While battered women are not responsible for their abuse, certain behaviors can signal the vulnerability of victims to potential abusers. Among these are verbal cues.

This is not meant to imply that victims ask to be abused. There are, however, patterns of speech which can alert abusers before a relationship is ever established that the women with such verbal tendencies are likely to settle for what others would not tolerate.

And the cycle of abuse resumes with a new partner.

Abuse victims will routinely demean themselves, constantly using phrases like “How stupid of me” or “I’m such an idiot” [1] . They will often speak in a low voice or halting manner, swallowing their words or the tail-end of their sentences.

Victims will hesitate to offer an opinion; withdraw or undermine the few opinions they do express; and describe themselves as unqualified to comment, when this is clearly untrue.

Abuse victims will frequently apologize, even for events outside their control. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” The words are repeated in an endless refrain…sorry the train is late, sorry the traffic is snarled, sorry the taxes are due, sorry the weather has changed, sorry the sun has set.

After a lifetime of abuse, victims may find it difficult to make choices based on their own preferences. After all, chocolate ice cream is as good as vanilla, isn’t it?

How does this come about? There is no real mystery. Abuse victims learn early that their opinions do not matter any more than their lives do. And they learn early – at least those who survive learn – to placate their abusers. This is done by self-abasement.

Desires will invariably be denied. Hope must be abandoned. Little wonder that patterns of speech change to conform with the situation.

But patterns can be broken.

Abuse victims may find it difficult to believe they deserve better. However, to reduce the likelihood of starting another relationship with an abuser, all victims have to do is change the way they speak [2]. That turns off the signal.

[1] The patterns of speech described here are generalizations. There will be victims whose verbal tendencies do not fit this mold.

[2] Changing the speech patterns of abuse victims will not remove victims’ vulnerability to abuse. It should though make them harder to target, and may gradually increase their self-esteem.



Filed under Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Violence Against Women

21 responses to “Signal

  1. Anna, these are great observations. This is true of men who grow up in abusive families, too. When men act this way it makes them easy prey for other men to use and bully them and it drives women away from them because these men are so insecure and most women want security when they are with a man.

    But with all that said, in Christ there is hope of change (2 Cor. 5:17-19).

    Thanks for your post.

    Your friend,

    • I so appreciate the male viewpoint, Michael. I tend to use female pronouns in part because I am female, in part because the constant repetition of he/she, his/her, etc. gets tiresome for readers. Obviously, either sex can be victimized. At least if we reduce the chance of recurrent abuse that is a small step forward.

      Grateful for your insights and your friendship,


  2. Q's Corner

    Anna, thank you for this post! I have been agonizing for months trying desperately to figure out WHY I am so vulnerable to preditors! I have NOT been able to figure this out , so I did all that I know to do and that is run away! Again!?!?!?!? But, this never works, I never learn what it is that ‘I’ am doing that is setting me up. This has been a major crazy maker for me spanning the majority of my life, and because I have not learned what it is that I do, that causes me to think that I am profoundly stupid! I have gone to several therapists and not a single one of them would help me with this, so I finally gave up on them and phoney professionalism. This has been and is an extremely exasperating situation for me. Now I go nowhere alone, I am too afraid to.

    • I am truly glad this post was helpful. I was concerned readers might draw the mistaken conclusion that victims invite their abuse.

      You are not alone, Q. Many of us feel as if we have had a large “V” for victim painted on our foreheads. Predators of all kinds seem to home in on us, much as we might hope and pray to avoid them.

      This can, as you say, be “crazymaking”. With time, however, we learn to put up stronger barriers.

      Predators (and “users”) certainly exist, trawling for vulnerability. You are wise to be cautious, especially given your experiences. But there are a great many wonderful people in the world, as well. It would be a shame for you to miss out on them…and for them to miss out on you. ❤

  3. Q's Corner

    In my desperate quest of trying to find a ‘FIX’, a ‘SOLUTION’, to this highly exasperating situation, I have ran into (which felt like a headon collision) with people who would retort sharply, harsh accusing questions as to why I wouldn’t speak up for myself, or stand up for myself; which ALWAYS left me feeling once again that I was letting them have their way with me. NAMELY THAT IT WAS MY FAULT AGAIN! They would sharply rebuke me for doing nothing, which resulted in my feeling even condemned and stupid. This happened again yesterday with an OLD friend of mine. She was also abused when little, BUT she is very out spoken, so because SHE can do it with no problem, she therefore , believes that I should be able to do the same.

    • How awful for you! People can be terribly insensitive. I generally put this down to ignorance on their part. But blaming victims for the abuse to which they were subjected is flat out wrong.

      Every individual is different. What intimidates you (the residual effect of the abuse you experienced), may not intimidate your friend. That does not make her morally superior.

      While I am no psychologist, it strikes me that there may be something else at work here. In an attempt to distance themselves from the abuse, some victims will be extremely hard on fellow victims. This is not from lack of compassion or understanding. It occurs among rape victims, as well. Identification as a victim is simply too distressing for such individuals. Their superior attitude is really a mask for feelings of vulnerability.

      It takes courage to confront our limitations. You’ve demonstrated that courage. Don’t adopt your friend’s judgmental view of your behavior. The abuse was not and is not your fault. Painful as it may be, the vulnerability to further abuse by those once victimized is simply a scar left by the original experience.

      We get better at dealing with what might be termed emotional assaults. A stranger encounters us in the laundry room, and begins making offensive comments about our weight or appearance. The boss takes credit for our work. A so called friend pokes fun publicly at shortcomings which embarrass us, as if s/he had none. A spouse harps on our insecurities, knowing them all too well. The list of such situations goes on and on.

      But we have options. We may prefer to ignore these thoughtless remarks, for instance, if they are seldom made. We can always re-evaluate whether a relationship with the individual making the remarks is worth continuing or not. We may view a confrontation as long overdue. You seem to have taken this approach with your friend (below). Bravo! You survived. That is the important thing. No one is keeping score as between confrontations in person and those by phone. (Confrontations by phone may actually be safer, since there is less chance for violence.) Alternatively, we may choose to address the topic at a later time, when neither party is agitated, say over coffee. We can address the topic with a mediator present, for example, a marriage counselor or family therapist. Or we can prepare (write out, memorize, and practice aloud) a short response to restore our dignity, on the next occasion.

      Clearly, you are an intelligent and articulate woman. That is obvious from your writing, here and elsewhere. Even those who were never abused may not be gifted public speakers. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t, and he managed to write the Declaration of Independence.

      Either way, you have something valuable to say.



  4. Q's Corner

    WRONG AGAIN! Well, I came back at her and flat out put in her place (that’s a first for me)! I said, ‘don’t you dare come off at me like that, YOU do not know or understand what this is like for me! That SHUT HER UP!

    The only time that I can do this is when I am on the phone, never in person, I cannot confront people, even though they can confront me any time they please and do all of the time. I on the other hand am shuttered up when I NEED to be OPEN.

    Thank you again, Anna, for your post it has help open me up above this on going problem and put it to words.

  5. Q's Corner

    Anna, this above message that I wrote, “Wrong Again”, was not ment for you. I had hit the wrong key and it was sent prematurally, it is the completion of what I was saying above.

  6. Q's Corner

    Wow, Anna, thank you for understanding me and what it is that am trying so hard to say. Oh, if only I could see that I am as you and so many others have said, that I am intelligent and articulate. Myhusband is forever talking to me like I am mentally defective, stupid, demented and he is forever telling me that I am not making myself clear, that I am mubbling my words! He is forever making me repeat myself, because he cannot hear me or understand a word that I am saying! Anna, this is all an elaborate Lie! No one else tells me this, they have never told me this, JUST HIM!!! it is maddening!!!!!!!!!

    He will not allow me to grow, prevents my every effort, he never tires of this, and I have now grown too sick and tired to fight him anymore.

    Bless you, for being honest with me.

    • I am sorry you are in such pain. A marriage must be assessed from the inside out, so I cannot offer you much advice. Only you can decide if the marriage is salvageable. Perhaps counseling would be helpful, if your husband is agreeable.

      Let me just add this. You are priceless. Not because I say that or a friend says that, or even because your husband says it. You are priceless because God says so. He’s the One that made you…with all your supposed faults.

      Listen to how Scripture puts it: You were made in My image (Gen. 1:27). I knew you even before you were conceived (Jer.1:4-5). I chose you when I planned creation (Eph. 1:11-12). You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in My book (Ps. 139:15-16). My plan for your future has always been filled with hope (Jer. 29:11), because I love you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you (Ps. 34:18). One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:3-4).

      All that remains true, whether we feel it in the moment or not. God will never grow too sick or tired to fight for you. You may not be able to change anything right now, except the way you look at yourself. But that makes all the difference.

      With love,

      A. ❤

      • Q's Corner

        Thank you for those wonderful scriptures, they minister love and healing to my parched soul and my broken-heart. I needed this reminder again.

  7. betternotbroken

    I shared this on twitter, this is well written and spot on.

  8. Powerful post!! I recognized myself in so many of these “signals”. Praying for transformation and healing for all victims of abuse.

  9. This was a really useful post. I need to find a way to turn off these signals because I see myself here, especially not finishing off my sentences!

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