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Thursday, May 27, 2010

T3 - Inside the Head of an Abuser

An abuser is someone who has a pattern of behavior with a significant other that is controlling, manipulative, threatening, demeaning, and intimidating. The key is that it's a pattern, not a one-time or ever-so-often event. At some point, everyone in their life might be insensitive and demonstrate some of the above-mentioned behaviors, but that might make their behavior abusive. It's the pattern of these behaviors that makes the individual abusive.

It's important to look at the motive behind the behaviors to determine who is truly an abuser. We all might display some controlling behaviors, but usually our motives are pure: to protect a child, prevent hurt feelings, etc. But an abuser's motive? Show their partner who rules the roost.

They make requests and suggestions that are much more than what is heard at surface level. Usually there is a threat underlying their words..."Do what I say...or else!" This makes the request more like a demand. The victim will understand that consequences will follow if the "request" isn't met. To the abuser, if it isn't met, the victim is actively defying them. The victim has two choices: either accommodate or frustrate the command...there is no in between. Disobeying them means they will face punishment.

An abuser has a sense of entitlement when the request is made. This sense of entitlement, perhaps more than anything else, drives the abusive mentality. It's a narcissistic trait, for sure. Narcissists think they deserve what they want, when they want, where they want it, and how they want. They don't think they should have to earn respect and compliance, and when they don't receive it, they think they are entitled to be enraged, which of course leads to abusive actions.

What's interesting in my study of the abusive personality is that abusers often think of themselves as the victim! They feel like they are being constantly inconvenienced, and because of this, they are quick to blame who they perceive to be inconveniencing them. From blame comes anger and rage. Then the abuser will rationalize their abusive actions. And this only gets worse with time. The threshold gets lower and lower for how much "defiance" or "inconvenience" they will take, until they will find anything to rage about. This is when the victim says they feel they are "walking on eggshells."

While abusers are not limited to men, it's more likely that they are abusers if for no other reason than their comparative physical size and strength advantage over women. Women abusers are more likely to emotionally abuse men. A lot of female-on-male abuse just doesn't get reported, perhaps because of the stigma associated with a male coming forward to say he is being abused.

Next week, I'll take a look at some of the characteristics of children who grow up in abusive families. Hopefully it'll give you some good material for your WIPs.

The above information was taken in part from the website of Steve Becker, LCSW.

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12 comments:

jdcoughlin said...

My first book dealt with abuse, and I found that the hardest thing to communicate was an abusers charisma. They are very good at persuasion, very good at fooling people. It's a hard thing to marry up, how an abuser abuses and how they function in the outside world.
The entitlement issue you raised, very interesting.

Miss Sharp said...

"...abusers often think of themselves as the victim!"

This makes sense, but doesn't that mindset make therapy sessions difficult? If an abuser can't face the facts and accept the blame what happens? Do they tend to turn their rage on the therapist as well?

Also, we see the behavior of the abuser when he (or she) is in control of another person, but what happens when the other person is not controllable? Do abusers gauge the situation and play meek when necessary or do they tend to have trouble wherever they go?

Thanks, Jeannie!

MeganRebekah said...

*shudder*
Such important topics. I'm looking forward to the next post on kids!

Kenda said...

Wow, great insights. Thanks for providing "clues" to some very hard-to-understand behavior...

Sharon McPherson said...

Frightening ... and more common than most people suspect. In my experience abusers may never change, but thankfully victims can escape and recover. But only if they break the control ... easier said than done.

Can you really get inside the head of the abuser, though? As you said they believe they are victims. In my experience their beliefs are irrational.

Great post Jeannie. :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Excellent stuff, Jeannie. As others have said, a very difficult dichotomy to execute. The approach I try to take in my writing is to remove any judgement about the situation, not trying to say "This person is bad and an abuser" and just let all the actions (bad and perceived good) provide a full portrait of the relationship for the reader to make the judgement on.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on treating someone, as Miss Sharp mentioned, who believes everyone else is to blame. I also think I've read a place or two about children who grow up in abusive homes and become abusers themselves, and pendulum between abusive blaming mode and being wracked with guilt over perpetuating the pattern their abusive parent instilled in them.

I haven't looked into any of these books yet, but I've had good recommendations for a couple books that try to get inside the mind of the abuser, if anyone's looking for further reading: Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, and The Batterer: A Psychological Profile by Donald Dutton. Anyone read these?

Angela R. Sasser said...

An interesting post, Jeannie! It's always fascinated me how the illogical logic of 'bad' characters (or 'bad' people) makes perfect sense to them. It's what makes people and characters fascinating. I'm curious to read your post about the mindset of those who are abused, as it pertains to my own characters (which I still need to submit for brainpicking sometime).

Thanks for sharing your insights and studies with us! I will prove useful.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I have read and recommend the book by Bancroft, "Why does he do that?" It was enlightening. I am recovering from an abusive marriage. Even during counseling, he took the victim role. In the end, he stopped going because he said that the counselors were "alienating" him. It's hard not to be wooed by the "honeymoon" phases and the need to cling to hope. He probably believes he's "better" and his remorse is real, but the pattern doesn't stop until you get off that crazy train. Thank you, Jeannie!

I want you to know, too, that the abuse was never physical in the "hollywood" sense. Verbal, emotional, financial, spiritual, every other kind, but never a fist to the face. He even said, "At least I don't hit you."

Linda Glaz said...

Scary when we think they are out there, just regular everyday people with black holes for inner souls.

Shannon said...

I have to concur with everyone here. An excellent post. Really thought-provoking. I just HAVE to put up another blog post on your blog to point more people towards this post in particular.

Also, I hope you find the time to answer more of Miss Sharp's questions. I'm curious about your views on that, too.

Anonymous said...

After 26 years of marriage, I just recently realized that I'm abused by my husband's ongoing sexual infidelity. I've not been hit, raped, and he speaks respectfully to me; however he lies, tells me that he doesn't love me anymore, and is constantly unfaithful. He has never asked me for divorce. Now I'm in counseling. I have no hope that he will change as he probably doesn't see himself as an abuser. However, I can find out what makes me susceptible so I can prevent myself from becoming a victim again.

KIMBERLY ALLEN said...

I haven't looked into any of these books yet. Sounds interesting. I'm going to get this one

I'm Kim. a child psychologist in Denver

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