It’s not weakness, but lack of clarity, that exposes us to an exploiter

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T, who has a private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and clinical consulting practice in New Jersey, USA. For more information, visit his website, powercommunicating.com.

You really need to admire yourself for surviving an exploitative relationship. I say this very seriously, not flippantly. We all, of course, hope to minimize our involvement with exploitative individuals. But in the course of life, as we know, that’s not always possible. It is vital, therefore, if you’ve been victimized by and/or are recovering from involvement with an exploiter, to fully, genuinely appreciate (and remind yourself constantly) that you are indeed strong, impressively strong, because only the strong survive exploitation.

Many clients with whom I work (really, most people, I think) tend to see personal strength and insecurity; personal strength and low self-esteem, as incompatible. They balk at the idea that you can be a very strong person and insecure at the same time; that you can be a very strong person even with low self-esteem. For instance, when someone violates you (especially chronically) and you don’t defend yourself properly, the tendency is to attribute your failure at self-protection to “personal weakness.” The thought is something like, “If I was a strong person, I wouldn’t have let that abuse occur. I’d have asserted myself, defended myself, drawn the line.”

But it’s not personal weakness that explains the failure to protect your boundaries; it’s more often a lack of clarity, in knowing precisely what your boundaries are, and precisely what constitutes an unacceptable violation of them. Victims of sustained exploitation/abuse aren’t personally weak, quite the contrary. My experience has affirmed again and again how remarkably strong and resourceful most of them are. What they lack, however, often is a clear, secure sense of their boundaries; this insecurity of boundaries leaves them vulnerable to compromising themselves. After all, you can’t assert and/or protect your boundaries unless and until you’ve established them very clearly and securely (in your mind).

This explains what for many can seem so confusing and dichotomous: how a victim of sustained exploitation/abuse can, on the one hand, lobby so effectively for others’ interests, while, with respect to her/his own, appear stuck in circumstances he or she would counsel anyone else to reject and escape.

But I restate: You can’t protect your interests if they aren’t, in the first place, clearly defined. And you can’t defend your boundaries if, on any level, you’re uncertain, or ambivalent about, what they are. This disadvantaged position helps explain how an otherwise strong, resourceful adult can find her/himself tolerating and enduring the meanness and nonsense of a defective partner.

When my clients who have been in exploitative relationships discover confidently their boundaries, they often feel sad, on one hand, not to have done so sooner; but thrilled on the other to find themselves, as if miraculously, just as skilled at protecting their own interests as they’ve always been at protecting others’.

It’s a kind of bittersweet discovery. The bitter part, if grieved properly, is usually short-lived; the sweet aspect is long-lasting.

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171 Comments on "It’s not weakness, but lack of clarity, that exposes us to an exploiter"

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Hey Steve:

Respectfully, in the case of real Lovefraud, your advice amounts to blaming the victim.

One can set boundaries and all, when the playing field is level. The psychopath tilts the field in the first place, so the intended victim is, shall we say, running uphill on the soccer field, playing solo and kicking into the wind while the goal keeps moving.

A socially skilled psychopath can pull all the right moves, comfort all the worst critics, and quiet all the appropriate authorities so that when he/she pulls the trigger on their malfeasance (money fraud, bigamy, child rape, etc., etc.) the field is so contaminated that the “referees” won’t believe the truth in front of them and the whistle-blower looks like the dangerous liar. And they’ll play that game out for more years than a reasonable person can wait: decades, even. Notice that Mrs. Von Bulow, the heiress, in a coma for several decades, finally died. Her husband appears to have been one of those patient psychopaths who just got caught.

You tell me about boundaries? I wasn’t even after a relationship, but he put out all the right invitations, playing me at every step.

Nuh-uh. These creeps can sucker the best of the best. That’s why so many of us best-of-the-best are on this website, struggling to figure out what happened.

This type of deception is far beyond being solved by your usual bag of mental-health-professional tricks.

And when you suggest those tricks, that are useful at least 80% of the time, you do a disservice to those of us who have been scammed by the ones who know how to do the long con, who can outlast our tests, who show up in every way like the “real deal,” . . . until they aren’t.

“I said What about the moneys you owe me for the last 6 yrs? Ah …Never ever crossed his pea to pay me back a penny! Like it never occured! Amazing! Their minds work without Concience! Mindbogling! ”

I first started to seriously wonder about a certain P when she was “flush with cash” about a year ago. She had run into a little money, and she was spending it hand over fist on frivolities. At the time she was into her mother for about 20,000 dollars. I thought it was odd that she didn’t pay her mother anything that month. Later we realized that she had conned more money from her family in that single month than usual. That month the total damages ran to about 3000, when usually they were closer to about 500.

Literally, her rate of theft increased in the month when she least needed to steal. She could have paid back some of what she had “borrowed”, but that was the furthest thing from her mind.

It was that month that I finally started to wonder about her ethics. In spite of all her hard luck tales, the apparent irrational hostility of her few but totally rabid enemies finally began to make sense. Maybe the handful of people who loathed her knew something I didn’t know.

Rune: I like your analogy about the playing fields NOT being leveled. Here’s why! I put a search in the Bible for just that thought, and here’s what I cam up with.

Psalms 10: 3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his heart, and the man greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.

Job 20: 20 “Because his greed knew no rest, he will not save anything in which he delights.

Proverbs 15: 27 He who is greedy for unjust gain makes trouble for his household, but he who hates bribes will live.

Proverbs 28: 25 A greedy man stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the LORD will be enriched.

Jeremiah 6: 13 “For from the least to the greatest of them, every one is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, every one deals falsely.

Jeremiah 8: 10 Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest every one is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest every one deals falsely.

Ezekiel 16: 27 Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you, and diminished your allotted portion, and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior.

Hosea 4: 8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity.

Habakkuk 2: 5 Moreover, wine is treacherous; the arrogant man shall not abide. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations, and collects as his own all peoples.”

1 Corinthians 5: 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

1 Corinthians 5: 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber–not even to eat with such a one.

1 Corinthians 6: 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 4: 19 they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.

1 Thessalonians 2: 5 For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness;

1 Timothy 3: 8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain;

Titus 1: 7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,

2 Peter 2: 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.

2 Peter 2: 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!


Wow. Fascinating. I didn’t realise boundaries was such a huge part of this for so many.

I have started trying to set firm boundaries now, but it takes a bit of practice not to fall into the old habit of wanting to please and sacrifice myself, rather than stand up and say “No”.

I recently have been sorely tested in this area by my son, who being a typical teenager, knows so well how to get round mum. It was when I started to feel those familiar feelings of anger/anxiety and resentment and constantly being put upon and expecting to deliver that I had to stand back and take a look at how I was feeling, why, and how to stop that feeling, and if it was OK to feel the way I did.

So much self analysing!!!

I am a long way out of the relationship that caused so much pain, but still haunted by the memories of how well I was manipulated and how unwittingly I played right into it because I generally trust people and don’t go around checking up for traits of psychotic disorders. I cringe to realise that, with the blessing now of hindsight, there were red flags I could have taken a lot more notice of those.

However, I am also gentle enough with myself to know I was played by a master, highly intelligent, subtle and insidious and seemingly convincing in every way. The explanations would be plausible, and I always believed in giving the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t expect perfection as at our age (late 40’s) no one is going to come along without some unfamiliar characteristics and baggage. I don’t tend to pre-judge and condemn. Plus, what seems to be missed here, is you are busy living your day to day lives, and for me, the red flags came few and far between, with more good stuff in the middle. So I was taken in, but I wasn’t looking for trouble. I was in love with someone and believed him to be who he appeared most of the time to be.

It was when everything spiralled, at incredible speed, out of control, I realised how bad my boundaries were, but I also acknowledge that by that time, he had a finely tuned understanding of my lack of boundaries, what would trigger me, and how to exploit it. So for me it’s about recognising that in myself and learning the huge lesson I have learned from it.

These nasty people leave such a wrench in your life. They come along, turn it upside down, tinker with your brain and your emotions, undermine your values and beliefs, but dressed in such a lovely package and dream. It’s only through sites like these I have learned this. If it weren’t for them, I would probably still be sitting around with my head spinning trying to unravel what happened and make sense of it.

Thanks for your posts, it’s all really helpful. I am such a long way further on now, but still some things mystify me. The pain isn’t anywhere near as intense, but the wounds are still tender. It’s always helpful to find places you can validate your experience because the people you speak to KNOW.

With care,


Before I met my S, I had a long list of qualities I was looking for in a man. There were 30 things on the list. I even posted the list on one of my reptile sites on a thread I called “For Single People”. Turns out the S has every single quality on that list! But there were a few things I forgot to put on the list:
“Must not be married. Must not be a pathological liar.” You wouldn’t think you’d have to include those things on a list of qualities, would you? Apparently, when granting wishes, God is very literal!

Reading it all….I’m worried about a betrayal bond….I can’t stop thinking of my ex P even though all the evidence is in..he is a psychopath. What he has put me through is so heightened its like coming out of the twin towers after 9/11 and trying to act normal….forget about it? how? also my work life is opening up, in a few weeks I will be so busy there wont be any time to think…maybe thats a good thing, a total distraction may help. …but stargazer and the list of qualities…my ex was so charming and seductive I was infatuated fast…the list didnt even matter anymore, There was just the smouldering good looks, affection, persistence, attention, gifts, compliments…I was a rabbit in the headlights of his gaze…fear and excitement…kept me hypnotised…yes there is an hypnotic stare, that just mesmerised me…and the amount of women he gets says to me he has something going on…its not sexuality because in reality the sex was quite robotic and any feeling came from my side..he did not like sex, or kissing, he just went through the motions…its more the look in his eye..like a tiny child peeking out??? oh i dunno I give up…cant get it at all..tell you one thing..he wont be sitting on some website trying to figure me out….he is out exploiting the possibilites of someone else..makes me feel so worried that I’m bonded, fused, meshed in him..like a psychic prisoner

Really appreciate how you describe being suckered with the best of the best…its beyond detecting as far as I’m concerned…My ex desrerves academy awards…there is a link to actors, acting and movie star seduction….they will act it out so you are just putty in their hands…all the right words, timing, artfully executed ( there is something very watchable about them…I spent hours observing my ex in a kind of perplexed fog, he was interesting because of the acting…i watched him so closely however I saw (and felt) the mask slip once was when we were curled up on the sofa watching tv and something happened on screen that wasnt funny…but people were laughing and he started bursting out laughing too…inappropriately…there was nothing funny!!! I caught it again and again he was mimmicking and mirroring without comprehending like a chamelion changing colors to blend in…another time he was blowing me kisses, and he exaggerated it (as If So bored with this act) and I saw the look of complete contempt on his face…my blood ran cold and it was just a split second mask slip but what was underneath creeped me out so profoundly I felt like running…I also had the feeling of my mask slipping too….I went from feeling loved…to feeling tormented, ridiculed in a split second…extremely weird discrepancy

Needed to reread this tonight. Every once in awhile I go through the traits on the Hare checklist, and while I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis, the bad man I was involved with is so off the charts, it is very clear he’s way along on the scale into P territory. Plus the devastation I experienced confirms that. He is so toxic. But this article reassures me it won’t happen again, I would enforce boundaries quickly.

Sometimes it just blows my mind that this really happened to me. Being in a toxic work environment didn’t help. I didn’t realize how toxic until I got out. And get the calls from people still working there.

Anyway, it happened, it was real. And it’s over.

I’ve read this article which i find very interesting.
Do you mind if i raise it? 😀
I think i’m a bit weak in boundaries

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