In order to effectively help a victim of domestic abuse and as a way to more fully understand what you, as a victim, have gone through, it is very important to address the commonalities that we see across the board in abusers.
Batterers are individuals who all have a similar way of thinking and functioning in this world. Although their chosen forms of battery and abuse can differ, the underlying reasons they choose to abuse are most often similar.
Abusers act like they are normal. They are experts at pretending everything is perfect in their world. They are often in a position of power in their work, their community or their church. They are certainly in a power position over their victim. It’s really important to them that they maintain the appearance of normal. This can make it really hard to spot an abuser.
They have bullied their wives and children into maintaining the façade because to do otherwise would mean sure and swift punishment once they are home alone. Not only that but if everyone believes they are the good guy, the put-together guy, the successful guy then nobody will believe her when she tries to share with them the abuse she suffers at the perfect guy’s hand. Having the perfect family, job and reputation reinforce the abusers need to believe that there is nothing wrong with him personally. He is perfect, he is in control, he is entitled to his great reputation. He can also use it against her when he says ‘you are the only one who thinks there’s anything wrong with me!’, therefore making her doubt her experience of living with him.
Abusers were either abused themselves, witnessed abuse or were the spoiled child. Studies show time and again that children, especially boys, who are raised in an abusive home learn to abuse. They learn that control is valued, women are not valued, and men deserve to be worshiped. Most children who are from an abusive home were abused themselves (child abuse), so they learn to protect themselves and their fragile self-esteem. Boys will often develop the attitude of entitlement and sexism when they witness their mother being abused by their father. Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
“I’ll hurt them before they hurt me”, or “I’ll hurt them worse then they hurt me”, or “I will never be in a position to be hurt again!” are agreements that childhood witnesses of domestic abuse make to themselves. It is really important to understand that living in an abusive home is abusive to the children even if they are not the targets of abuse themselves.
Often, an abuser will have a history of abusing their own mother or sisters. As they grow up, boys who witness violence in their home will adopt the attitudes and behaviors of their father. They will slowly become abusers to the female members of their family and this can align them with the father abuser, creating a sense of safety for the child. This is why we often hear the victims lament that her sons are becoming just like their dad and her children are alienated from her.
Conversely, boys who are raised to believe they can do nothing wrong and are spoiled by their parents, will learn that they deserve to get whatever they want. They can develop the attitudes of entitlement and they value power and control to get their own way.
However you look at it, abusers likely had an unhealthy childhood. Remember, this is not a reason for them to choose to abuse. Many people who have had bad childhoods, choose not to perpetuate the abusive cycle. I don’t encourage victims to use their abuser’s childhood as a reason to stay because ‘they can’t help’, and ‘maybe I can help him get better’, or ‘if I leave it is just more disappointment like when he was a kid’. It is tempting to do this, but adults are responsible for choosing their behavior and for battering others. Nothing a victim tries to do will help the abuser change. The only way he will change is if he chooses to do so on his own.
Abusers are NEVER to blame for anything! Someone else is always at fault in the batterers mind. It’s your fault, or the bosses, or how he was raised, or the cat or the government’s fault, but abusers will absolutely never take personal responsibility for anything. If they seem to, I encourage you to dissect their exact words. You will likely find they were manipulating you and either blaming you or diminishing their actions. They always rationalize, deny, or minimize what they’ve done, while at the same time managing to blame someone else.
Abusers have very rigid beliefs regarding gender and gender roles. It is this one that makes patriarchy and the teachings of headship so dangerous. Abusers believe they are entitled, just because they were born male. They believe that to be born a man is to inherently deserve obedience and respect from women, but especially from their significant other. A woman’s place is to do exactly what he wants her to do. She has no right to question or to disobey him. He is spiritually responsible for making sure she is obedient, respectful, and maintains a ‘servant heart’, so he will use any method or technique to make that happen.
He believes that he is the authority between her and God and he’ll use that position to keep her submitted to him. Most spiritual abuse emerges from this unbiblical belief. He will not hesitate to use scripture, sacred writings or the history of religion to keep her spiritually bound to the abusive relationship. He will seek out other headship and patriarchal teachings to reinforce his malignant view of gender roles. He will twist and scheme the word of God as a way of rationalizing his abuse toward her.
Abusers believe they are the superior gender. His woman and children are objects for him to use to enhance his life. In his mind, they were created for his pleasure and for fulfilling his needs. He has no sense of what true love is so he shows no empathy, no compassion and holds very little value for the individuals in his family. He only values how they can serve him and how they make him look good in his community.
He believes that to show her love is to keep her under control. He owns her, so he’ll use her sexually to meet his needs without regard for her desires or feelings. He’ll demand actions, favors, and commitment but won’t reciprocate any of it because he isn’t really in a mutually loving partnership with her. He is in a one-sided, unilateral, master to slave existence meant to enhance his life alone.
He likely doesn’t do much better for his children. Often an abuser will love their children but will refuse to participate in the parenting of those kids. He views parenting as her work and he is the ‘fun guy’ or the ‘disciplinarian’ when she fails to keep them in line like he expects them to be. His kids are an extension of his pretend normal world, so he expects them to reflect well upon his stellar reputation.
Abusers are very jealous and controlling of family time and affection. They must always stay focused on him. He maintains this focus in a variety of ways. He will isolate them and refuse to allow them to have friends or family involved in their lives. This not only protects him from anyone finding out the truth of who he is but it effectively weakens his wife and children so they are less likely to be able to identify his abuse. They won’t be able to access support and they certainly would not be successful in leaving him.
He will question and accuse his victim of cheating even if she so much as smiles at the checker in the grocery store. He’ll high-jack holidays in order to keep everyone focused on him (Abusive Holidays and Special Occasions). He’ll use manipulative anger or manipulative kindness as a way of maintaining the power in the relationship. He’ll insist on checking up on her whereabouts, check her phone or social media. He may even put tracking devices in their home, on her phone, and on her car with or without her knowledge.
Being jealous and controlling also creates a trauma bond. A person whose life is severely limited by an abuser has to rely on the abuser for everything. Not only is he the one who hurts her but he is also the one she has to rely on to make that hurt stop. Stockholm Syndrome, or trauma bonding, becomes a powerful weapon the abuser uses to keep his victims under his control.
“Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.” Jon G. Allen. Coping With Trauma, Second Edition: Hope Through Understanding. American Psychiatric Pub; 20 May 2008
Many victims will tell you that their abuser is not the person they fell in love with and married. The abuser is a completely different person and now they are left gasping for air, trying to figure out what happened. This leads to a lot of victim blaming, excuses being made, and all too often victims will want to believe that their abuser is suffering from mental illness. However, mental illness is not the leading cause of abuse. Usually, the abuser has duped the victim into believing the lie they perpetuated. Once they are owned by marriage, then the abuser shows his true colors.
Abuse escalates. Victims can recall the last abuse they suffered but it is much harder to remember the first. Abuse is insidious. It starts very quietly and creeps up upon the victim until she cannot excuse or ignore what is happening to her any longer. None of us want to believe that the person we love is a manipulative, evil monster so we work very hard at rationalizing what is happening. It helps to be familiar with the cycle of abuse so that you can begin to recognize the manipulative cycle you are living in.
We know that the longer an abusive cycle continues, the more extreme the abuse becomes. It may begin as verbal abuse and then include emotional, financial and sexual abuses. Eventually, he will physically hurt his victim and all too often, if he isn’t stopped, he will kill her.