Falling in love with abusers

Falling in love with abusers

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the psychological reasons that people are attracted to or even fall in love with abusive or manipulative people.

First a quick update:

“Subconscious Personality Imagery Test”
Due to overwhelming requests, I have now created an audio version of my unique personality test. Before today, you had to book a personal session to have the personality test done. Now you can do it on your own in the comfort of your home with a new CD guided by me. The test reveals your subconscious thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

Now let’s talk about the psychology of attraction to abusive, manipulative or unhealthy people.

Why do certain people attract us while others repel us? The answer to that question would be simple were the attraction to something always positive, but what about the people who are stuck like glue to partners, friends or family that are abusive?

I have explained in the past the way that our childhood relationships with our parents and siblings affects and determines our adult relationships; primarily via the conclusions we make regarding our self-worth, what we deserve, our definitions of love & the opposite sex, and the habits we create. For example, a person who was abused as a child will most likely end up in abusive relationships as an adult; research reveals that almost 90 percent of strippers were abused in one form or another as children. Another example, Sarah was never told by her father that she is beautiful so she chases men who are not attracted to her and she is not attracted to the men who tell her she is beautiful. Why? She doesn’t subconsciously believe she is beautiful and subconsciously continues to look for evidence to support that belief. She also keeps recreating the intense emotional experience with her dad via adult relationships with men.

Our beliefs are created one of two ways – via constant repetition or intense emotional experiences. And it is the latter, intense emotions that also lead to attraction and bonding.

For example, did you know that meeting a stranger when physiologically aroused increases the chance of having romantic feelings towards them? That is because of a strong connection between anxiety, arousal and attraction. Psychologists Arthur Aron and Don Dutton in the 1970s, conducted the ‘shaky bridge study’: men who met a woman on a high, rickety bridge found the encounter sexier and more romantic than those who met her on a low, stable bridge. The researchers also found that photos of members of the opposite sex were more attractive to people who had just got off a roller coaster, compared with those who were waiting to get on. And couples were more loved-up after watching a suspense-filled thriller than a calmer film. Intense emotional experiences (positive or negative) also explain holiday romances. For example, Rachel was on holiday in the Greek islands and went for a scooter ride with Jeff a guy she met in her hotel. As they came around a corner, a speeding car had just overturned, and Rachel and Jeff proceeded to assist the bleeding victims. Subsequently, the anxiety, trauma and physiological arousal led her to feel attracted to Jeff with whom she shared the experience; she slept with him later that night.

The sympathizing and/or romantic attraction to an abuser is known as the Stockholm syndrome.

In 1973, in Stockholm, Sweden, a bank was held siege and some of the employees were kidnapped. They were in danger and they knew it. Amazingly, at the end of six days of captivity, several of the kidnap victims resisted attempts to rescue them and later refused to testify against their former captors. They had somehow come to identify and sympathize with the source of the threat to their personal safety. The same occurred a year later with nineteen year old heiress Patty Hearst who was kidnapped from the apartment she shared with her fiancée in California by the self-styled Symbionese Liberation Army. Patty was blindfolded and kept in a tiny closet for two weeks – she was physically and sexually abused.

Despite undergoing that pain and trauma, two months later, everyone was shocked to see pictures of Patty wielding a gun and threatening staff and customers at a bank in San Francisco. Patty claimed her guerilla name was now ‘Tania’ (a nom de guerre after the comrade of Che Guevara) and she publicly said that she fully supported the terrorist organization and its aims.

It was the emotional intensity that led to the ‘brainwashing’ as exemplified by the case of Patty Hearst, the Stockholm victims or even the men on the shaky bridge. The anxiety, racing heart and dependence on the one person can lead to the transference of power and significance. The abused child is completely helpless, wanting to obey and please the abusive parent. The abused child’s entire focus is on the abuser and it also depends on him/her for survival and every form of love and attention. The abuser becomes the only source, the sole provider of physical and emotions needs – safety, attention, recognition, etc.

In other words, two things occur: first, the mind confuses the high physiological arousal (danger or anxiety) for attraction rather than fear (establishing a bond and connection with the instigator or person involved as being the primary focus and highly important) and second; the person experiencing the abuse develops a subconscious belief that he or she deserves this type of treatment. The result is a sense of helplessness to break from the bond and chains of the abuser or manipulator. This is often seen in battered spouses, abused children, prisoner of war and concentration camp survivors.

The point here is to become aware whether or not there is someone in your life that you feel has total control over whether your basic emotional and physical needs are met because you will, if not already, develop total dependence upon them. They become ‘parental’, however brutal they may be and you live in their control, grateful for any provision of needs, and led by feelings of guilt, helplessness & powerlessness. It’s equally significant to realize that your feelings for the abuser, manipulator or unhealthy person are in fact, not authentic feelings of love but rather twisted dependence and yes, you can live without him or her.

Add your comments and questions to my blog and read my past Success Newsletters, if you have received this newsletter as a forward and would like to receive all of my newsletters please enter your email address on the home page.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

Facebook Comments
16 replies
  1. Avatar
    N says:

    you end the paragraph saying “you can live without them” HOW??? my attachment to my husband is so strong, i feel so cold and lonely and alone. all i can do is remember the good times and my brain is erasing the pain. i wanted to have a family so bad that i felt like i’d do anything to stay with him. for better or worse. i hate divorce and i feel aweful. it’s so much easier for a man because they can go out and pick up any desperate women and they don’t have to FEEL DESPAIR because there’s hundreds and millions of desperate women. i feel like i’ll be alone forever because i’m just outnumbered surrounded by jerk druggy alcoholic men and desperate women and all the good ones where are they. now i have to start over after all that dedication – nothing but heartache. doesn’t any one have any morals or integrity anymore just a bunch of sex starved lieing addict abusers. i’m so incredibly bummed right now. i have a pure heart i have love yes i was beat as a child and i bond with abusers it’s wrong i guess i’m trying to prove i’m worthy of love. it wasn’t my fault to get beat as a child and i married someone who would get drunk and hit me and constantly put me down and now i just feel aweful.

  2. Avatar
    J. Marie says:

    I just realized that I committed emotionally/sexually to a man with anger and trust issues.

    Very disturbing as I know that the solution does not magically appear with dissolution of the relationship.

    The answer is within. I would love to listen to your CD “getting over it”. How can I acquire that?



  3. Avatar
    Carley says:

    I was roommates with a man for a year that was very mentally and emotionally abusive. In that year I think I aged about 10 years. But during that time I also feel in love with him. I never told him; but I think he may have suspected. We are not roommates anymore, but I do still see him all the time because we are members of the same church. The abuse he put me through qualified me to be accepted for government subsidized housing through a program for abused women. After moving out of the apartment I shared with him I had no where else to go and I couldn’t afford a place on my own; and after that experience I didn’t want any more roommates. The thing is, I finally feel safe and I’m in a wonderful new place. But I still see him and my heart falls for him all over again every time I see him. I understand the idea behind Stockholm Syndrome. However, I don’t understand how does knowing why I feel the way I do, help me to stop feeling it?

    • Avatar
      Patrick Wanis says:

      Dear Carley,
      I am sorry that you suffered and were abused.
      You are right, knowing why you feel the way you do, does not stop you from feeling it.
      However, the knowledge and awareness is step one to healing.
      The next step is also to get help to uncover what it is in your subconscious beliefs that you led you to allow this person to treat you this way for such a long time. Why did you allow it to happen to you – for him to treat you this way for so long? What do you subconsciously believe you deserve and deserve to be treated?
      There is probably a good chance that you experienced abuse as a child and therefore you have a definition of love that I call “twisted love” – and you probably subconsciously believe you deserve that treatment. With professional help, you can release the emotions and change your belief and thus, be attracted to someone who will love you the way you consciously desire.

  4. Avatar
    Patrick says:

    Dear Bella,

    it sounds like you have been facing many challenges and if I may humbly add that I feel you are doing the right thing to think first about the safety and welfare of your child. While it is true that a child needs both parents, you also need to ensure that your child is not exposed in any way to drugs (even by just being around a user is dangerous.)

    Also, if you being around the father puts you in danger of falling back into drugs, then you must stay away because your child needs a healthy mother.

    Bella, please listen to me when I suggest that you also make some time for yourself, to heal and love yourself. It is imperative that you find the source of your pain that led you to drugs, to someone that shared drugs with you. In my experience, I have found that what leads most people to drugs is a route to escape pain (the pain of facing oneself and past hurts) and/or to feel something. Sometimes because we have experienced so much pain in our lives (abuse, betrayal, rejection, abandonment) that we numb ourselves to avoid feeling that pain. And then we get to the place where we are totally numb and we cannot even feel good feelings anymore. For some, wthen they arrive at that place, the only way they know how to feel anything good again (the natural highs) is to use artificial stimulants – artificial highs.

    I wish you the best and remain open to help in anyway I can.

  5. Avatar
    Bella says:

    Dear Patrick,

    I am 2 years out of a 3 year relationship with an abuser.

    We were doing drugs & alcohol as a way of living and trough that we had a child. I had to runaway to have my child clean (only 2 weeks clean since he was premature). I was at my mom and the father came for the birth but threw a fit in my hospital room the next day my son was born. I was delaying the time I had to go back home as when I wan’t with him, I didn’t even think of doing drugs. When my son was 5 weeks i came back to our home but I was very afraid of what was going to happened. I manage not to use for 9 weeks but then relapse because it was the only way to get intimate with my son’s dad. My chid was taken away 3 weeks later by Children Aid Society.

    We tried to stop using and it lasted only 10 days before before we started using regurlarly again. My only choice was to leave. My son was 5 1/2 months when I left. I went to rehab and did whatever Children’s Aid asked in order to get my son back. I had 1 year to do what I did or he was going in adoption. I couldn’t bare the idea of not raising my son.

    I got my son back 2 days before is 1st b-day and just won sole custody of my son who by the way is healthy, happy and curious.

    I want to do the right thing for my son so despite of the conditions his dad had to fulfill in order to see his son (doing drug screen test every week) I let him see his son this last week-end because I feel guilty that my son is not seeing his dad.
    It went pretty well but he goes back in the past and accuses me of old stuff which I asked him to stay in the present, he is nice to our son but still puts me down like before (it use to be his favorite sport), so I asked him not to treat me this way.

    The thing is that I’m afraid to fall back under the control of what you were talking “the Stockholm Syndrome” and even though he says he’s not using and his working I dont want go back where I’m coming from.

    I’m now 2 years clean and still working on “unrooting” some of his critics towards me and my family.

    I want to stand for myself because my son will get influence by this type of behaviour and I dont want him to become like this.

    If he keeps going back in the past I might just go back to my hometown where I had decide to go back in the next year but he threathens to make a big case and go to court and even though I’m being a great mom I still get afraid he could take away my son.

    Thank You and everybody that writes about there story


  6. Avatar
    Patrick says:

    Dear Marie,

    thank you for opening up and sharing such a painful story. In amongst your experiences you have made some insights. And I wish to point out that there are numerous layers to the challenges and questions you raised. With regards to “how can people become so awful?” I would like to invite you to listen to a lengthy and detailed interview and discussion with friend and colleague Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University Philip Zimbardo who led the landmark 1971 Stanford Prison experiment which foretold and paralleled most of the torture that was to occur at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. You can listen to it at https://patrickwanis.com/blog/RadioInterviews.asp#TheEvil

    I think you understand quite clearly that you choose to be a workaholic as a way to avoid and escape facing your own pain and sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I teach and promote that it is important that we focus on contributing to others but there must be a balance. I always promote balance. You are doing so much for others but what are you doing for you? You are giving so much to others but what are you giving to you? Do you subconsciously feel and believe that you deserve better, that you deserve love, respect and kindess?

    There can be things that happened as a child that you have repressed or suppressed. There can be beliefs that you took on at a subconscious level as a child that led you to these circumstances. That does not mean that you are too blame. No. Rather, it means that yes, you can be set free from those old beliefs so that you can receive all the wonderful things that life has to offer and the things that your heart (not your head) desires.

    You said, “I have also taken various courses and became a certified hypnotherapist, certified Reiki master, certified acupuncturist, etc. but all of it barely helps me overcome the repeated pains form various men.” And thus you now know the truth, the certification in any discipline or healing or therapy will never heal you. The healing comes not from the study but from the experience. I say this with humility for I can attest to the fact that my certification and studies and research in Hypnotherapy did not heal me. The healing comes from an exploration and journey into you and your deeper beliefs and consciousness. This is often best done with the right guide such as a therapist.

    You also wrote: “Can one really be able to bypass such past negative experiences when they have been so awful??? How could I ever open my heart??? and trust???”

    Marie, the answer is yes. Yes, you can be set free from the pain. Yes, you can be set free from the negative beliefs. yes, you can be set free to open your heart again and trust again. I have done this with many of my clients. They can attest to how their lives and world have changed.

    May I humbly invite you to listen to some of my interviews about the Law of Deservedness at https://patrickwanis.com/blog/RadioInterviews.asp#Law

    Also, please understand that very few people particularly Hypnotherapists understand the real process of healing. I say this because it was not my years of official and formal studies that taught me what I now know or the process that I have created that works so well with my clients. It was years of working with clients and working on myself that also helped me to awaken to the need of including a key aspect of healing which involves acknowledging, accepting and then releasing the deeper subconscious feelings and pain. It is amazing to hear from so many of my clients who say to me “I have been in therapy for years but never got this help…I attended intensive seminars and never realized that I hadn’t cleared this issue till now…I thought I had done the inner child work…I thought I had forgiven that person and didn’t realize till now how much hatred I stil had for him/her…etc.”

    Marie, I say the above in the sincere desire to give you hope and reassure you that yes, you can be set free – but with only one pre-condition; are you willing and ready?

    All the best,

  7. Avatar
    Marie says:


    Your message was right on target yet, I do not believe that all people suffer of a bad background. I also believe that some people come from naive environment and would not even phantom the type of challenges that I was put through.

    Overcoming numerous repeated past abusive relationships has been hard and is still not done for me. So, yes, like the previous message, I am still a boat that can’t anchor although in amazing shape and being in a very desirable position financially, professionally, physically, etc.

    Attempting to overcome incidents (like being a tied-up and heavily injurred witness to the killings of gorgeous innocent children) with prayers and visualization has not yet allowed me to open my heart and evade away from my workachoolic tendencies.

    Even after driving me to the ER post one of my beatings, a priest opted on the side of the abuser in Court as he was family-related to the abuser and they are all still supporting the mafia. So, not only did I loose my boyfriend at the time, I also lost my home, religion, job (as he finally injurred a peace officer that worked with me and the environment), professional, name and country. Remaining in my country with my friends became too dangerous as even under parole, my boyfriend tried to kill my parents in public in front of me. I barely was able to save their lives and decided to start over a new life so, their lives would never, ever be threatened again. I love my parents very much but, I made a mistake in believing previously in prince charming and have seen many pay heavily upon the years I wasted with him.

    I am now able to help kids, families, governments and communities and have raised to be within a small percentile of individuals worldwide. Yet, it is extremely hard for me to believe and even want to take a chance in opening my heart as I would never want people around me to experience the same level of injuries and painful deaths than they did before.

    Many may wonder if I have received assistance so, yes, I have seeked professionnals but, the pain is really hard to overcome. I have also taken various courses and became a certified hypnotherapist, certified Reiki master, certified acupuncturist, etc. but all of it barely helps me overcome the repeated pains form various men.

    I believe that my volunteer work is my way to prevent against such repeated experiences so, I spend lots of time, resources and money supporting over 37 charities yearly. Can one really be able to bypass such past negative experiences when they have been so awful??? How could I ever open my heart??? and trust???

    Fortunately, i am fairly successful as I typically work around the clock – to the exception of the time I spend traveling for work and volunteering. I would like to understand how can people become so awful?


  8. Avatar
    Patrick says:

    Dear Patty,
    no one can fully understand the pain and suffering you have been through execpt you. I honor and acknowledge your openess and courage to share your story. If you agree, please email me and I will organize to give you as a gift my new hypnosis CD – “getting over it.” I sincerely believe that it will help you to break free from the old beliefs as well as the pain and hurt.

    All the best,

  9. Avatar
    Patty B says:

    I’m sixty one and finally understood your lesson in my 50’s. To me abuse, both verbal and physical equaled love as I grew up. I have been married twice to abusers (verbal) and my last boyfriend (2 years ago) was also an abuser, he never hit me but I knew it was very very possible. He served a prison term for shooting at his wife when he got jealous one night. He was so much fun to be with….. when he would come by he made me laugh, wanted to always pick me up swing me around and be a little rough with me and I liked it a lot, he never hurt me and tried to be a gentle beast. I thought the sex with him was great and continued to see him over two years, he never physically abused me, but he abandoned me three times. He called and left a message recently and I deleted it as soon as I heard his voice. Dad would abandon me if I spoke up or disagreed about anything, it was my mother that I thought I needed, and he wouldn’t let me see or talk to her. He even returned my mail saying that they moved. As an adult (when I was over 19) I never had any alone time with my mom as he didn’t want us talking about him. Once she agreed to take a walk when I visited them at there new apartment as I wanted to see the amenities and she said she would pay because he would question her about what we talked about. She said we should get back quickly because her life would be awful for days to come. When I was a little girl she would take me on the streetcar to the city to buy clothes for school, but first we would have to find goodies for my father at the candy store, it was important to bring him gifts, so we would do that first thing. Now that I have friends that are couples and I see how they really get along it makes me want the same but I just can’t seem to be attracted to these nice guys that are out there. I’m very attractive for my age and find those nice guys so boring, yet I long for that wonderful relationship and pray and visualize this happening……God help me. Every time I meet a man he says I can’t believe you haven’t been taken, your so beautiful. There is one now at my gym who is pursuing me and I get excited at the possibility of running into him, but also wonder if this guy is just another controlling beast, since I get that electric feeling when I see him. Again God help me……

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