Facing the truth about having an abusive personality is something most people don’t want to admit. Allowing this level of transparency would be too much for the abuser: too much shame, too much guilt, too much shattering of the ego, too much relinquishing of coercive power. Accepting responsibility for manipulative actions and attitudes would mean the perpetrator would have to get rid of all justifications, blame and excuses, and fully admit that they are completely responsible for their behaviours. They would have to be honestly open to the fact that they made certain choices to be abusive and controlling.
Obviously, that’s not something most people would want to do. Instead, excuses pave the way for further acts of emotional, physical, psychological, or verbal violence against their intimate partner (and sometimes even their children). For example, abusers tend to feel their behaviour isn’t “that bad” because they’re not physically violent. Or, if they do slap their partner around a bit, at least they don’t punch her. Or, if they do punch her, at least they’ve never sent her to the hospital …
Some abusers will acknowledge there’s a problem in their relationship, but will blame that problem on their partner or a so-called “mutual communication issue.” Still others may take the step of admitting that “sometimes” their behaviour gets out of control—but then they go on to justify their actions as a mere “anger issue” rather than what it truly is—an abuse issue.
“He has convinced himself of his own distortions.”
(Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men)
Dr. Chris Huffine, a psychologist who has worked with abusers for over thirty years, notes that “the problem with focusing on anger is that it completely ignores the real problem. Nineteen times out of twenty, if not more, the reason people think someone has an anger issue is because they have repeatedly acted in abusive ways. The point here is that the problem is not their ‘anger’ or ‘temper.’ It’s that they’ve been abusive!”
The verbal abuser uses words to disparage, undermine, belittle or control others, which disfigures a relationship through one of the cruelest forms of emotional maltreatment.
A manipulative and controlling personality will justify his or her abusive behaviours in any way they can. Twisted thinking, circular reasoning, and entitled attitudes all merge to create a wealth of excuses and blame. Abusers often feel like they can get away with anything. Sadly, they often do.
In Becoming Allies, a book written with the intent of helping abusers change their toxic behaviours and attitudes, Dr. Chris Huffine points out the tangled logic of many domestic violators. He explains how they tend to use the excuse of “justifiable abuse” to rationalize their behaviour. For example, often an abuser will reason:
“Calling someone a negative name is abusive—unless the name accurately describes them, in which case it’s not. Labeling someone’s behavior negatively is abusive—unless that label accurately describes the behavior, in which case it’s not. For example, if you think someone is acting stupid, then saying ‘You’re acting stupid’ is not abusive; it’s simply descriptive.”
Yep. Seriously. This is a typical abusive attitude. They feel they can call their partners whatever they want — as long as they also feel it’s true.
Someone with unbalanced narcissistic tendencies and a fondness for controlling his partner often uses this justification to violate his relationship through verbal attacks. “It’s okay to call her stupid, because she truly is stupid!” he’ll reason. The attacks then continue, and likely intensify. After all, his conscience has been appeased with his own unreasonable reasonings.
Allowing ourselves to feel suffering is the only way to heal from suffering.
When my husband was a teenager, he was involved in a devastating auto accident that nearly took his life. Despite the crumpled mess of his car, despite the fact that his windshield was shattered on the asphalt because he’d been hurled through it, despite the fact that he was shattered on the asphalt, wrecked next to the wreckage, he felt little if any pain. His entire body was in shock, and he soon became unconscious from the extent of his injuries.
It wasn’t until later, safely stabilized, operations complete, lying in hospital recovery, that the agony hit him. And it hit hard. The path to healing was excruciating, yet it was also necessary. If he hadn’t felt pain, that would have meant he was paralyzed and would never walk again.
If he hadn’t felt pain, something would have been seriously, tragically wrong.
The only present-day reminders of such a traumatic experience are scars which have now faded into barely-noticeable white marks on his skin. I quite like them, to be honest—I see them as battle wounds of strength.
Healing is like that. Walking through fire is agonizing, but it’s the only way out. If we don’t face our pain head-on, if we try to avoid it, we’re delaying the inevitable—and in the long run, we’ll end up causing ourselves more suffering.
We’ve all experienced trauma, tragedy, disappointment, heartbreak, and even betrayal. These experiences of suffering aren’t what God wants for us, but due to original sin they’re very real aspects of the human experience. No matter what our wound, whether it’s based in shame or shock, tragedy or turmoil, there’s a common foundation.
The Rolling Stone’s song “Under my Thumb” is supposedly about a victimized man who was pushed around by his woman. Finally he decided he’d had enough of her controlling ways, so he decided to push back — by abusing her.
Of course, Mick Jagger doesn’t admit to the abusive aspect of his lyrics. In an interview from 1984 he stated: “The whole idea was that I was under her thumb, she was kicking me around. All I did was turn the tables around. So women took that to be against femininity where in reality it was trying to ‘get back’ against being a repressed male.”
Spoken like a true abuser.
The lyrics to this song clearly display misogynistic attitudes and applaud abusive behaviours — and it remains one of the Rolling Stones most popular tunes.
“Under my thumb … It’s down to me.
The difference in the clothes she wears, down to me.
The change has come. She’s under my thumb.
And ain’t it the truth babe?”
At this point in history we're all familiar with isolation, but what some people don't realize is that isolation is a powerful and effective tactic also commonly used by domestic abusers.
At this point in our strange, globally-mandated lives, isolation is likely no stranger to any of us. There are uncanny similarities to what we’re all going through due to virus fears compared to someone in a domestically abusive relationship. Even so, isolation takes on a vastly more complex level when instigated by an intimate partner. In domestic situations, isolation is not only a negative situation imposed upon us by an outside force, but paradoxically it also becomes a comfortable and habitual—if dangerous—friend.
Isolation becomes a comfortable and habitual false friend.
An abuser isolates his target for several reasons, all of which boil down to one main intention—coercive control so as to manipulate his target into submission. This is accomplished in various ways.
The excessive jealousy of an abusive personality gives him a suspicious, anger-filled need to frequently check up on his victim when she’s out of his physical grasp. He hides his true motives behind an ineffective mask of “I love you” and “I just want to be sure you’re safe,” leading a victim to feel cherished and protected. She’s blind-sided into submission, not realizing that this sort of “protection” isn’t only false, but is potently dangerous to her wellbeing.
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.