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Why do some people attract abusers?

Unfortunately, some people seem to attract abusive partners more than others. This can happen for a variety of reasons that are often outside of the person’s control. In this article, we’ll explore some of the key factors that can make someone more likely to end up in abusive relationships again and again. Understanding these dynamics is an important first step in breaking the cycle.

Low Self-Esteem

One of the most common traits among people who attract abusers is low self-esteem. When someone doesn’t value themselves highly, they may tolerate poor treatment from partners. An abuser can exploit low self-esteem to make their target feel like they don’t deserve better treatment. Some signs of low self-esteem that can attract abusers include:

  • Negative self-talk and self-criticism
  • Feeling unworthy of love and respect
  • Isolation and withdrawal from others
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Seeking validation from others

People with low self-esteem often crave external validation. Abusers know how to provide this validation early in the relationship through excessive flattery, attention, and gifts. This gives their targets a much-needed self-esteem boost and helps hook them into the relationship before the abuse begins.

Childhood Abuse

Survivors of childhood abuse are also more likely to end up in abusive adult relationships. The reasons for this are complex, but often include:

  • Seeing abuse as normal or acceptable in relationships
  • Feeling like they don’t deserve better treatment
  • Craving the feelings of being wanted or loved they missed as children
  • Being conditioned to accept abuse via grooming behaviors

Child abuse survivors may be targeted by abusers because they are viewed as more vulnerable. Their past experiences can also make them more tolerant of warning signs early on. Breaking out of abusive patterns requires recognizing that abuse is never deserved, no matter what happened in childhood.

Codependency Issues

Codependent tendencies are major red flags for abusers when seeking targets. Codependency involves excessive reliance on relationships for self-worth and identity. Codependent people tend to:

  • Attract and attach quickly to partners
  • Tolerate poor treatment from partners
  • Compromise their own needs and boundaries
  • Feel responsible for their partners’ feelings/problems

These tendencies stem from underlying insecurities and fears of abandonment. Abusers know how to exploit them by showering affection on targets early on to build codependency. Once in control, they use emotional abuse tactics to keep targets trapped in the relationship despite red flags.

Trauma Bonding

Also known as Stockholm Syndrome, trauma bonds form between abusers and victims in the cycle of abuse. These bonds create deep psychological ties that are difficult to break. Trauma bonding often includes:

  • Bonding during the honeymoon phase after abuse episodes
  • Seeing any positive trait in the abuser as redeeming
  • Defending or sympathizing with the abuser
  • Blocking out or minimizing the abuse

The more abuse/apologies cycles occur, the stronger trauma bonds become. This helps explain why many abuse survivors return to their abusers multiple times. Disrupting these trauma bonds requires addressing the psychological roots that allow them to form.

Narcissistic Vulnerability

Narcissism exists on a spectrum. People with high degrees of narcissism believe they are special and deserving of superior treatment. While that may seem like narcissists would avoid victimhood, they actually have fragile egos and thirst for control. As a result, they are prone to attracting narcissistic abusers. Signs of narcissistic vulnerability include:

  • Feeling slighted easily
  • Craving recognition and compliments
  • Having weak boundaries
  • Lashing out when criticized

Initially, abusers give narcissistic targets the validation and adoration they crave. This builds strong early bonds the abuser leverages for control through emotional abuse. The key for narcissistic abuse targets is balancing validation needs with self-protection.


Loneliness and isolation are circumstances abusers leverage to target victims. Some signs of problematic loneliness include:

  • Little or poor quality contact with friends/family
  • Shyness, social anxiety, or introversion
  • Recently moving to a new area
  • Lack of involvement in hobbies, community, etc.

Abusers know lonely people crave companionship and are less likely to have protective supports. They use this to quickly build dependent bonds with targets before abuse begins. Addressing isolation through counseling, social skills development, and community involvement can help reduce vulnerability.

Age/Generational Factors

Younger age and generational norms can unfortunately increase risk for abuse. For example:

  • Teen dating abuse is common due to youthful naivete.
  • Young adults often lack relationship role models.
  • Older adults may tolerate bad behavior due to outdated norms.

Abusers target victims of all ages, leveraging norms and inexperience specific to their developmental stage. Building awareness of healthy relationship standards within one’s peer group provides protection.

Financial Insecurity

Financial insecurity or dependence on a partner increases abuse risks as it destroys options for escape. Signs of financial vulnerability include:

  • Dependence on a partner’s income
  • Little or poor credit history
  • Lack of education/skills to increase earning potential
  • Unplanned pregnancies and children

Abusers exploit financial insecurity to trap victims in relationships using threats around money. Creating financial independence is key to increasing safety.

Mental Health Factors

Certain mental health problems can increase vulnerability in relationships if unaddressed. Some examples include:

  • Anxiety – reliance on partners for safety and stability
  • Depression – lowered motivation to stand up for one’s needs
  • PTSD – avoidance of conflict due to past trauma
  • BPD – fear of abandonment and isolation

Abusers frequently target people with mental health issues by offering to be their sole support early on. Seeking professional treatment and maintaining social connections outside the relationship is crucial for reducing exploitation.

Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse problems significantly increase risks for abuse. Possible reasons include:

  • Impaired judgment and decision-making
  • Increased isolation from friends/family
  • Financial dependence on a partner’s income
  • Physical/mental impairment to resist abuse

Abusers notice when targets have substance abuse issues and leverage them for control. They may actively encourage addiction in some cases. Overcoming addiction is key to increasing safety.


In reviewing the many factors that can lead people to attract abusers, an important point stands out: abusive relationships are never the victim’s fault. Abusers actively exploit people’s vulnerabilities in calculated ways to create and maintain power imbalances. Recognizing these vulnerabilities is the first step toward addressing them through self-care and professional support. All people deserve healthy relationships free from abuse.