• A Critique of Shahida Arabi’s “Abuse Victims Are Not Codependent, They’re Trauma Bonded”

The content in this post originally sat at the bottom of my last post:

“Codependency Is Real And It Can Leave Women Vulnerable to Being Abused or Taken Advantage Of.”

I would very much encourage you to read that post above before (or maybe even after) reading this one, if you’ve not done so already.


Here are some of my thoughts regarding the following page, hosted on “Huffington Post”:

Abuse Victims Are Not Codependent, They’re Trauma-Bonded by Shahida Arabi

Like many other deniers, Shahida Arabi believes that it is “victim blaming” to note that codependency can or does play a role in some women’s mistreatment.

It is not “victim blaming” to take note that codependency can and does play a factor in abusive relationships any more than it is victim blaming to advise people to lock their doors at night to reduce the risk of having a burglar enter their home as they are sleeping to steal their television set. It’s simply about taking precautions.

As I believe I noted above [in previous post here], not all men are initially attracted to codependent women – some do in fact seek out “strong” women who have healthy boundaries. That is true.

But even experts on domestic abuse, and psychologists and psychiatrists who write about passive women who are in abusive relationships note, many to most abusers do intentionally seek out codependents as victims to target, because codependents typically have poor boundaries, which makes them far, far easier to exploit than women who have healthy boundaries.

Arabi stated:

‘Even if you feel you have codependent traits or were ‘primed’ by childhood abuse, the abuse you’ve experienced in any stage of your life is still not your fault.  You are not an “enabler” of the abuser.’

(end quote)

Arabi is completely incorrect on this last point.

Depending on the specific relationship in question, codependents do enable their own abuse – this is not (NOT NOT NOT) saying that they “deserve” to be abused or that they are “to blame” for their abuse.

(Or, to put it another way, codependent behaviors do in fact enable abuse. Maybe stating it that way will make it sound less “victim blaming” to the Arabis of the world.)

I’ll use myself as an example yet again, using my older sibling. I used to be very codependent.

I have an older sister who has been extremely verbally abusive of me since I was a kid, and she has remained abusive into my adult years.

Because my mother conditioned me since my childhood to react in a codependent fashion when I receive abuse, including verbal abuse, I had no boundaries in place with my sister.

If my sister abused me over the phone, I would sit and listen quietly for hours as she berated me. I would never defend myself with my sister or do anything to halt the abuse.

If my sister yelled at me in person, I would sit quietly as she screamed vulgarities and put downs at me.

I was participating in my own abuse. I was enabling my sister to continue in her treatment of me.

If I wanted my sister’s abuse of me to stop, it was up to me to change the dynamics of the situation, and sitting there quietly, passively, and just enduring the abuse, as I was raised to do, was sure not going to halt the abuse.

After I realized I was codependent, and I read books on the topic – some of which gave tips on how to have boundaries – I no longer play a part in this abusive dynamic.

These days, if my sister starts screaming at me over the phone, I slam the phone down on her. If my sister sends me terribly rude, hateful e-mail, I delete it without reading further, and without replying to it. I no longer get into her games of anger and hostility.

When my sister yells at me in judgement, asking me to defend or explain myself, I refuse – I now realize I do not owe her justifications for myself, my choices, my mistakes, or my life.

I have also severely cut back on the amount of time I spend with my sister.

As a result, my sister is not in my life as much and is unable to verbally abuse me.

Thanks to books about codependency, I realize my sister’s abuse is about her, the abuse is completely my sister’s responsibility and the abuse is not about me – she can no longer rob me of my self-worth.

Far from taking codependency as being “victim blaming,” I learned from reading books and blogs about the topic that it’s the total opposite: I am not to blame for my sister’s abuse. My sister is.

I have no idea where or how or why so many of these authors on other sites, such as Arabi, are arriving at this notion that codependency is “victim blaming” because it’s anything BUT.

Arabi said in her page on Huffington Post:

‘Dr. Clare Murphy asserts that abuse victims can actually exhibit codependent traits as a result of trauma, not because they are, in fact, codependent.

…Contrary to popular myth, anyone can be victimized by an abuser – even one with strong boundaries initially, because covert abuse is insidious and unbelievably traumatic, resulting in symptoms of PTSD,’

(end quote)

As I said above [in previous post here]:

I want to say that contrary to what some sites about domestic violence victims state:

  • It is simply not true that all domestic violence victims are not codependent (because some are).
  • It is further not true that women only became codependent, or take on codependent traits, after their marriages became abusive –

The fact is, some women walk into abusive marriages or dating relationships precisely because they are ALREADY codependent (such as the case with my mother and myself).

Obviously, any woman can be targeted by an abuser, even women who are strong, self confident, and independent. I’ve never said otherwise.

Some abusers are very clever and manipulative, and they may hide their abusive nature until the woman has been in a relationship with them for many months, so that even a strong woman can be fooled by a man and lured into a situation where the abuse only begins gradually, which, by that time the relationship and abuse has gone of for a long time, the woman may be or feel trapped.

That is all very true, and I’ve not denied that any where.

However, the fact remains that most abusers are very attracted to passive women who cannot or will not be assertive.

It is dangerous and a huge dis-service to girls and women not to teach them about the risks of exhibiting codependent behavior.

Arabi said,

‘…especially if they had them before the abusive relationship, but for society to see codependency as the sole reason why abuse has occurred, and use it to blame the abuse victim when there are plenty of victims who were nevercodependent prior to the experience, is where the harm comes in.

…In some contexts, it may be helpful to pinpoint codependent traits and behaviors during the healing journey, but when the label codependent is used to shame, stigmatize or blame abuse survivors, it becomes very problematic and harmful.’

(end quote)

Please note at no time did I say that codependency is the sole reason why abuse has occurred in every case – abuse occurs because the abuser chooses to abuse.

However, the fact remains that girls and women who display codependent traits are very attractive to abusers and selfish people: they are like honey to a bear.

If you are a woman who is codependent, you can possibly lessen your chances of being targeted by a user or an abuser by becoming more assertive. Pointing this fact out is not “victim blaming.” It is helpful and empowering.

I myself practice what I am preaching on this page – now that I am recovering from codependency, I can almost always recognize when I am being used or abused.

Further, I can take steps to rectify the situation, where-as before, when I was fully codependent, I was either blind to being used and abused, or, I had no clue or idea how to deal with being mistreated, if I happened to recognize that I was being mistreated.

There is nothing “shameful” about being told one may be codependent.

I’m amazed that the woman who wrote this page at Huffington Post chooses to view codependency as being “shameful.” It’s only shameful if she thinks or says it’s shameful; to me, the term and the concept is helpful in identifying detrimental attitudes and actions.

I do not feel ashamed for saying that I myself used to be codependent.

For years, I wondered what was wrong with me that I kept attracting mean, selfish, or insensitive people, and when I finally found out it was that I was raised by my mother to think and behave in a codependent fashion, and the books explained how to get over being codependent (which would in turn make me less attractive to the majority of awful or abusive people), I felt tremendously freed and relieved.

Some of My previous (or other) posts on this topic:

“Codependency Is Real And It Can Leave Women Vulnerable to Being Abused or Taken Advantage Of.”

Abuse, Codependency, and Males

ACFJ Blog’s Hennessy Domestic Violence Series: Yes, Codependency Makes An Appearance

Basic Overview of Codependency – And How Some Christians Misunderstand or Misrepresent Codependency

Christian Gender Complementarianism is Christian-Endorsed Codependency for Women (And That’s Not A Good Thing)

Gender Complementarianism: Marriage, Singleness, Purpose, Identity, Domestic Abuse

The topic of Codependency, (which encompasses, but is not limited to, concepts such as assertiveness and boundaries), is NOT a “victim-blaming” one and has a place in helping girls and women make healthier choices for themselves and what they will and will not tolerate in relationships.


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