How Valued Traits Become Vulnerabilities
Resilience Case Management Team 

If you‘ve been reading our Domestic Violence Education Series, you know that abusive relationships flourish on an imbalance of power and control. One person uses various tactics in order to obtain, and maintain, power and control over the other.  

What does it mean to say that traits can be vulnerabilities? And how does it relate in the context of abusive relationships?

Valued traits are characteristics or parts of our identity that are seen as positive by ourselves and others. Oftentimes, they are a main source of our confidence. These traits can attract others to us, including abusive partnersWhile being in a healthy relationship will likely build up these traitsan abusive partner will methodically turn these traits against you. The aspects of your personality that you once held in high esteem are now believed to be flawed. For example, if you once felt you were a hardworking person, your abuser might convince you that you’re lazy. If you valued your intelligence, an abuser might repeatedly tell you how stupid you are. Perhaps your abuser calls you a tease because you are attractive and get attention from others.  

When our traits are targeted and beaten down, our self-esteem slowly diminishes. It’s not just that a controlling partner won’t let you see your friends, they take it a step further by convincing you that your friends wouldn’t want to spend time with you anyway.  

Over time, the hurtful things that abusers say start to be taken on as truth. Beliefs about not being good enough lead to not getting a job applied for which further solidifies that thought, which gives an abuser even more fuel to verbally abuse them. This leads to needing to rely on the abusive partner because you feel they’re the only one who is “telling the truth”. To the abusive partner, confidence is a dangerous thing. With confidence comes independence, and with independence comes an inability to maintain power and control. Abuser will take all of the things that were once valued and turn them into insecurities. The very traits that you value can be targeted as vulnerabilities. 

There are ways to protect your valued traits to ensure they do not become vulnerabilities for an abuser to prey onStart by identifying what your valued traits are. Identify the positive things in your life: 

Where do you find your identity?
What challenges have you overcome?
What do close friends say about you?
What are some of your strengths? 

The best way to protect yourself is by building self-esteem. Knowing our valued traits is great, but truly believing in them is where building self-esteem and increasing feelings of self-worth comes in.  

Here are a few strategies to help build self-esteem: 

Reality testing: This can also be thought of in terms of feelings vs. truth. Sometimes, our first emotional response to a situation or statement is not the most accurate. If we are feeling hurt, we should ask ourselves some questions. What are the facts involved with the comment said? Do the emotions align with what we know to be true? If someone calls you stupid, but you always got good grades when you were in school or were praised by others for the work you did, is that comment still true? The perceptions others have of us are not always rooted in truth. 

Self-talk: Your voice has power! Stop listening to the voices of the past and use self-talk that is more appropriate for the current times. Be kind to yourself. The world already has enough negativity. You don’t need to add yourself to the list.  

Respecting Our Own Needs: Take time to acknowledge your own wants and needs. Giving ourselves time to respond to our own needs increases our sense of worth. You’re saying, “I see that you and you deserve this time to take a break.” 

Relying on Self-Evaluation: We are all very quick to rely on the opinions of others. We let others define us and what we see as being true. When we rely on ourselves instead of others, we gain more freedom to be our best, most authentic self. 

When we build our self-worth and become comfortable in who we are, we minimize the ability for our valued traits to become vulnerabilities. Remember, your voice matters, it is important, and you are resilient. 

There is no justification for abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, Resilience is here to provide free and confidential support. 

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