Characteristics of Abusers

How do you recognize someone who abuses others?  Do people who abuse others have certain characteristics and do they have certain behaviors in common?   Many studies have shown that there is quite a bit of commonality within this group of people, be they verbal, sexual, physical, or emotional batterers.  These are listed here.  Most of the items will make the assumption that men are the batterers because the heavy majority is men (approx. 85%) but there are women who abuse as well and these characteristics typically hold true for them also. 

Annually, compared to males, females experienced over 10 times as many incidents of domestic violence. On average each year, women experienced 572,032 violent victimizations at the hands of a domestic partner, compared to 48,983 incidents committed against men. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report,” January 1994, p. 6). 

The following characteristics are also present in verbal and emotional abusers, but they may not be quite as pronounced.

·         Rigid sex roles, believes men are superior and should be in charge of women.  This person will often refer to women in disrespectful ways.  Abusers are often obsessive about appearing to be masculine and they tend to hold very high and rigid rules about how they should act because they are the man – often leading them to feel the need to dominate and control and to expect their word and their needs to be catered to at all times, including in the bedroom. These abusers see women as unintelligent, inferior, responsible for menial tasks, and less than whole without the relationship. They will often tell women that no one else would want them you.  They will remind women of their “provider role” and use guilt and convoluted “logic” to pressure women to into servile behaviors.  In many churches today, Scriptures are taken out of context and twisted in order to pressure women into subservient roles and to place men into superior roles.

This is not just taught in fringe churches, but in many mainstream churches.  Two examples are:

Man was made to manifest God’s authority. Woman was made to manifest man’s authority. The woman is a vice-regent, if you will, who rules in the place of man, as it were, or carries out man’s will as man rules in the place of God and carries out God’s will. Man, in a sense, shines with the direct light of God, while woman shines with the derived light from man.” John MacArthur

“I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.” Paige Patterson

·         General possessiveness and jealousy, which can reach pathological levels.  Abusers often say that jealousy is a sign of love. Jealousy has nothing to do with love; it’s a sign of possessiveness and lack of trust. In a healthy relationship, the partners trust each other unless one of them has legitimately done something to break that trust. The Bible says that jealousy is like a torrent if it’s not tamed (Prov. 27:4).  Obsessive consuming “love” easily produces a powerful jealousy that is “as cruel as a grave.” (Song 8:6)  Abusers often accuse partners of having affairs.

·         Becoming involved in a relationship quickly.  Abusers come on quickly claiming “love at first sight”, and using flattery such as “you are the only person I could ever talk to” or “I have never felt loved like this by anyone”.  

·         Tries to isolate partner from friends, family, and co-workers.  Frequently, an abusive person tries to cut the partner off from all resources.  Abusers will accuse people who are supportive of causing trouble, and may restrict use of the phone. They can gradually isolate you from all of your friends. They may not let you use a car (or have one that is reliable), and may try to keep you from working or going to school. Sometimes this process can take years and then suddenly a victim looks up and realizes that they’ve been moved across the country, away from family, friends and a support system and without a job or resources of their own – making them completely isolated and totally dependent on the abuser. 

·         Difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings.  Some people talk with their words, while others talk with their actions (fists). Some may use words to batter rather than express their own feelings.  Batterers typically have trouble with discussing “feelings”, especially very strong ones like anger or frustration. Some may feel that “having feelings” and talking out problems goes against the stereotyped role that they have bought into (see above). Without the skills or self-permission to express themselves in constructive ways (ways that feels uncomfortable or where they feel inadequate), they often lash out with violence.

  • May not feel guilty or ashamed, minimizes or denies the abuse.
  • May have affairs.
  • Witnessed/experienced family violence while growing up
  • Unrealistic expectations of self, partner, family, etc. 
  • “Jekyll and Hyde” personality.  Often the most frustrating thing for the victim, many abusers are excellent actors.  This often makes it difficult for a victim to reach out for support from friends and family, because those persons may try to talk the victim out of thinking that their spouse is an abuser. It’s even MORE frustrating for the victim when members of their support system try to turn the tables and say things like “well, just don’t make him mad” or “maybe you just need to pray and be more submissive.”   They’re putting the blame on the VICTIM and not on the offender where it belongs!  
  • Rigid style of demanding and controlling behaviors.  Often at the beginning, an abuser will say that this behavior is because they are concerned for your safety, a need for you to use time well or to make good decisions. Abusers will be angry if you are “late” coming back from the store or an appointment; you might be questioned closely about where you went, who you talked to. These types of behaviors mimic the parent/child relationship and thus by definition cannot be part of an equal and healthy relationship.
  • May display addictive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling).
  • Puts blame on spouse/companion and accepts little responsibility for own behavior.  Commonly, batterers use the actions of others as excuses for their own behavior. Abusive people will might say, “you made me mad” and “I can’t help being angry”. Although they actually make the decision about how they think or feel, they will use feelings to manipulate people. Abusers see themselves as the “victim” in the relationship, and do not take responsibility for their own feelings or behaviors.
  • Is extremely manipulative.
  • If in counseling, is primarily interested in keeping partner in the relationship, not in changing self.
  • Will end counseling as soon as partner returns or a new relationship is established.

The Bible has a lot to say about violent people:

Psalms 11:5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Malachi 2:16-17 “I hate […] a man’s covering his wife with violence, as well as with his garment.” says the Lord Almighty….”You have wearied the Lord with your words.” “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying “all who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”. (NIV alternate translation)

James 1:19,20 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Proverbs 10:6 Blessings are upon the head of the just: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.

Proverbs 10:11 The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

James 1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

James 3:10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

Some references:;;   Partner Abuse: Prisoners of Fear  ; Evans, Patricia 2001, Controlling People;


8 thoughts on “Characteristics of Abusers

  1. Lynn says:

    Sandy, I would like your thoughts on this article:

  2. Sandy says:

    We are expecting guests for dinner but I promise that I will write a thorough response for you as soon as everyone goes home. I’ve seen the article already and would like to give you some good info and links which refute their assertions. Thanks!

  3. Sandy says:

    After carefully reviewing that article, there are a few good points I would like to address about it. First of all, they are very clear that abuse is not a good thing and teach clearly that police need to be utilized for it. I most certainly agree with this. They also state that the church elders and pastors should support abused victims. I agree with this whole heartedly. That said, there is much with which I disagree.

    The first item is, of course, the assertion that “Women are more inclined than men to use violence to solve domestic quarrels.” In order to “prove” this, the author quotes a man discussing his personal falsification of abortion statistics. This in no way should imply that Department of Justice figures necessarily are falsified in order to attack patriarchy. As you so often do and are quite good at doing, try a simple syllogism with this. Here are some official statistics about the differences between men and women victims:

    While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner. – Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998

    In 92% of all domestic violence incidents, crimes are committed by men against women. – Violence Against Women, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, January, 1994
    In 1993, approximately 575,000 men were arrested for committing violence against women. approximately 49,000 women were arrested for committing violence against men. -American Psychl. Ass’n, Violence and the Family: Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996), p. 10.

    Where there are multiple victims in a domestic homicide, 89% of perpetrators are male. -Florida Governor’s Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Florida Mortality Review Project, 1997, p.52, table 29.

    Out of the 850,000 men and 1.3 million women who are battered yearly, over 500,000 men are battered by same sex partners, not women. Each year, between 50,000 and 100,000 Lesbian women and as many as 500,000 Gay men are battered. (Murphy, Queer Justice: Equal Protection for Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence, 30 Val. U. L. Rev. 335 (1995).) This means that most male victims are attacked by other males but less than 10% of women victims were attacked by other women.

    Men living with men are more likely to be battered than men living with women (15% compared with 7%)

    As to whether or not patriarchy causes abuse, I will say that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. But it has been shown that many of the characteristics and risk factors for abuse are present in patriarchal families. Here are a few:
    • Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
    • Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with.
    • Does not want you to work.
    • Controls finances or refuses to share money.
    • Expects you to ask permission.
    • Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles.
    • Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

    Using Coercion and Threats- Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. This can also be misusing the Bible or using false teachings such as women must obey their husbands in all things, man is responsible for women, etc. It can also be an implied coercion such as playing on a woman’s guilt who wants to please God.

    Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming- Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsiblity for abusive behavior. Maybe if she were more submissive, etc.

    Using Male Privilege- Treating her like a servant. Making all the big decisions. Acting like the “master of the castle”. Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.

    Using Economic Abuse- Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.
    There are others as this is just a sampling.

    I see the problem as a matter of too much unaccountable power placed in fallible, sinful hands. Scripture tells us that there is no male nor female in Christ. I am as much a part of the Holy nation of priests as my husband and no man stands between me and God. As soon as a man becomes responsible for me and my relationship with God, that places him in God’s position in my life and allows a sinful human too much power. I do not believe that all patriarchal marriages are abusive. What I do believe is that they are at higher risk for abuse and that abuse victims find it more difficult to get help. (See Patterson’s response in post).

    I look to the Proverbs 31 woman who is held up as such a role model. I don’t see her asking permission to leave the house, hire her servants, buy cloth, start her own business selling sashes, buying land, planting a vineyard, etc. She did all these things on her own initiatives well as helped the needy, etc. while her husband was hanging out in the gate of the city. This is what brought honor to her husband, not her obedience to him.

  4. Sandy says:

    I also want to point out that Ephesians 5 teaches mutual submission in marriage. We are to both act in the best interest of the other – me in reverence to my husband as to the Lord and he in love, giving himself up for me. The term “father-rule” as used in the article is certainly at odds with this teaching.

  5. Lynn says:

    Sandy, I’ve been quite busy, and just now got to reading these statistics. Common sense (I mean what I know of prison population and differing tendencies in males and females, as well as the fact that men are generally bigger and stronger than women) tells me that men are much more prone to be violent than women are.

    I have heard that in child abuse, while I *think* women, because they are more with the children in numbers, outnumber the men, but when you compare what you know of male child care givers to male child abusers (per capita I guess is the word) is that males again, speaking in ratios here, are more prone to be violent against children.

    Do you have any stats for that? Thanks for this information.

  6. Sandy says:


    Here are the stats:

    Child Maltreatments 1996: Reports From the States to the National Child Abuse and
    Neglect Data System.
    Type of Maltreatment by Sex of Perpetrator, DCDC
    Type of abuse Male Perp Female Perp
    Physical 17,590 (44.7%) 21,757(55.3%)
    Neglect 20,617 (28.1%) 52,675(71.9%)
    Medical Neglect 1,893 (21.7%) 6,818 (78.3%)
    Sexual Abuse 16,448 (71.5%) 6,571(28.5%)
    Emotional 2,586 (43.0%) 3,429(57.0%)
    Totals 59,134 (39.3%) 91,250 (60.7%)

    Of all children under age 5 murdered from 1976-2005 —
    • 31% were killed by fathers
    • 29% were killed by mothers
    • 23% were killed by male acquaintances
    • 7% were killed by other relatives
    • 3% were killed by strangers
    Of those children killed by someone other than their parent, 81% were killed by males.

    Though most physical and neglect types abuse are committed by women, most homicides and more serious physical and most sexual abuse are committed by men.
    Also, please keep in mind that children are in the care of women much more than in the care of men and so, technically, it is actually more likely that a child will be abused by a man. In 1993, only about one in four fathers took care of their preschoolers during the time mothers were working, the rest of the time mothers are much more likely to take care of the children. Also most child care workers are female. (Current Population Reports, P70, 59, Sept. 1997. ) So more children and women are together much more often than men and children. So simple math says that, though more numbers of women actually abuse, a higher percentage of men actually abuse, if you follow me here. Therefore, men are more likely to abuse and when they do abuse, the abuse is more likely to be serious

  7. lisaslarsen says:

    Very interesting statistics and analysis. How do you think that people can break out of believing that the Scriptures support patriarchy and violence against women? Maybe you’re doing so right here, by publicizing and discussing these topics!

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