficult discussion (with yourself) about the possibility of walking away.

Got a story you want to share? Or an excerpt that’s helped you out? Let us know!

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6 Responses to “Daily Bread: Are You Dealing With A PROFESSIONAL Victim?”

  1. bernard says:

    Thank you for the article. This sounds exactly like my wife. Things are really bad between us at the moment. She is never wrong and it is always my fault. She blames me for things that she does or did. We can have a perfectly nice and relexing evening and I will do everything she wants. Theb in a blink of an eye she will change and shout and accuse me of things. And I will have no idea what happened. Then we won’t speak for a week. She will look sad sometimes and I will ask her what’s wrong, then I have to hear everything that I did wrong over the past 6 months. And then I would realise that it is stiff she did. It is as if she needs to be miserable and sad and fighting to feel that she exists. She will carry on and on and I do snap sometimes and I am not an angry and aggressive person. I relly need advise on how to deal with my wife becuase I don’t think it is going to last if it goes on like this. Regards

  2. MIchael says:

    Wow! For years I’ve been trying to work out what’s going on. I’ve put it down to menopause, thyroid, and sometimes (in my frustration) plain insanity. So it has a name…. Tell me, has there been much work published on this? Is there anything that can be done? Having a mental illness doesn’t make a person bad, and it doesn’t seem right to walk away just because someone is unwell. From what I’ve read so far, it seems like this is the only answer for the man who wants to enjoy the rest of his life and stay out of prison.
    I see one of the strategies is to disengage – surely you realise this just fuels the fire. The PV sees this as abuse and is thus validated.
    I’m not going to share any specific stories – I’d rather forget most of them. Life is currently impossible with her and I’d rather be alone than continue to suffer this abuse. Is there no hope?

  3. Emma says:

    As one of the people who’ve been accused of this I can truthfully say that the man who did so was very twisted. I wouldn’t get angry when approached well not all the time I am human however. I would want to talk about it and I would remain calm and not name call and just not do a damn thing wrong and yet be told that the mood I’m in I wouldn’t actually listen and I was constantly told how I felt and what I was doing, accused of underlying agendas that had honestly never occurred to me, I would be ignored when trying to contest to the accusations I would be hung up on and not be able to contact my boyfriend for days on end because he accused me, didn’t leave room for me to explain and treated me like I had did said accusations. I felt more alone with him than the days he ignored me. I would however snap eventually and name call and be just in a place that there was no way you could speak to me and reason with me. I am going to therapy for that but I thought I should input on her that this may just have been the man I was with (he had depression but only acknowledged this 3 years later) but he would do stuff to me and refuse to talk to me or AKNOWLEDGE me when he didn’t “like” my attitude or if he didn’t feel like talking he would make an excuse that I was doing or did something wrong to deserve it. So yeah I FELT like a victim but only because I was being bullied (frequently said things like if you’d just have done what I said then we wouldn’t have a problem etc) so then I sound like a victim and he sends me this page and a few others. The tip I would give is just don’t make them feel like they are crazy for feeling or doing something. Stay calm and walking away ignoring just makes things worse. Just try level with them eg “just look at me” or “stop this I don’t want to fight I want to talk I love you” that sort of thing worked with me even when he was in the wrong.

  4. john says:

    Thank you for this article. Its what I’ve been going thru with my girlfriend. You can’t reason with these people. They turn it around always. I received an email from her yesterday and it
    Clearly shows what u point out.

  5. Michael says:

    I hope Emma’s found some peace. We must never lose sight of the fact that a great many women are indeed victims of abuse. I have also questioned myself “am I actually doing what I am accused of doing?”. It is certainly a vicious circle, and one that two people that love each other shouldn’t be involved in. I personally don’t care whose fault anything is, and would rather avoid the conflict that goes with the blame game. My goal is always to get back to being a loving couple. You know you’re in the scenario in the article when that approach is met with “So, you’re saying it’s my fault we’re not a loving couple” The vicitm mentality is a self reinforcing one, and if it wasn’t so painful it would be quite amusing to watch it spiral in on itself.
    Emma, you’ll know if this applies to you or not.

  6. Ian says:

    My divorce from a professional victim was just finalized. My therapist thinks my ex has NPD. My son and I are both in therapy because of the one person that refuses to get therapy — the ex.

    She would say things like, “I hate your mom.” I’d blow up… and get upset. then the ex would say, “why are you getting upset? it’s not my fault you had a bad day at work.”

    I’d get so furious and upset sometimes my behaviors and outbursts weren’t good. I’m not perfect by any means. But wow. Maybe I could have handled things differently but i felt like I was losing my mind most of the time.

    We went to the store once to return a $250 bag she had to have. She cried and acted like a child.

    Everything was always my fault… all the time. Her parents and her blame me for everything. They talk behind my back and say i beat her up, which never happened. Her mother once said to me, “oh, i’ll never get on my daughter’s bad side.” Instead of dealing with the issue, she runs away and blames me.

    It literally feels like my head is screwed on backwards. How do you move on from this crap?

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