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 http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/90-228.htm
“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 http://sbcoutpost.com/2008/02/25/defendant-paige-patterson-to-be-deposed-today/
· 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: http://www.sccadvasa.org/articles/82.pdf; http://www.asafeplaceforhelp.org/abusercharacteristics.html; Partner Abuse: Prisoners of Fear www.healthedco.com ; Evans, Patricia 2001, Controlling People; http://caepvorg.preview.digitalnorth.net/getinfo/facts_stats.php?factsec=4