Abuse Victims: Befriending the System

Why do abuse victims frequently get short-changed by the system? Usually, it's because the victim of abuse doesn't understand how to play the game.

In the process of mediation, marital therapy, or evaluation, counselors frequently propose various techniques to ameliorate the abuse or bring it under control. Woe betides the party that dares object or turn these "recommendations" down. Thus, an abuse victim who declines to have any further contact with her batterer - is bound to be chastised by her therapist for obstinately refusing to constructively communicate with her violent spouse.

Better to play ball and adopt the sleek mannerisms of your abuser. Sadly, sometimes the only way to convince your therapist that it is not all in your head and that you are a victim - is by being insincere and by staging a well-calibrated performance, replete with the correct vocabulary. Therapists have Pavlovian reactions to certain phrases and theories and to certain "presenting signs and symptoms" (behaviors during the first few sessions). Learn these - and use them to your advantage. It is your only chance.


I described in "The Guilt of the Abused - Pathologizing the Victim" how the system is biased and titled against the victim.

Regrettably, mental health professionals and practitioners - marital and couple therapists, counselors - are conditioned, by years of indoctrinating and dogmatic education, to respond favorably to specific verbal cues.

The paradigm is that abuse is rarely one sided - in other words, that it is invariably "triggered" either by the victim or by the mental health problems of the abuser. Another common lie is that all mental health problems can be successfully treated one way (talk therapy) or another (medication).

This shifts the responsibility from the offender to his prey. The abused must have done something to bring about their own maltreatment - or simply were emotionally "unavailable" to help the abuser with his problems. Healing is guaranteed if only the victim were willing to participate in a treatment plan and communicate with the abuser. So goes the orthodoxy.

Refusal to do so - in other words, refusal to risk further abuse - is harshly judged by the therapist. The victim is labeled uncooperative, resistant, or even abusive!

The key is, therefore, feigned acquiescence and collaboration with the therapist's scheme, acceptance of his/her interpretation of the events, and the use of key phrases such as: "I wish to communicate/work with (the abuser)", "trauma", "relationship", "healing process", "inner child", "the good of the children", "the importance of fathering", "significant other" and other psycho-babble. Learn the jargon, use it intelligently and you are bound to win the therapist's sympathy.

Above all - do not be assertive, or aggressive and do not overtly criticize the therapist or disagree with him/her.

I make the therapist sound like yet another potential abuser - because in many cases, he/she becomes one as they inadvertently collude with the abuser, invalidate the abuse experiences, and pathologize the victim.

Phrases to Use

  • "For the children's sake ..."
  • "I want to maintain constructive communications with my husband/wife..."
  • "The children need the ongoing presence of (the other parent) ..."
  • "I wish to communicate/work with (the abuser) on our issues"
  • "I wish to understand our relationship, help both sides achieve closure and get on with their lives/my life"
  • "Healing process"



Things to Do

  • Attend every session diligently. Never be late. Try not to cancel or reschedule meetings.
  • Pay attention to your attire and makeup. Project a solid, conservative image. Do not make a disheveled and disjointed appearance.
  • Never argue with the counselor or the evaluator or criticize them openly. If you have to disagree with him or her - do so elliptically and dispassionately.
  • Agree to participate in a long-term treatment plan.
  • Communicate with your abuser politely and reasonably. Do not let yourself get provoked! Do not throw temper tantrums or threaten anyone, not even indirectly! Restrain your hostility. Talk calmly and articulately. Count to ten or take a break, if you must.
  • Repeatedly emphasize that the welfare and well-being of your children is uppermost in your mind - over and above any other (selfish) desire or consideration.

Maintain Your Boundaries

    • Be sure to maintain as much contact with your abuser as the courts, counselors, mediators, guardians, or law enforcement officials mandate.
    • Do NOT contravene the decisions of the system. Work from the inside to change judgments, evaluations, or rulings - but NEVER rebel against them or ignore them. You will only turn the system against you and your interests.
    • But with the exception of the minimum mandated by the courts - decline any and all gratuitous contact with the narcissist.
    • Do not respond to his pleading, romantic, nostalgic, flattering, or threatening e-mail messages.
    • Return all gifts he sends you.
    • Refuse him entry to your premises. Do not even respond to the intercom.
    • Do not talk to him on the phone. Hang up the minute you hear his voice while making clear to him, in a single, polite but firm, sentence, that you are determined not to talk to him.
    • Do not answer his letters.
    • Do not visit him on special occasions, or in emergencies.
    • Do not respond to questions, requests, or pleas forwarded to you through third parties.
    • Disconnect from third parties whom you know are spying on you at his behest.
    • Do not discuss him with your children.
    • Do not gossip about him.
    • Do not ask him for anything, even if you are in dire need.
    • When you are forced to meet him, do not discuss your personal affairs - or his.
    • Relegate any inevitable contact with him - when and where possible - to professionals: your lawyer, or your accountant.

This - working with professionals to extricate yourself and your loved ones from the quagmire of an abusive relationship - is the topic of our next article.


next: Working with Professionals

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). Abuse Victims: Befriending the System, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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