A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Do Some Abuse Victims Have a “Need” to Suffer?

We have considered recommending the book Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them by Clinton McLemore.  It is valuable for presenting certain types and styles of personalities that are, as the author puts it, toxic.  This is the only book, for example, that we have found which identifies and discusses two types of toxic personality style which the author calls the Drifter and the Freeloader.  So we would still recommend it, but with the following caveat.  Listen to this excerpt from the book (pp 182-183) and then we will make some observations:

Humiliators are forever searching for those individuals who are willing to be dominated, persecuted and demeaned. They attract dependent people who have an unconscious need for abasement. The psychological qualities that draw another person toward a Humiliator, such as the willingness to grant others oppressive power and the need to suffer in silence, are the very same ones the make it more likely for the humiliation to increase.

If the Humiliator is not too oppressive in establishing superiority, the other person may respond with deferential scurrying, in which case the relationship will become stable. You may recall Edith Bunker’s way of relating to her husband, Archie, in the 1970s series All in the Family.  This kind of relationship can be established, for example, between a Humiliator and a Scurrier who is closer to being a Drifter than an Avoider. The Humiliator will conclude that he or she has found someone who truly appreciates his or her magnificence.

It is also possible for a stable relationship t o be established on the basis of more aggressive humiliation. A Humiliator who is decidedly sadistic and a Scurrier who is fundamentally masochistic may be compatible. The former will do a great deal of berating, and the latter will spend a lot of energy trying to get the Humiliator to stop, but the relationship may still endure. Many people, both men and women, remain in relationships with partners on the borderline between Humiliating and Victimizing, not because they lack the strength to get away but because they have an unconscious need to be debased and degraded. Though they may say, and believe, that they remain because they are afraid to leave or to press for change, in reality they stay because they need to suffer.

The problem in some cases may be spiritual. Instead of falling on God’s mercy to forgive and save them, they agonize in the unconscious hope that their suffering will atone for their sins. They are, in a sense, reenacting the crucifixion with themselves in the role of Jesus.

It would seem to me that in cases of abuse, these theories could cause great harm.  The author presents a scenario in which a kind of sick, yet workable / symbiotic relationship is formed between victim and abuser so that the victim is really getting what he / she wants.  (By the way, I would submit that this is exactly the notion that the Fifty Shades of Grey nonsense promotes).  McLemore places at least half the blame on the victim for having some self-debasing “need” to suffer.

Well, you can see how this could easily be distorted to place blame squarely on an abuse victim.  “Yes, of course she could have left him a long time ago.  But she didn’t.  She stays because she likes it.  He is giving her what she wants.”  Many, many abuse victims will hear their abuser in that kind of talk.  “She likes what I do to her.  She needs it.  I am just giving her what she wants.  She is a stupid woman and she needs a real man to give her a strong hand.”  Right?

What IS really going on in abusive relationships?  Confusion.  Fog.  Deception.  Self-doubt.  That is why the victim so often stays (in addition to many other factors such as economics, concern for her children, pressure from her church, etc).

Now, if the victim is a Christian, her motives can indeed appear to be coming out of some “need to suffer.”  But again, the real motive is confusion, not a desire to be self-degraded.  What do I mean?  Simply that Christians have been duped by a whole mountain of man-made tradition that parades as Scripture.  One of these very damaging and absolutely unbiblical traditions has to do with the Christian and suffering.  We have been taught by our churches and pastors and authors and fellow Christians with baggage of their own that God wants us to suffer.  That somehow if we will choose to remain in that suffering, God will be pleased.  Even when there is a way of escape.  That people who suffer can achieve a higher plane of holiness.  And, as always, these partial truths turn out to be no truths at all.

When we suffer, we should always try to escape it.  Jesus did.  Paul did.  But many abuse victims have been taught otherwise, with the result that they can (in their confusion) come to believe that it is God’s will that they remain in the abuse and suffer for Jesus.  Could there be a victim or two out there who fits McLemore’s theory of craving and needing to be degraded and thus be at least partly culpable for the twisted jointly-parasitic relationship they are in?  I suppose so.  But this certainly will not be the normal explanation for the mass of abusive relationships.  McLemore’s theory should not be embraced as a common explanation for a victim remaining in an abusive environment.  It will only add ammo to the abuser’s arsenal and further promote the damaging ignorance that governs the church today regarding abuse.

Also see our post When is Suffering God’s Will for Us?.


  1. Ella Walker

    I am glad you brought up this topic because I am interested in a discussion about this. A friend and I have an ongoing argument about whether some women “need” to be abused. He claims that some women are addicted to abuse. His example is his ex-wife who came from an abusive home (father) and constantly picked fights with him and tried to make him angry enough to hit he, because she liked make-up sex. He refused to fight with her and eventually the marriage ended and she went on to marry an abuser. There are obviously more details but this is the short version in a nutshell. I maintain that no woman wants to be abused and that maybe some of the behaviors that he has seen from women make it look like it, but doesn’t mean they want it. So why is it that some women go from one abusive relationship to the next and seem to be a magnet that attracts abusive men? Probably most of us have seen that happening and I personally know of some women that this has been their experience. I have a few ideas and theories about why this may happen- one theory being that they move too quickly into a new relationship without taking the time to heal fully from the previous one and wanting to find someone to fix their pain. Another idea is that they focus on the behaviors that present themselves from their partners and if they are different from the previous one then they think he must be very different, instead of discerning the underlying power and control that exists.
    I would very much like to know if there is some real concrete help available in helping women who have been in abusive relationships to detect an abusive man or to figure out if he isn’t. When I was dating the man who is now my husband, I discovered that there really wasn’t much help for me in that area- not from friends or counsellors – and that I was basically on my own to figure it out. I was far enough removed from my previous relationship and I had found a lot of healing but it was still difficult to trust a man again. Early in the relationship I pushed every button I could think of, to test him and see what would come out. Thank God he passed every test and I am now happily married to a wonderful man! Even so my heart aches for women who have endured multiple abusive situations.

    • Ella, these are great questions!
      Why do some women go from one abusive relationship to the next?
      Your two suggested answers are a great beginning:
      (1) Rebound relationships: they move too quickly into a new relationship without taking the time to heal from the previous one and they want to find someone to fix their pain.
      (2) Not looking for underlying attitudes of entitlement and the power and control temperament in the new guy, just focusing on how he presents and if his presentation is different from their previous partner, they think he must be very different from their former partner and therefore not a jerk.
      I think both of these are sadly, not uncommon.

      Looking for rebound relationship to fix the pain is often a big mistake. It’s really important to spend time single, to learn about the mentality and tactics of abusers – not just your abuser, but all the other ways they can present. Lundy Bancroft, in Why Does He DO That? describes no less than NINE types of abusers: the Demand Man, Mr Right, The Water Torturer, The Drill Sergeant, Mr Sensitive, The Player, Rambo, The Victim, The Terrorist, and the mentally ill or addicted abuser ( which is not separate from the other categories as any of the aforementioned styles can have mental illness or addiction issues).

      After an abusive relationship, survivors are wise to spend a lot of time learning about the dynamics of abuse and how it has affected them. This can include
      – understanding the mentality of abusers, and their various types
      – understanding the ways that she (the survivor is usually a woman, but can be a man) has responded to the abuse
      – understanding and shedding the false guilt and shame that has clouded her thinking
      – disentangling false doctrines about Scripture and virtue that have exacerbated her dis-empowerment
      – learning how to be confident in respectfully but firmly standing up for her dignity, her integrity and her rights
      – learning to trust her ‘gut feelings’ more, for these will have been wrongly discounted by the abuser’s brainwashing, not to mention the training she may have received from society, her family of origin, and the church
      – and it will often include learning how to put up walls against her former abuser’s post-separation abuse tactics: never an easy task, and not always fully achievable, given the sometimes corruption / ignorance / ineptitude of the legal and child protection systems.

      However, I don’t agree with saying that “Some women seem to be a magnet that attracts abusive men.” While I concede that some women for whatever reasons seem to have never had the chance to learn basic survival skills of living in this world, and some are weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-7) and seem to hobble from abuser to abuser, I don’t feel comfortable lumping a lot of blame on such victims. I think the biggest factor here is that there are multitudes of abusers out there who are looking for new targets. They are very skilled at camouflaging their inner wickedness and finding the exact ‘key’ which will turn the heart of a bird with a broken wing.

      Is some real concrete help available in helping women who have been in abusive relationships to detect an abusive man or to figure out if he isn’t? Is there a good list of ‘red flags’ to look for? I am sure there is. Maybe some of our readers can point us to some lists or resources. And maybe I will remember some myself, and post them later on this thread. Bless you, Ella, and thanks so much for sharing.

      • Anonymous

        Barbara, you ask the question, “Is there a good list of ‘red flags’ to look for?” I recently bought a book called Red Flags of Love Fraud – 10 Signs You’re Dating a Sociopath. It is not written from a Christian perspective, and I have only skimmed through it, but this is how it is described on Amazon:

        Red Flags of Love Fraud explains:

        – The top 10 signs of sociopathic suitors (Number One: charisma and charm)

        – Why anyone is vulnerable–especially powerful women

        – How sociopaths use love bombing to seduce their targets

        – Why there’s no such thing as “just sex”

        It is not a comprehensive, exhaustive treatment on the topic, but it does give some some concrete red flags to look out for.

      • Thanks Anon!

      • Song


        Typing in “Red Flags in relationships” on a search engine will bring up quite a few helpful websites.

        I have quite a few websites and books that have helped me figure out and understand what is happening in my marriage. I would be happy to share them, but the list is a bit long, and you and Jeff may want to preview them first.

        I have read a few of the books Rebecca recommended, and they were very helpful.

      • Hi Song, can you send the list to me and Jeff by email? Thanks.

      • Song

        Two books that have been extremely helpful in my situation lately are Dr. George Simon’s ” In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People” and “Character Disturbance.”

      • Song

        Barbara, Yes, I will. How do I send it to your emails?

      • You can email me at barbara@notunderbondage.com
        Our email addresses are also on the Page on this blog called About Us / Contact Us.
        Obviously, some people are having trouble finding them, so I will try to re-configure things a bit to make that easier for our readers.
        Thanks for the tip about the book by Van Epp. I’ll add it to the Resources page.

      • Song

        Thanks, Barbara. I sent it off. I think part of the reason I wasn’t able to locate the CONTACT/About us link was because I was looking to hard for it! Haha! It was hiding in plain sight.

      • Actually, I WAS hard to find. But I’ve now re-configured the menu at the top of the blog to make it much easier to find. Thanks for prompting me; I’ve been meaning to get around to that for ages.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Ella – Thank you for your insights and questions. There will be other readers who can no doubt give you better feedback than I can, but I could suggest a couple of things. First, I suspect that abuse can become “normal” in a victim’s mind if they have been subjected to it their whole life. Could it actually be their comfort zone in such cases? I don’t know. A possibility at least.

      And then, as you say, rushing from one relationship right into another. Abusers can “spot” wounded people and if a victim does not have time to heal from prior abuse, coming to understand it, learn how to deal with it, etc., she is that much more a target.

      As to women acting in an abusive manner just so the provoke abuse — I do know that one response to violence and abuse is to become a violent, abusive person yourself. Hurt People Hurt People, is the title of the book by Sandra Wilson. But are there people who truly want to be abused? Not when they come to know the truth about what is really going on in their situation. They can be deceived into “wanting” abuse by their abuser, being made to think that they deserve it. But if they can be brought out of that lie, I can’t believe that they would actually crave abuse.

      By the way, isn’t that what the 50 Shades of Grey books could certainly be teaching people? That women want to be abused?

  2. Rebecca

    Jeff, I completely agree with you. This is a really good discussion. I can’t accept a victim/survivor wants to suffer. All this trying to normalize suffering further exploits victims and blames victims, as if it’s their contribution to being abused. What I have seen is that some women, (including my mom- who has been verbally and emotionally abused for years by my dad), develop a type of martyr attitude, believing they are enduring suffering or accepting the husbands (misuse) of authority and are praying through it. Yet at the same time, take on a ‘woe- is- me’ attitude for being what they call co-dependent, and that’s just who they are and can’t help it. Or, really do believe the legalistically indoctrinated male headship domination. Beth Moore was describing types of self-loathing as a form of pride. So it made me wonder if some victimized women fall into this pattern as a means of survival. But I see that as different than a victim desiring suffering and seeking it out.

    Barb, you’ve explained quite well why women (and some men) often do repeat the pattern of getting into abusive patterns because we haven’t learned the signs or red flags, and/or be willing to see them and step away when it’s seen. It’s the same as the abuser or addicts…until we as victims , have taken all we can and have hit our own rock bottom, are we willing to choose something different, and then learn how not to repeat it. It took me 15 yrs in an abusive marriage before I finally made him leave, and another 4 yrs to finalize the divorce.

    These books have helped me understand abusive relationships and notice red flags, while offering recovery measures to heal.

    “Boundaries” – Cloud & Townsend. In my humble opinion, if we as survivors don’t understand the basis and right to boundaries, nothing else we read will help, or will likely be applied. Learning to establish boundaries was the first thing I had to learn, and then not be afraid to enforce.

    and of course Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He do That?”

  3. Thanks Song, Rebecca and Anon for your reading suggestions.
    It occurs to me that some books and articles are excellent for those who are in abusive relationships, but not necessarily helpful for those who are entering new relationships and wanting some guidance about detecting early red flags.

    It’s one thing to become awake to the fact that one has been living with an abuser for years. It’s another to become aware of the red flags that you might see in the early stages of a relationship: the signs that might be so fleeting that you barely notice them. And how does a single woman probe a man’s underlying beliefs to find out if he has a bedrock attitude of entitlement under his surface charm? And how can she, as Ella said, “press his buttons” to see how he reacts under pressure? Furthermore, how can she do that without feeling terribly guilty for having deliberately pressed his buttons?

    I’m actually creating a new post from here, as I’ve found a lot more that is worth passing on to our readers about Red Flags to look for in a new relationship [Internet Archive link]. Click on the link to go to the new post. Sorry for breaking the thread up this way, but I want all our readers to benefit and a new post is the best way to achieve that.

    • Song

      The book “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk: The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind” by John Van Epp is helpful for those entering new relationships.

  4. anewfreelife

    I would definitely be classified as one of those women drawn to abuse if that was one’s worldview. Trust me, I’ve never enjoyed it or sought it out. From my perspective and experience it has been impossible to establish a healthy relationship because I haven’t got a clue what one is or looks like, having been raised in an abusive home. I have found it very interesting that every single woman in my local DV support group came from an abusive family of origin. (I realize that not all victims do.) One woman very clearly stated that she felt cheated and confused. She said, “I feel like everyone else came into this world with an instruction booklet, and I didn’t get one. I don’t have a clue how to go about life and relationships even with other women.” We are trying very hard to be “normal” and fit in, have a marriage, and do all the things “normal” people do, but we just don’t know how. We already feel like we aren’t normal because, though abuse was our “normal experience,” we deep down knew that it was abnormal. Perhaps because our abusive parents put so much shame on us and made it so clear that we were to hide it from outsiders. There are evil people in the world who spot that and know that they can use it to their advantage. Books like you’ve recommended are critical for us.

    The going from one relationship to another thing is hard. I see it in my DV group all of the time. The women who show up, beaten and bruised, staying at the shelter, and then within a month have a new guy, and they’re thrilled to death someone wants them. And, off they go. They’ll be back. We all know they will. I’ve watched our advocate try and try to talk to them. I’ve tried to talk to them. They want validated and loved so desperately though that they run right into the next abusive relationship without taking the time to learn those life skills we missed out on as children and young adults.

    • Jeff Crippen

      ANFL- Yep, I have seen the very same pattern in two cases we worked with just this year. Good advice, it seems, can’t compete once they start listening to the next guy’s line. Not true of all victims of course, but it happens with enough regularity that we need to be aware of it.

  5. SJR

    Wow ANFL,–You just said all the things I do about how hard it is to be normal!

    I have no baseline to work from. I have tried to do things differently for my children than how it was when I was growing up but as far as how marriage works I’m still learning major things. Things I thought were normal or suspected weren’t, I’m finding out really aren’t and that yes it is abuse. You know in pre-marital counseling, which we went through in our church a loonng time ago, a lot of things were never mentioned. One of the main points was that after marriage all things were lawful for the marriage bed.

    My husband liked that and so from fairly early on BDSM, pornography or porn influenced has been a part of our very private lives. I consistently received messages from various churches, not from our current one though, that everything was lawful in marriage and if the wife pleases her husband that he won’t stray or at least if he does that he will come back. Those are very destructive messages. I hope that with the popularity of the 50 Shades books and movie that those sort of questions will be addressed with couples before marriage. It can save a lot of anguish in life.

  6. Joy

    I am absolutely furious at what this book portrays abuse victims as liking and needing the abuse! This is one of the reasons why abuse victims stay in their destructive relationships, as well as many other reasons.

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