One of the most common excuses abusive people give for their behavior is their damaging childhood. They may tell stories about their emotional neglect, physical neglect, beatings, narcissistic parenting, or any other issues. And it's true: most abusers do tend to have childhood issues. This early damage often results in a halting of emotional maturity and a development of personality disruptions. Even so, using these issues as a "get out of jail free" card is wrong -- always and in every way. It's just plain wrong, and devastatingly damaging to their target(s).
While these stories may be true, exaggerated, or outright lies, when we get right down to it, does the truth of the matter even make a difference? Although compassion towards all people is an essential ingredient of human existence, since we are all made in the beautiful image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26), “compassion” that takes the form of allowing someone to excuse their toxic behavior isn’t true compassion. True compassion is honesty; it’s fraternal correction, and “charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction … it is friendship and communion” (CCC 1829). As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Hatred of a person’s evil is equivalent to love of his good. Hence also this perfect hatred belongs to love.”
Always remember: There is no excuse for abuse. None whatsoever. Domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft points out that “abusers of all varieties tend to realize the mileage they can get out of saying, ‘I’m abusive because the same thing was done to me.’” He even lists this “excuse for abuse” as “Myth #1” in his list of seventeen “myths about abusers” (the second myth is another excuse that’s so common I’ll address it in a future post— “His previous partner hurt him”). Often, abusers have “woman issues,” so to blame a neglectful childhood by focusing on his mother as the cause of his misery further fuels his excuse for not being able to relate properly to the partner he’s supposed to love, respect, and cherish “all the days of his life.” However, it must also be noted that another type of abusive personality truly did experience childhood neglect which results in lack of object constancy (fear of abandonment) and other relationship issues. These are most commonly seen in personality disordered individuals, particularly those suffering from BPO (borderline personality organization, which is someone who has borderline traits but isn't necessarily BDP), as discussed by Donald G. Dutton in his seminal book Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships. I'll write more on attachment styles, the development of BPD, brain trauma, and the fear of abandonment in future posts.
Victims of intimate partner violence need to keep one thing in mind: compassion and empathy should never act as an excuse to allow him to continue his abusive ways, nor is it a reason to stay in a toxic relationship. Besides, wouldn’t being a victim of abuse cause him to be more likely not to abuse others, because he’d be more sensitive toward kindness and not wanting anyone else to go through the suffering he endured? If that’s not how he responds to his personal trauma, then he has serious psychological issues to work through. Such work will take a great deal of time (as well as professional help) in order for true change to take place—if he’s even willing to dig that deep into himself and experience the excruciating pain of healing. Some abusive personalities are willing to take the years (yes, years) necessary to do this work and to do it thoroughly, but most aren’t. Such change is extraordinarily difficult to make, and requires a complete life overhaul (he must change not only his actions and behaviors but his core attitudes, beliefs, and chronic toxic patterns, and he must stop clinging to his victimhood mentality as a way of excusing his behaviors and blaming others).
The thing to remember as you make your transition from a target of intimate partner violence to a strong and solid survivor of IPV is that you can feel compassion for the possibility that your partner may be telling the truth about his childhood, but you can do so from afar (whether physically from afar, or emotionally). Don’t let your empathy for him interfere with your empathy for yourself. That’s what he wants, so he can maintain the status quo and continue his behaviors of control and manipulation. Yet you deserve better than that. You deserve respect, love, and empathetic nurturing. The first step in respecting, loving, and nurturing yourself is to refuse to buy into his victimhood stories. Again, whether or not they’re true makes no difference whatsoever. If he’s using those stories as an excuse for why you supposedly “trigger” him and why he feels the need to mistreat you in horrific ways (whether those ways are physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, verbal, or a combination), then that’s a definite sign that the abuse will continue.
“When our friends fall into sin, we ought not to deny them the amenities of friendship, so long as there is hope of their mending their ways … When, however, they fall into very great wickedness, and become incurable, we ought no longer to show them friendliness.”
--St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 25, a. 6, ad. 2.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 25, a. 6, ad. 1.
 Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, 26.
 Ibid., 25.
 For more on the topic of the common technique of using childhood trauma as an excuse for abuse, see Dr. Les Carter, Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me, 25; Shahida Arabi, A Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Dealing with Toxic People, 33; Shahida Arabi, Becoming the Narcissist’sNightmare, 54-55, 60; George Simon, Jr., Ph.D., In Sheep’s Clothing, 127-128; Debra Mirza, The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist, 149; Don Hennessy, How He Gets Into Her Head, 32-33; Patricia Evans, Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, Chapter 5, “Blame,” 76-89; Natalie Collins, Out of Control, 44-45; the official website of NY State, “Understanding Domestic Abusers: Common Excuses for Domestic Abuse,” https://opdv.ny.gov/professionals/abusers/excuses.html; Love is Respect, “Childhood Trauma is NO Excuse for Abusive Behavior,” https://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/childhood-trauma-is-no-excuse-for-abusive-behavior/; and … far too many more resources to list.
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.