The Mind of the Abuser
Get inside the mind of the abuser. Find out what makes the abuser tick.
Most abusers are men. Still, some are women. We use the masculine and feminine adjectives and pronouns ('he", his", "him", "she", her") to designate both sexes: male and female as the case may be.
To embark on our exploration of the abusive mind, we first need to agree on a taxonomy of abusive behaviours. Methodically observing abuse is the surest way of getting to know the perpetrators.
Abusers appear to be suffering from dissociation (multiple personality). At home, they are intimidating and suffocating monsters - outdoors, they are wonderful, caring, giving, and much-admired pillars of the community. Why this duplicity?
It is only partly premeditated and intended to disguise the abuser's acts. More importantly, it reflects his inner world, where the victims are nothing but two-dimensional representations, objects, devoid of emotions and needs, or mere extensions of his self. Thus, to the abuser's mind, his quarries do not merit humane treatment, nor do they evoke empathy.
Typically, the abuser succeeds to convert the abused into his worldview. The victim - and his victimizers - don't realize that something is wrong with the relationship. This denial is common and all-pervasive. It permeates other spheres of the abuser's life as well. Such people are often narcissists - steeped in grandiose fantasies, divorced from reality, besotted with their False Self, consumed by feelings of omnipotence, omniscience, entitlement, and paranoia.
Contrary to stereotypes, both the abuser and his prey usually suffer from disturbances in the regulation of their sense of self-worth. Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence render the abuser - and his confabulated self - vulnerable to criticism, disagreement, exposure, and adversity - real or imagined.
Abuse is bred by fear - fear of being mocked or betrayed, emotional insecurity, anxiety, panic, and apprehension. It is a last ditch effort to exert control - for instance, over one's spouse - by "annexing" her, "possessing" her, and "punishing" her for being a separate entity, with her own boundaries, needs, feelings, preferences, and dreams.
In her seminal tome, "The Verbally Abusive Relationship", Patricia Evans lists the various forms of manipulation which together constitute verbal and emotional (psychological) abuse:
Withholding (the silent treatment), countering (refuting or invalidating the spouse's statements or actions), discounting (putting down her emotions, possessions, experiences, hopes, and fears), sadistic and brutal humor, blocking (avoiding a meaningful exchange, diverting the conversation, changing the subject), blaming and accusing, judging and criticizing, undermining and sabotaging, threatening, name calling, forgetting and denying, ordering around, denial, and abusive anger.
To these we can add:
Wounding "honesty", ignoring, smothering, dotting, unrealistic expectations, invasion of privacy, tactlessness, sexual abuse, physical maltreatment, humiliating, shaming, insinuating, lying, exploiting, devaluing and discarding, being unpredictable, reacting disproportionately, dehumanizing, objectifying, abusing confidence and intimate information, engineering impossible situations, control by proxy and ambient abuse.
In his comprehensive essay, "Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes", Lundy Bancroft observes:
"Because of the distorted perceptions that the abuser has of rights and responsibilities in relationships, he considers himself to be the victim. Acts of self-defense on the part of the battered woman or the children, or efforts they make to stand up for their rights, he defines as aggression AGAINST him. He is often highly skilled at twisting his descriptions of events to create the convincing impression that he has been victimized. He thus accumulates grievances over the course of the relationship to the same extent that the victim does, which can lead professionals to decide that the members of the couple 'abuse each other' and that the relationship has been 'mutually hurtful'."
Yet, whatever the form of ill-treatment and cruelty - the structure of the interaction and the roles played by abuser and victim are the same. Identifying these patterns - and how they are influenced by prevailing social and cultural mores, values, and beliefs - is a first and indispensable step towards recognizing abuse, coping with it, and ameliorating its inevitable and excruciatingly agonizing aftermath.
This is the subject of the next article.
A critical reading of R. Lundy Bancroft's Essay - Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes (1998)
next: Condoning Abuse
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). The Mind of the Abuser, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/the-mind-of-the-abuser