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

In this post I will be referencing (ACFJ) “A Cry for Justice” blog links located in this previous post on my blog:

Posts About Domestic Violence at Cry For Justice Blog in the ‘Don Hennessy Digest’ Series

ACFJ is a great resource pertaining to domestic abuse, particularly in a Christian context.

However, as I’ve explained in older posts, I don’t share their disdain for the term or concept of codependency.

As a matter of fact, the blog owners forbid the use of the term on their blog.

Over a year ago, when I left comments on one of their posts discussing the subject in their comments box, over two or three posts I left, the blog’s moderator(s) edited my post without asking me first and deleted all references to the word “codependent” or “codependency.”

Those who run the ACFJ blog feel – based on at least one book or article by a psychologist or some other sort of professional – the the term “codependent” is somehow “victim blaming” to any one in an abusive marriage.

I disagree.

I am a recovering codependent who does not find the term or concept shameful or victim blaming.

My mother was extremely codependent. She was abused by an alcoholic father when she was growing up. For that reason, among others, I believe she developed codependent relationship patterns, in part as a self-defense mechanism.

My mother later taught me to use those same coping skills, and they were confused with biblical ideas of what is right and proper for Christian females (“gender complmentarianism”).

None of the mental health professionals I saw from age 11 to approximately my early to mid-30s correctly diagnosed me.

Not a single one noticed that I was codependent. I had to figure that out on my own in my early 40s by much reading. I read many free articles by psychologists and books about relationships and abuse and so forth.

It is my contention that codependency can and does play a role in some abusive relationships (and this does not have to be limited to marital relationships, but also workplace relationships, friendships, and family relationships).

I wrote about all these issues in this post:

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

Extreme Caution Urged Concerning Domestic Violence Sites that Discount the Role of Codependency in Abuse of Women – Some Abuse Victims are Indeed Codependent
Codependency is Not Victim Blaming and Can and Does Play a Role in Female Marriage (or Dating Violence) or Female Exploitation

That the individuals at ACFJ blog, and other authors who discuss domestic violence, do not like the term does not change the fact that many of the resources they quote from, do point to codependency as playing a role in how and why some women are chosen by abusive males, and how and why some women remain as long as they do in said relationships.

However, these authors – who claim to dislike the word or concept of codependency when discussing, and in explaining, abusive relationship dynamics – will use terms, or synonyms, in place of the word “codependency,” and all the common behaviors, attitudes and traits that fall under that label.

Oddly enough, I sometimes see experts or commentators on domestic abuse hold to a contradictory position in that one the one hand, they will say that there are no traits that any female target of abuse possesses that causes her to be an attractive target to her abuser.

They argue that if one writes articles or lists explaining to women what qualities abusive people (generally, men) find appealing in a prospective victim, that this is a form of “victim blaming” that shifts responsibility or blame from the abuser (where it belongs) to the victim. I disagree with that conclusion.

I do not think that educating girls and women on what traits dishonest or abusive people typically look for in a target is victim blaming, or that it absolves the abuser of his or her responsibility, but that educating girls and women may help decrease their chances of falling prey to an abuser.

Much of what the moderators at the ACFJ say in their blog series (focusing on the work of Hennessy) is a repeat of what I’ve said on my blog over the past year (including in my blog posts that explain how codependency plays a role in abuse), incredibly.

For example, I’ve noted in older posts that Christian teachings of “gender complementarianism” set girls and women up to be “easy prey” for abusive, selfish, or dishonest people, and that complementarianism has much in common with Codependency. You can see this post on my blog for more on that:

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

Concerning the Hennessy blog series on ACFJ blog in particular:

I will point out a few inconsistencies in the ACFJ blog series to explain what I mean on how they, or other domestic abuse writers, sometimes present inconsistent views on some topics.

(Links to the ACFJ blog posts mentioned can be found on my blog in this post. I do not wish to repeatedly directly link to their blog posts, as I am attempting to avoid the creation of Ping Backs on their blog.)

Hennessy appears to be an expert on domestic violence, and he’s written an article or two on the topic. His book or interviews are being quoted in a series of posts at ACFJ.

Apparently, Hennessy interviewed dozens upon dozens of abusive men to find out how and why they groom and abuse the women they marry, and he published these findings in his book, and explained them in interviews in the UK media.

From the ACFJ blog post entitled,

“How the male intimate abuser selects, sets-up & grooms a target woman (Don Hennessy series part 3)”

In this ACFJ post, and in others, the ACFJ blogger will quote excerpts from the book ‘How He Gets Into Her Head‘ by Hennessy and then add some commentary below those excerpts.

Below the ACFJ excerpts, I will at times add my own observations.

The following again is from ACFJ blog, written by Barbara Roberts, where she is quoting from and commenting upon books or interviews with Hennessy:

Selection of the target

….We also learned that the tactics of abuse and control are common to all successful abusers in long term relationships.

These tactics are initiated if the abuser wants to explore the possibility of a lasting relationship and if he feels that the particular woman would be susceptible to such tactics.

This awareness, of the possibility of control in intimate relationships, is developed instinctively by the abuser.

Hennessy says the skilled offender looks for a woman who is kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful….
He says that the one thing all victims have in common is kindness. Yes – kindness.

Let me encourage you to take this on board if you are a survivor of abuse from your husband. You were targeted because you are kind. Your abuser took advantage of you because he recognized that you are kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful.

… Here are some quotes from Irish media and YouTube items where Hennessy is describing what the abusive man looks for. All emphasis in these quotes has been added by me.

Men Who Abuse Do It Because They Can Southern Star

Don Hennessy spoke about his work with male perpetrators of domestic violence. He revealed that men who abuse choose the type of woman they can control. He said they look for a kind woman – a type who never puts her own needs before that of her partner.

The Ray D’Arcy Show — Domestic Abuse Special (54:39) –

…being in an abusive relationship has nothing to do with being a vulnerable woman. It can happen to any woman. The only reason why it doesn’t happen to some women is that they have never been targeted by an abusive man.

Emotional abuse, damage, despair and self-doubt Irish Times

According to Don Hennessy of the Cork Marriage Counselling Centre and author of the book How He Gets into Her Head, the one thing all victims have in common is kindness. “They have to be the type of person willing to put another person’s needs before their own.”

…He says abusers groom their partners to meet their needs from the start of a relationship. They usually have a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy and the ability to manipulate.

Men who abuse women ‘use the same tactics as pedophiles and I’ve never met one who wanted to change’, says author of How He Gets in her Head

The initial thing is that they would select the same type of target… the people who were being abused were always kind people, the type of people who would put others before themselves.
-(end quote from paper)-

(Remark by Barbara Roberts at ACFJ blog):

Let all genuine Christians take note:
The very qualities Christian women are encouraged to cultivate are the very qualities that are most attractive to abusive men.

…Speaking about how abusers target women who are kind, Hennessy says:

In my experience, she [the target woman] is the same as every other kind person I know, and she is no different from the kind people who are not abused. Our tendency to ignore this lack of difference is probably the most abusive thing we do to our clients. (How He Gets Into Her Head, p 138)

We do a huge disservice to these clients if we pathologize their persona and see them as unwell.  (ibid, p 155)

—(end snippets from ACFJ blog)—

Under Codependent behavior and relationship patterns, the codependent will often be passive, put the needs of other people before her own, be very kind-hearted, be loyal (codependents are afraid of doing anything to lose a relationship and will do about anything to stay in one, even tolerating a lot of poor treatment), etc and so forth.

Well, lo and behold if these common traits of codependency are not the very same ones that the ACFJ blog and Hennessy mention!

For example, here again are snippets from the ACFJ blog:

  • He [Hennessy] says that the one thing all victims have in common is kindness. Yes – kindness…
  • …The initial thing is that they would select the same type of target… the people who were being abused were always kind people, the type of people who would put others before themselves.
  • ….He [Hennessy] revealed that men who abuse choose the type of woman they can control. He said they look for a kind woman – a type who never puts her own needs before that of her partner

Yes, and all of that fits everything I’ve been saying on my blog about codependents:

Codependents are Kind people who believe it is wrong to put their Needs before the Needs of others. Codependents place much importance on how other people perceive them, and they want to be perceived as giving, self-less, kind, nice. Because codependents are passive, people find them very easy to control and manipulate. I’ve been over this before on my blog in several posts.

The ACFJ blog prohibits the use of the word “codependency” being used on their blog, but they quote experts who describe codependency but only by using other terms. It’s all a semantics game.

So, these experts expend quite some time and energy describing the typical victim abusive men look for – Hennessy describes codependent traits such as kindness, easy to control, etc and so on – but then later -if not him, I’ve seen others suggest – that doing this sort of thing is to “pathologize” women victims, as if to imply they are to blame for being abused. Here’s that quote again:

We do a huge disservice to these clients if we pathologize their persona and see them as unwell.  (ibid, p 155)

I don’t think that being codependent, at least to a severe degree, is normal or healthy for anyone, certainly not relationally and not psychologically, either.

On the one hand, the author, Hennessy (and I know Bancroft did this in his book on domestic abuse), or the anti domestic abuse bloggers, want to describe to women readers what qualities abusers look for in a woman (I assume they do this so that women can stop practicing those behaviors, thus making them less an appealing target), but then they turn around and say educating women in this manner pathologizes them.

Snippets from the ACFJ blog post (to access the following link, please look for it in this post on this blog):

(Link): 1   Don Hennessy says domestic abusers are like pedophiles – and there’s not much proof they’re redeemable.

Snippets from that page:

Hennessy says abusers will go out of their way to find a woman they can take advantage of, and believes they operate the same way as paedophiles, grooming their victim.

They start from the day they meet the prospective partner. What they are really looking for is somebody who will put his needs before hers.

…The woman will take responsibility for him being happy and the pattern is there right at the beginning. If he meets somebody who has more self-interest than concern for him or who doesn’t respond the way he wants, he tends to move on. Abusers look for kindness and they abuse that kindness.
-(end snippets)-

Yes, and codependent women are very easy to take advantage of because they think that having boundaries is “mean” or selfish.

Codependent women (especially true of Christian women raised to believe in Gender Complementarianism) strongly believe that they should always put other people’s needs ahead of their own. They believe that Christianity calls them to be self-sacrificing and that having even a normal level of healthy self-interest would be selfish.

Many of the points Mr. Hennessy raises in his book, based upon these posts I’m seeing at ACFJ blog, sound not only similar to the Bancroft book on abuse, but also in books I’ve recommended here on my own blog before such as:


The Nice Girl Syndrome: Stop Being Manipulated and Abused – and Start Standing Up for Yourself

The Verbally Abusive Relationship  by Patricia Evans

The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome by Harriet Braiker

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, When To Say No by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

No More Christian Nice Girl by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer Degler

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker

Hennessy’s book mostly sounds quite good, so I’m not suggesting that people not read it, but I note much of the comments he makes about how and why abusive men pick and choose the women to victimize that they do is what I’ve said on my blog in times past, and which the bloggers at ACFJ disputed: that men often (not always, but quite often), choose women to victimize, women who have CODEPENDENT behaviors and attitudes.

Regarding this quote on ACFJ, which I assume is from Hennessey:

…being in an abusive relationship has nothing to do with being a vulnerable woman. It can happen to any woman. The only reason why it doesn’t happen to some women is that they have never been targeted by an abusive man.
–(end snippets)–

Again, I partially disagree.

While another book on domestic violence indicates that some abusive men prefer to target “strong” women vs. vulnerable ones, even that book (and other articles I’ve read on the issue of domestic violence) says that the majority of abusive men prefer to target “vulnerable” women (which can include Codependent women).

All of that holds true in other abusive situations. Take workplace abuse, for example: experts on that subject have said that the biggest group of targets is comprised of women, and at that, women who have little to no boundaries.  Lacking boundaries, having weak boundaries, or being too afraid to enact boundaries are characteristics of, yes, codependency.

From what I’ve read, vulnerable women (which can include codependents) are quite attractive to abusers and con artists, which is why they are generally preyed upon more often than stronger women.

This is not to say that these vulnerable or codependent women deserve to be abused (because of course they do not), only the reality is that abusers seem to prefer the meek, passive, quiet, docile, sweet, trusting, women to women with other relational or reactionary styles or personalities.

From another page on the site,
(Link): 4   The male domestic abuser is as ‘psychephile’ — a sexual offender:

The main reason why any woman becomes trapped in an abusive relationship is because a skilled offender decided to target her.
… When we look for any explanation for the continuing abuse by analysing the character or the behaviour of the sufferer we not only further abuse the woman but also begin the process of colluding with the abuser.

….we must stop the practice of examining her [the target woman’s] behaviour. Instead we might try to examine and reveal the accurate, effective and intentional processes used by the skilled offender. … These tactics when used in the context of an intimate relationship can clearly be described as a kind of brainwashing. (80)
-(end snippets)-

I don’t totally agree with this, depending on what is meant.

I absolutely want my behavior to be examined, so I can change any and all behaviors I am carrying out that make me an easier mark for an abuser.

I’d like to attract LESS abusive people to me. What can I do to accomplish that, I’d sincerely like to know.

I do not agree it is victim-blaming or wrong to analyze the behavior or  mind-sets of women victims of abuse.

This is not to say that the victim is ever to blame for the abuse – the abuser is solely responsible – but if we don’t analyze how women get involved with these creeps, then we cannot warn them, or learn ourselves, how to avoid getting entangled with them in the first place.

It is not ‘colluding with the abuser’ to notice how and why women often end up with creeps (or stay with them), but it’s opening their eyes.

I don’t think it’s enough to know how the abusers operate and what motivates them, but it’s also important to know how and why the victims gets into the snares set by the abusers. With both pieces of the puzzle, it would possibly help more women avoid the abusers.

I do agree that depending on the context, analyzing the victim’s behavior can become an exercise in victim-blaming, and, as such, it would be wrong.

For example, if a man hits his wife and claims he did so because he’s angry the wife did not pick up his dry cleaning that day, then yes, it would be wrong to argue something like, “if she does not want to be abused again, she should remember to pick up his dry cleaning.”

In that sort of context, yes, examining the victim’s actions or reactions is missing the point.

No matter what the victim did or did not do (forget to run some errand for the spouse, or whatever the abuser claims triggered his abuse), that does not excuse what the abuser did.

The abuser abuses because he is entitled, and because he can do so – not because of something the wife did or did not do.

On the other hand, it’s important to know what “red flags” to look for in the early stages of the relationship, or if the marriage slowly starts to turn abusive, so if the abuser is giving any warning signs, the woman in question will know she should not pursue a relationship with such a man.

This is self-defense. It is not shifting blame to the woman.

When I read books that mentioned codependency and all the traits associated with it, I was able to finally recognize that I had been abused by my ex-finacé and by my sister.

For years, my sister had been verbally abusive to me, but my mother, the codependent she was, taught me to feel sorry for my sister and not to view my sister’s brutal and hostile out-bursts as abuse, but to view it in the light of,
“Pity your poor sister, she’s taking her job stress out on you. She’s just going through a rough time. Try to help her out by listening to her rant about her issues, and let her scream insults at you.”

I was trained – by a codependent mother – to think of abusive behavior as excusable, normal, and to therefore endure it, or to overlook it and let it slide, instead of correcting the abuser or cutting off contact.

Years ago, when I told some of my internet friends the things my sister was saying and doing to me, they reacted in horror and told me, “What you are describing is verbal and emotional abuse!”

At that point in time, I had not yet read articles and books about codependency, so I told them,
“Oh no, ‘abuse’ is too strong a word. My sister is just screaming at me repeatedly and threatening me because she’s having a tough time with her job and her boyfriend.”

In other words, prior to being educated about codependency, I was being abused by my sister and did not even recognize it as abuse!

Same goes for my ex-fiance’.

I was trained by my mother to be a doormat, so I was a doormat with my ex.

My mother confused and conflated being a good, nice, Christian woman with being a codependent (a push-over who allows people to exploit her), and she taught me to believe that being this sweet push-over was the proper way for a nice, giving, loving, Christian woman to behave.

For years, my ex financially abused me.

My ex wiped out my savings over a period of years and did not repay me.

And I did not recognize this as being abuse at the time – but it was in fact (financial) abuse.

It was not until years later and I began reading up on codependency I realized what had been going on.

It was only after I had been educated about how and what codependency is – and all that it entails, such as, learning about boundaries and when to be assertive – that it dawned on me that my ex had been financially abusing me for years.

Reading articles and books about codependency or that describe characteristics that fall under the term – even if the term itself is not used – was immensely helpful to me in understanding how to spot potential abusers, and to see that I was being abused by some family and by my ex, and that I had a right to stand up for myself and put a stop to the abuse or to leave those relationships.

I find it strange that anti- Domestic Violence blogs that consider the concept of Codependency to be a form of victim- blaming are, never the less, recommending the work of an author who is describing codependent traits as being quite often  irresistible to male abusers of women, though he appears to be doing so without using the word “codependency.”

Like I said above, this appears to be a semantics game.

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

If You Act Like A Victim, You Will Likely Be Victimized – And: Complementarians Ask Women and Girls to Be Small To Make Men Feel Big

How to Be Assertive – Even When You’re Constantly Talked Over by M. Welding

‘Submit to Your Husbands’: Women Told To Endure Domestic Violence In The Name of God (via ABC Aussie news)

Calvinists More Likely To Believe Domestic Violence Myths and Oppose Social Justice, Study Finds (2018)

Expressing Anger is Healthy. Here’s How Parents Can Encourage Their Girls to Get Angry and Show It by K. Rope

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

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)

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