One of the many ways society gaslights survivors of narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths is by telling victims who’ve encountered multiple predators that there must be some sort of mistake. Surely, it isn’t possible to meet and be victimized by so many toxic people, those without empathy or even worse, without a conscience? Aren’t psychopaths and sociopaths supposed to be rare? There is usually an implication that if a survivor has been victimized many times, there must be something wrong with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are the most common reasons why you may have been a target of multiple predatory people throughout your lifetime:
1) Predators are more common than you think and you can be a target of them through various contexts.
Dr. Martha Stout estimates that around 1 in 25 people in the United States are sociopaths. Meeting more than one narcissist or sociopathic individual is not just more likely, it’s quite common in today’s dating world, with narcissism and a lack of empathy apparently becoming more common, especially among the younger generation (Twenge and Campbell, 2009; Konrath, O’Brien, & Hsing, 2010). They are prevalent and can be encountered in families, friendships, the workplace, dating, and relationships. Given this, it makes sense that many of us would meet more than a couple of predators in our lifetime and be victimized by them. They are good at what they do, making sure you are invested in their false mask before they choose to strike. Even Dr. Robert Hare, a psychopathy expert, says he is still duped by them. Their covert manipulation and insidious tactics can leave even the most knowledgeable of survivors and experts susceptible because empathic people usually cannot wrap their heads around the idea that there may be someone without empathy acting with deliberate malice and deceit. This is why these types are able to get away with living double lives for years without anyone discovering the truth until it is too late.
2) Those who are victimized multiple times are also frequently targeted due to their assets, not just their vulnerabilities.
Predatory people are on the lookout for empathic, resilient people – those who can bounce back from abusive incidents so they can continue the abuse cycle – as well as people with resources to exploit. Narcissists especially search for “shiny” targets – those who are attractive, successful and look good on their arm, because it boosts their image. If you are such a type, it is common for them to prey on you. As Dr. George Simon notes, victims of predators “tend to be conscientious and accommodating types. So, their good nature is ripe for exploitation. Moreover, manipulators play on your sensibilities, and often, your conscience.” If you have a habit of projecting your empathy onto others and using your resilience to endure a toxic relationship, it’s time to see the predator for who he or she really is and save your resilience for the healing journey ahead.
3) The trauma repetition cycle.
If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, you are especially susceptible to being groomed by predators in adulthood because you’ve been conditioned to accept the unacceptable. This isn’t your fault, just a fact of the trauma you were unjustly put through. The phenomenon of finding ourselves in traumatic situations which are eerily similar to our past experiences is known as traumatic reenactment or the trauma repetition cycle (Levy, 1998). This means you were likely subconsciously programmed and primed for abusive treatment. Not only do abusers gravitate towards you because of the unique vulnerabilities and strengths stemming from trauma, but you might also gravitate towards them unknowingly because they feel familiar and “normal.”
Your mind and body are biochemically accustomed to the chaos and crazymaking you encountered in childhood, leaving you vulnerable to “trauma bonding” with manipulators in adulthood. Trauma bonds are often created out of intermittent bad and good treatment, a power differential and the presence of danger (Carnes, 1997). If you jumped from one relationship to another without addressing your childhood wounding, it’s possible for you to meet a number of predators within a short time period and strengthen the same types of trauma bonds you may have formed with your earliest “captors,” such as your toxic parents or bullying peers. Even after doing enormous healing and inner work, you can still meet and be victimized by predators – you just might not be as prone to becoming trauma bonded to them as you usually would be. That’s why healing and working on your boundaries are crucial to your recovery, even if they do not make you entirely immune from encountering toxic people.
4) Modern romance provides access to more people than ever before – including predators.
Dating apps are full of predators using them as a hunting ground for targets. If you live in a large metropolitan city or a more isolated area where dating apps are commonly used to meet people, sadly, you are likely to run into multiple predators as well. Dating apps give them access to multiple sources of narcissistic supply (praise, admiration, resources, sex, and anything they can use for their benefit). This means they can terrorize multiple victims, all within the same week. No one should be blamed for encountering a manipulator or two on their dating journey. Some manipulators are easier to discern than others, but the more covertly they behave, the more difficult it can be to pinpoint their true character. Research shows that women who experienced online dating, for example, encountered pervasive lying, financial scams, and unwanted sexual aggression; other studies point to increasingly sexually risky behavior and grooming by predators (Choi et al., 2016; Vandeweerd, Myers, Coulter, Yalcin, & Corvin, 2016; Machimbarrena et al., 2018). If you are dating online, practice extreme caution. These types often misrepresent themselves and can do so online with alarming ease. Watch out for signs of fast-forwarding the relationship, especially in terms of physical or emotional intimacy, excessive flattery to disarm you, as well as entitled demands or constant contact. Never jump into an investment with someone you barely know and heed any red flags you might notice in the process.
The Big Picture
Anyone who has encountered multiple narcissistic or even psychopathic people in their lifetime should be treated with awe and reverence for their willpower and strength – not victim-shaming. Those who shame you wouldn’t have survived a tenth of the unsolicited cruelty and horror you endured, possibly for decades. You can heal patterns of abusive cycles without blaming yourself or internalizing the shaming tactics of others. You are just as worthy and deserving of healthy relationships and friendships as anyone else. There is nothing wrong with you; in fact, you were targeted because there was so much right with you. Those same assets of empathy, resilience, and compassion will serve you well in a healthy relationship with boundaries. Remember, you are never alone in these experiences, even if you might feel like it. Healing is more than possible, and so is thriving in the bright future that awaits you now.
Carnes, P., & Phillips, B. D. (2019). The betrayal bond: Breaking free of exploitive relationships. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Choi, E. P., Wong, J. Y., Lo, H. H., Wong, W., Chio, J. H., & Fong, D. Y. (2016). The Impacts of Using Smartphone Dating Applications on Sexual Risk Behaviours in College Students in Hong Kong. Plos One,11(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165394
Konrath, S. H., O’brien, E. H., & Hsing, C. (2010). Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review,15(2), 180-198. doi:10.1177/1088868310377395
Levy M. S. (1998). A helpful way to conceptualize and understand reenactments. The Journal of psychotherapy practice and research, 7(3), 227–235.
Machimbarrena, J. M., Calvete, E., Fernández-González, L., Álvarez-Bardón, A., Álvarez-Fernández, L., & González-Cabrera, J. (2018). Internet Risks: An Overview of Victimization in Cyberbullying, Cyber Dating Abuse, Sexting, Online Grooming and Problematic Internet Use. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(11), 2471. doi:10.3390/ijerph15112471
Simon, G. (2018, August 25). The Keys to Self-Empowerment. Retrieved December 29, 2019, from https://www.drgeorgesimon.com/the-keys-to-self-empowerment/
Stout, M. (2012). The sociopath next door: The ruthless versus the rest of us. New York, NY: MJF Books.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Atria Paperback.
Vandeweerd, C., Myers, J., Coulter, M., Yalcin, A., & Corvin, J. (2016). Positives and negatives of online dating according to women 50+. Journal of Women & Aging,28(3), 259-270. doi:10.1080/08952841.2015.1137435