Updated: Jul 31, 2021
The biggest obstacle in recognizing chronic abuse in relationships is that most abusers just don’t seem like the type. They are often model citizens, wonderfully kind neighbors, model congregation members and volunteers. They hold community volunteer positions as coaches, are extraordinary employees, and often have many good qualities including warmth, kindness and compassion . However, inside their personal intimate relationships they often appear as having a split personality causing their victim over time to question his or her own sanity. If an abuser has a successful work life, doesn’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol, it is even harder for them to fit the image of someone who is cruel and intimidating to their family, colleagues, friends, and even partner at times.
With domestic violence still on the rise, why do so many abusers still fool their families, their churches, their therapists, and the courts. The answer is simple. There are still too many deeply ingrained myths behind their behavior that have not been exposed. Let's examine some of the popular myths as to why abuser abuse? Many are able to fool their own family, friends, and coworker; not to mention countless therapists, attorneys, and judges.
MYTH #1: THEY HAVE AN ANGER MANAGEMENT PROBLEM.
Abusers get angry because they abuse, they don’t abuse because they are angry. Consider cause and effect. Let’s look at at two examples many will be familiar with: While screaming, hitting and verbally assaulting his wife, the police show up at the door or an abusers boss calls. Does he allow his “anger management problem” to jeopardize his job or get him arrested. While following her boyfriend/husband around the house; slamming doors and breaking things to get his attention, the neighbor shows up to return some Tupperware. Is she unable to compose herself? Of course not. Notice how quickly an abuser gains control. Everyone gets angry. Most people, if they are honest with themselves actually get far more angry than a situation or circumstance warrants but they don’t abuse someone they love and care about. People have many different ways of dealing with their anger. Many hold it in and create stress related health problems. Some turn it inward and get depressed. Others express it in tears or vent to a friend. Even those who at times “go off” and raise their voice don’t degrade and abuse their partner. Explosive anger easily diverts attention from all the lying, word twisting, manipulating, irresponsible, and disrespectful behavior he exhibits.
Ask yourself this question: Does anger cause an ex-spouse, partner, and/or children to go into hiding; change their social security; uproot themselves from everything they know; switch jobs; take out restraining orders? Does your partners rage cause them to conceal, control and lie? Is someone isolating you from friends, family, ruining your reputation, spreading rumors and convincing their own family, possibly yours, your friends, etc…that you are the one with the problem a form of anger? No, the loudest and most intimidating forms of abuse may come out when they are angry but they are completely aware and in control of behavior at all times. The problem is an abuser believes their behavior is justified, not that that they have an anger problem. Research shows that most abusers who successfully completed anger management programs showed little to no change in their abusive behavior. If anything, learning more psychological terminology and anger management techniques, fuels an abusers ability to blame their victim for not being able to control their anger.
MYTH #2: THEY SUFFER WITH LOW SELF-ESTEEM
The self-esteem myth is quite rewarding for an abuser because it takes the focus off the abuse and gets the counselor, therapist, partner, family, etc.. to cater to them emotionally. Think about this for a moment. An abuser uses the excuse that they have low self-esteem to explain his behavior. Let’s look at the results. No matter how they behaves, they are praised for what a wonderful spouse, person, child, parent, etc. is in an attempt to heal their woundedness. The truth is they feel entitled and justified and the more excuses they can get away with, the more comfortable they are with their behavior. Any remorse dies over time under the guise of justification. An abuser gets cruel and makes nasty statements and false allegations if they don't get the constant reassurance and compliments their shattered self-image/esteem needs; however, let’s think about this for a moment. Your partners abuse has degraded you, isolated you, falsely accused you, challenged your ability to make decisions, made you question what you know to be true….obviously this hurts your self-esteem and over time can completely shatter it but does that turn you suddenly into a bully and make you degrade your partner? Of course not. It is not an excuse for the person whose self-esteem is daily being stripped away so why should it be entertained as an excuse for abuse? It shouldn't.
Abusers are expert manipulators to the point that unless specifically trained to treat abusers, even a professional counselor will quickly defend his low/delicate self- esteem. Abuse is not a psychological problem. While a percentage of abusers do display a variety of personality disorders, especially narcissistic personality disorder, his behavior and abuse is not the result of any psychological or mental diagnosis. It has everything to do with his distorted value and belief system and habits which includes total entitlement and no accountability.
MYTH 3: THEY WERE BUSED AS A CHILD.
Multiple research surveys have shown this to be a weak link. Out of sixty seven percent (67%) of men in an abusers group who initially reported they were abused as children, when told they were going to be hooked up to a lie detector test, 49% of them recanted. I'm confident similar research would reveal the same with women. Consider this: If someone is so in touch with the feelings of abuse from their childhood, then they remember what it felt like and would be less likely to abuse their partner, not more likely. They will draw attention to their childhood as an excuse to stay the same, not as a reason to change.
MYTH 4: HIS/HER PREVIOUS SPOUSE/PARTNER/SIGNIFICANT OTHER HURT HIM/HER.
Many abusers will recount how their ex partner cheated on them, tried to control them, wouldn’t let them have any freedom, had them arrested out of vindictiveness….They are usually describing their own behavior. If asked how they knows their partner cheated on him, they will usually start by saying “Everybody knows ____ been cheating and what a liar ____ they are” or “I caught her/him” when in fact they saw nothing or saw their partner/spouse talking to someone in a store or getting a ride home from a mutual friend. An abusive or controlling person can quickly get his new partner to relate to his distress by “sharing” the abuse & betrayal they were subject to in their previous relationship or marriage. What woman or man can’t empathize with being mistreated? Abusers also use this as an excuse for being extremely jealous and as an excuse for their inability to trust. If in doubt, try applying this rule of thumb, if it’s an excuse for mistreating you, it is usually distorted. Also…my challenge to you is this: Even if you have come to hate their ex, put your feelings toward them aside and track them down and talk to them as soon as possible. I guarantee the woman/man you have come to hate tolerated the identical behavior he/she is displaying towards you and blaming it on him/her. Their goal in blaming their mother, father, ex, job, temper, etc…is to play on your compassion. These excuses are the way they avoid dealing with their own behavior.
MYTH 5: HIS ALCOHOL OR DRUG ADDICTION CAUSES HIS ABUSE
Drugs and alcohol do not create an abuser NOR do recovery and sobriety stop abusive behavior. You are also not “enabling” your partner to be abusive. They are entirely responsible for his behavior. Although not having to face consequences for their behavior can cause abuse to progress just like an alcoholic or addict who doesn’t face consequences can enable staying in denial and further progression of his disease….the main difference lies in the fact that an addicts behavior is controlled by the substance they have become addicted too; an abuser is controlled by his distorted justification and belief that they are not responsible for his own behavior. Abusers thrive on causing confusion. They manage to twist everything around so he can blame his behavior on everything and anything but himself.
MYTH 6: HE IS OUT OF CONTROL…HE LOSES CONTROL
Example taken from a conversation between abuser and a director of an abuser group:
"You called her a whore and a slut. You grabbed the cell phone out of her hand and smashed it. Pieces were flying all over the room. You pushed her so hard, she tripped over your son’s toy and as she fell she lacerated her head. Blood was everywhere. There she was laying vulnerably on the floor, holding her hand over the deep cut on her head trying to control the bleeding. It would have been easy to just kick her hard in the gut. You have just finished telling the group that you were ‘totally out of control’ at that time but you stopped. What stopped you?"
Clients always give a reason. Here are some typical responses: “I realized one of the children was watching.” “I was afraid someone would hear us and call the police.” “I could kill her if I did that .” and of course “G__, I would never do that!”. These types of answers completely destroy the ‘out of control’ argument because while verbally, emotionally or physically assaulting his victim, he maintains awareness of a number of things such as: “Could what I am doing get me in legal trouble?”, “Could I get hurt myself in some way?”, “Is my behavior something I consider too cruel or violent according to my standards?” AN ABUSER VERY RARELY DOES ANYTHING THEY CONSIDER MORALLY WRONG. They may hide and lie about their behavior because others would disagree with them; however, they feel completely justified. An abusers main problem is that their sense of right and wrong is distorted.
An excellent example was used in a book that I regrettably don’t remember the author or name to give credit but he compared an abuser to an acrobat at the circus….seemingly out of control but knowing the limits the entire time.
MYTH 7: THEY ARE AFRAID OF INTIMACY/ ABANDONMENT; CAN’T
The myth that you can only hold so much in has a bit of truth to it because we all know individuals who hold in their feelings regularly and then something small will trigger a blowout. A blow out however it quite different from abuse and most abusers do not repress their feelings. In fact, they generally express their feelings more than non-abusive people. Their sense of entitlement causes them to believe their feelings are more important than anyone else especially their partners. They also not only talk about their feelings all the time but act them out until their partner can’t take hearing them anymore. Consider when an abuser feels bad. Their belief is that the world should stop to care for their problem to the extent that their partner, the children, or, any legitimate crisis is secondary to what they are feeling or going through.
Think about how aware and in touch with their feelings they really are? Despite any logical and valid complaint, crisis or illness with the children, household emergency, they must be able to discern everyone’s feelings in order to manipulate, word twist, and lie in a way that makes the most educated partner of his doubt their very sanity. In a matter of minutes or even seconds, an abuser evaluates the situation and using the most cunning, manipulative and controlling behavior; they successfully make themselves out to the be the victim and keep the focus on their feelings. Is it any wonder that after going on and on that an abuser's partner tries to do anything to cater to them so the abuse will stop?
ABUSERS AREN'T DISTANT FROM THEIR FEELINGS. THEY ARE ALSO NOT DISTANT FROM THEIR PARTNERS FEELINGS. They simply don't care about their partners feelings nor do they believe their partners feelings are as important as their own feelings.
For decades, therapists have worked with abusive clients believing that the solution is to help them by identifying and expressing feelings. This approach, although well intention-ed, is misguided because this fuels the abuser’s narcissistic selfish focus on themselves which is a large part of the ammunition that drives their abusiveness.The focus of a good abusers program is to steer the abuser away from his feelings and direct them toward his thinking and his partners’ feelings. Their thinking and belief system is the problem. They can appear to their partner like a ticking time bomb which erupts with screaming, cruel statements and put downs; but it is actually driven by an inability to have empathy for their partners’ feelings.
It is very difficult for a victim to break the silence. If someone comes to you and has the courage to share that they are in an abusive environment, please take them seriously. If shut down and not heard, they may not reach out again. Their future may depend on your ability to empower them to take action. It is important that you don’t betray a victim’s confidence or tell them what to do. They have been controlled long enough. Give them options and be aware that it often takes a long time for a victim to break free.
If you or a loved one is dealing with domestic abuse; please contact us immediately. If you are dealing with domestic abuse and going through a high-conflict custody battle; you may be at risk for parental alienation. You can fill out a contact form or call Dr. Baldwin at 417-731-8354.