A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse 101 – The Mentality and Tactics of Abuse

The following is taken in part from our new book, A Cry for Justice  [*affiliate link].  Please read carefully and you will learn that domestic violence and abuse are far, far more than “wife battering,” or some difficult guy who gets drunk on Saturday nights.  This evil is much more devilishly sophisticated than that:

In all of its forms, what are the fundamental elements present?  Let’s define it.  Please understand that abusers may be men or women, but for reasons of simplicity and because more commonly it is the man who is the abuser, we will use “he/him” to refer to the abuser. I have, in fact, known numerous abusers who were women.  But the fact remains, the majority are men.

Abuse is fundamentally a mentality of entitlement and superiority which uses many different tactics to obtain and enforce the power and control the abuser deems himself entitled to.  The abuser judges himself to be absolutely justified in using whatever tactics are necessary to ensure this power and control over his victim.

Abuse is effected in many ways: both physical (including sexual) and non-physical (verbal).  It can be active (physically or verbally) or passive (not speaking, not acting).  Abuse, therefore, is not limited to physical assault.  Indeed, the non-physical forms of abuse often are far more damaging, deceptive, and cruel.

Mark these defining terms down very, very carefully.  An abuser is a person whose mentality, mindset, and even worldview is dominated by –

  • Power
  • Control
  • Entitlement (to that control)
  • Justification (in enforcing that control)

This means that, as I learned, it is a serious mistake to assume an abuser thinks like everyone else does.  Abuse is rooted in a unique mentality.  Any method of dealing with the abuser and helping his victim is destined to failure unless we recognize this fundamental fact.  Abusers are not like you and me.  They do not look at other people as we do, nor do they view themselves in ways that we would call “normal.”

Another characteristic of the abuser is his impaired conscience.  It may even be non-existent (which would classify him as a sociopath).  Abuse seems to increase as the functionality of the conscience decreases.  Without a conscience, a person cannot engage in meaningful, healthy interpersonal relationships.  He cannot empathize with others (feel what they feel, understand what they think).

The abuser is the center of his universe.  He views his victims as objects owned by him to serve him.  A person with no empathy nor conscience obviously will objectify others – make them into a kind of non-human – and this makes it easier for him to use and abuse them.  Because his worldview is one of entitlement and superiority, he minimizes, excuses, and blames others for the wicked things he says and does to his victim.  After all, in his evaluation of the thing, he is absolutely justified in doing “what a man has to do” to keep his property in line.

Abusers have a degraded view of women.  This is often revealed in the vile, demeaning language they use toward their victim and also in other activities such as the use of pornography.  They view women as the enemy, out to get them, always conspiring and conniving to put a man down.

Raging is another common tactic of the abuser.  Often it comes in the form of a “surprise attack” for no apparent reason.  He can be getting something out of the refrigerator, for example, and suddenly start shouting and cursing and throwing things.  Raging can go on for quite some time while the victim cowers, fearing for her safety.  I actually remember having an elementary teacher who raged.   I was in the 4th grade and Mrs. Hale would suddenly, maybe once each month or so, launch into a shouting tirade against the entire class of 9 year olds.  It went on for quite some time.  Afterwards, as with most abuser blowups, there would be a kind of “make-up” phase in which she was extra nice to us.  Abusers who rage, however, are probably not really out of control, as we might think.  If they smash things for example, they often do so selectively – saving their own property.

Remember, power and control is what it is all about.  Abusers are not just guys with short tempers who happen to be relational “jerks.”  They are far more calculated and intentional than that. They know what they are doing, and they do it for a definite purpose.  One way we know this is true is from the mask they wear.  They wear their nice-guy mask when it is beneficial for them to do so, and reveal who they really are in more secretive settings where there are no outside witnesses.  That reeks of intentionality.

That is only a very brief introduction to the abuser mindset and arsenal of tactics.  For a much fuller treatment, please read Lundy Bancroft’s books which you will find on our Recommended Reading page.  Readers are invited to leave comments about additional abuser tactics and thinking in response to this article.

 

* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ  gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

 

27 Comments

  1. anonymous

    The 4th paragraph refers to “passive” abuse. Many of the examples given in books/articles are “active” (i.e. You’re fat, What’s wrong with you?, You can’t do anything right.) What are some examples of “passive” verbal/emotional abuse?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Passive abuse is “the silent treatment” for example. While all of us have been guilty of giving someone the silent treatment when we are angry, the abuser who uses it does so not so much out of anger but from a more cool intentionality. George Simon Jr., in his book In Sheep’s Clothing, deals at length with what he calls “covert aggression.” Some of the examples he gives of it are of a passive nature. The most common passive tactics of abuse though are based upon the scheme – “I will treat you as a non-person. I will function as if you don’t exist. I will punish you for not submitting to me.” That is the basic nature of passive abuse.

      • Jeff Crippen

        And there could be one other form of passive abuse. It is simply not doing anything. Not going to work. Not helping in the house. Not “taking care of business” like filing a tax return or paying a bill. It’s still abuse and is targeted at punishing the victim.

  2. Anonymous

    I’ve often wondered if an abuser knows what he is doing. Does he know his actions are twisted, but chooses to do them anyway? But if abuse is a mentality, then maybe it is more accurate to say that an abuser doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that when he says he loves his wife that, In fact, he doesn’t. He doesn’t know that when he tells his wife that God hasn’t let him “off the hook as head of the house” that, in fact, he doesn’t know what it means to be “head if the house”. He doesn’t know that the “voice” he claims to hear is, in fact, not the voice of God. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. Oh, what a dangerous place to be. May we all come before God and ask Him to show us what it is that we don’t know that we don’t know…

    • Jeff Crippen

      I think that the answer is “yes and no.” You are making some really good observations here. It is the abuser’s very nature to abuse. It is who he is and how he thinks. His mentality. Does such a person know what he is doing? Yes. And God holds him accountable for it. But does he get out of bed in the morning and say to himself, “today I am going to actively do something that is called abuse”? No. He does know what his motive is in doing all that he does – power and control. This is the nature of sin. It leads those enslaved to it “to and fro, however they are led.” They are in full agreement with it, though slaves to it (Ephesians 2:1ff). But they know, and they know as responsible, accountable creatures before God who will hold them accountable. The blindness of sin is indeed a terrible thing.

  3. Sam Vaknin (Malignant Self-Love) says that even if such a person is aware what they’re doing to someone is wrong, they don’t care enough [about their target] to stop doing it. Chilling.

    • Many people are not aware, but Sam Vaknin is himself a psychopath. Here is a quote from Wikipedia’s article about Vaknin:

      In 2009 he was the subject of an Australian documentary film, I, Psychopath, directed by Ian Walker. In a psychological evaluation administered in I, Psychopath, Vaknin met the criteria for psychopathy according to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, but did not meet the criteria for narcissism.

      I saw this documentary when it was aired on ABC TV Australia. In the documentary Vaknin was happy to admit to being a psychopath. I find it chilling that a man who is a psychopath makes his much of his living out of explaining to the world what psychopaths are like. I write this comment here to alert our readers to these facts.

      • I agree. It IS chilling. I read his work, however, because it was the closest to understanding I could get about the kinds of people with whom we need to be careful and protective of ourselves. Never will I grasp the possibility of such a mindset, but at least I have a better idea of what it can look like.

        A friend of mine and I read the book, The Art of Seduction. Well, part of it — I had to put it down because I couldn’t stomach it. We read it when we were young women so we could better identify predatory types and steer clear as often as possible (of course, they’re excellent “groomers”).

        How one could happily admit being a psychopath is incomprehensible. Incomprehensible.

      • Actually, I am not the expert in comparing the quality of different books on psychopathy, but I found Robert Hare’s book good. And I love Dr George Simon Jr’s work, which is not specific just to psychopathy but deals with character disorder and manipulative people in general. See this post on our blog for info about George Simon’s work. Dr George Simon Jr. — his internet writing and his books.

      • Thank you! I’m back to school for a mid-life second career — I’m doing a paper soon on evil in the modern world for one of my classes. I very much appreciate the reference to the post and to additional resource material.

      • Cool. Happy to be of help. 🙂

  4. yufei

    In your passage:

    They view women as the enemy, out to get them, always conspiring and conniving to put a man down.

    May I ask, if the abuser view women as the enemy, as someone who wishes to harm man, why would the man still maintain their relationship instead of breaking it off, only to continue the abuse?

    • Jeff Crippen

      yufei – because for the abuser, it is all about conquering, power, and control to which they believe they are entitled. This requires a victim.

  5. Debbie

    First off. I’ve gotten a lot of great info here. A couple of questions. How would the male privilege dynamic play play out with female on male abusers. There is no headship rationalization there. And same sex marriage violence. My bosses brother is a retired police officer and he has told her that gay dv (of either gender) as a rule is far uglier (in a big picture sense. Not referring to individual cases) than heterosexual violence. Again there is no traditional male/female dynamic to feed into this.

    Secondly. Might a corollary to this be that not everyone who is a relational is an abuser in the sense of the definition even if their behavior can be abusive? Like the person who just sees life negatively and takes that out on those around them. Or couples who both tear each other down verbally and may try to control each other in selected areas but there isn’t that overarching underlying dynamic described here.

    • How would the male privilege dynamic play play out with female on male abusers. There is no headship rationalization there.

      Good question. It is somewhat hard for us to answer, since the numbers of male victims (genuine victims, not abusive men who portray themselves as victims) is relatively small. I have read a lot more accounts from female victims than male victims.

      Christian men who are victims of domestic abuse are particularly liable to be guilted by “you must be willing to give up your life for your wife” (Eph 5). One of our readers, Jeff S, had that told to him by at least one man in his church. He found it excruciating, because his wife was seriously abusing him and since he though he had to be prepared to give up his life for his wife, he had no right to set boundaries against her abuse.

      We have a tag for Male Survivors on this blog. It has five posts in it at present. You might want to read those posts.

      One thing I have gleaned from all my reading: male victims of domestic abuse are likely to be told things like “You must be a wus! Can’t you keep your wife in line?” Bystanders might insinuate he is not a real man; that he is effeminate.

      Male victims have lots of similarities with female victims too: the male victim will be guilted by many of the same distorted Christian teachings that guilt female victims: “be more long-suffering” …. “you must forgive and forget” … etc.

    • And same sex marriage violence. My bosses brother is a retired police officer and he has told her that gay dv (of either gender) as a rule is far uglier (in a big picture sense. Not referring to individual cases) than heterosexual violence. Again there is no traditional male/female dynamic to feed into this.

      From my reading in the secular DV literature, I know that domestic abuse can also occur in same sex relationships. I hadn’t head what that police officer reported, so that’s interesting. I do know that one of the tactics often used by the abuser in a same-sex relationship is to threaten to ‘out’ the victim (disclose their gay or lesbian lifestyle to their family, workmates, etc.). This can be a powerful threat!

      Certainly the secular DV professionals now recognise that domestic violence occurs in same sex relationships. When they first came to realise this, it rather challenged the feminist analysis which was that domestic violence stems from patriarchy. The DV sector still recognises and agrees that gender inequality is the MAIN DRIVER of domestic abuse, but they now recognise that gender inequality is not the only contributor.

    • Secondly. Might a corollary to this be that not everyone who is a relational is an abuser in the sense of the definition even if their behavior can be abusive? Like the person who just sees life negatively and takes that out on those around them. Or couples who both tear each other down verbally and may try to control each other in selected areas but there isn’t that overarching underlying dynamic described here.

      Debbie, I think you have a typo in this paragraph. Can you clarify before I attempt to answer this question? Thanks.

      • Debbie

        Yes. I meant to say “relational jerk” as in not everyone who is a relational jerk or treats their spouse poorly or even takes awhile to see they are being a jerk even when told they are is an abuser in the textbook definition. And thus would call for a different way of handling the situation. Hope that makes sense!!!
        My phone is very bad type on at times! Sorry!

  6. Mark

    “First off. I’ve gotten a lot of great info here. A couple of questions. How would the male privilege dynamic play out with female on male abusers. There is no headship rationalization there.” Debbie, Feb. 11, 2016

    Debbie, may I attempt to answer your question as a man/husband who has lived more than thirty years abused by a woman/wife. Evil operating through the mechanics of abuse is not gender specific. But evil will find rationalization by perverting God’s word/truth to justify its action. Headship perverted, used by an evil wicked abusive man is simply his weapon of choice. For an abusive woman she may take the exact same doctrine of headship as her weapon of choice and undermine the man with a constant barrage of verbally abusive criticism, resulting in a complete lack of value and self worth.
    Once she has broken the man she blames him for his lack of authority and complete lack of “GODLY HEADSHIP.” She now uses the power and control she has gained to point out to the man that he is a total looser, not worthy of respect or HEADSHIP in the marriage. All this wicked evil behavior she fully rationalizes and justifies her actions.

    The only true motive behind both male and female abusers is a sense of entitlement and to maintain power and control over their victim. Evil does not discriminate, it gladly accepts male and female participants. Evil is an equal opportunity provider, gladly spreading its abusive toxins using both genders equally. I believe females are as abusive as males. Total depravity is totally equal in men and woman. God’s salvation is not needed more by males as it is females. The Genesis 3 curse, curses both man and woman and sets the stage for each gender to abuse one another if they don’t look to God for salvation and deliverance. Personally as The Lord has been delivering me from a life of being abused, He has allowed my path to cross the paths of other abuse victims, the majority of them being abused by wives, mothers or sisters. I don’t know completely what this means, but what I do know, females are practicing the same evil abuse as males and our eyes need to be open to that fact.
    Both Woman and Men are being damaged by abuse, to both we give our support by helping them know the truth that will set them free and supporting them with understanding and care as they heal.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I (JeffC) just wanted to let our readers know that I can vouch for Mark being a genuine abuse victim. His insights shared here are accurate. Thankyou Mark.

    • standsfortruth

      I agree Mark, abusers come in both genders, and I have been targeted by both many times.

    • I recently heard that an Arkansas DV shelter has opened a facility for male victims of domestic abuse (see here). They are finding that male victims of domestic abuse are being abused by a variety of perpetrators.

      “It can be brothers, it can be father and son, it can be other family members, and it can be partners,” says the director of the shelter.

      • Sparrow

        A response to Mark’s reply:
        Perpetrators CAN be both male and female. It is equally wrong and unacceptable.

        [Note from Eds: a paragraph was removed here because, while we basically agree with what the commenter said, we have a policy on this blog of trying to steer clear of statistics re the genders of perpetrators and victims. We prefer to leave the statistical debate to others, the academics and researchers who are fully qualified in assessing and commenting on the statistical findings. We hope you don’t mind, Sparrow.]

        The Church is the perfect place for abusers to thrive, [added by Eds: this is especially true for male abusers] BECAUSE of the teachings of male headship and female submission [in marriage], and so many other scripture twisting that goes on, in the context of abuse. (abuse is usually not even considered or acknowledged…it is viewed as a 50/50 issue)

        My abuser has gone to great lengths to continue the facade of being the victim, and if there was a group for abused men available to him, I have no doubt he would jump right in. It appears he enjoys the sympathy from his allies…”he is a husband who loves his wife, and is trying really hard to do whatever he can to reconcile, and she is being so unreasonable and rebellious…we just need to keep praying for her to soften her heart and forgive him.”

        He has joined a lot of groups and even has admitted to “hurting” me, he says the right things and obtains favor from the “right” people, and everyone buys it, hook, line, and sinker. And he has actually gotten more bold and confident in continuing to covertly abuse and slander me. It is grievous for either spouse to be betrayed in any form. In my experience, the devastation caused by a truly abusive spouse is the ultimate betrayal, and I grieve for true victims…male and female. I hope the experience of males who have been abused will only strengthen their desire to expose abuse and empathize with women who are in abusive situations and give them the resolve to discern the tactics of an abuser, male or female, rather than develope an “us or them” mentality.

      • Hi Sparrow, welcome to the blog 🙂

        We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

        It is VERY typical of abusers that they portray themselves as victims once their target leaves the relationship. This makes it incredibly hard for the real victim. Not only is the real victim stigmatized by others who the abuser has done a snow job on, the victim is made to feel even more intimidated about speaking up and saying “I am the victim! My spouse is the abuser!” because how can any naive bystander tell whether or not this claim is true?

        It is my observation, and I’m not alone in this, that men who abuse their intimate partners quite often gravitate to Fathers Rights Groups and the majority of men in those groups are actually perpetrators of abuse who are effectively portraying themselves as victims. This means that if a man who is a genuine victim goes to one of those groups, seeking support and validation, he is mixing with a den of vipers — and he probably won’t even realise that for a long time!

        See this post: Father’s rights organizations or Father’s supremacy organizations?

        But have no fear, Sparrow, we believe you, and we will support you. We’ve been running this blog and supporting victims of abuse for five years, and we recognise that from what you wrote you are the victim and your husband is the Abuser.

  7. Sparrow

    Thank you Barbara,

    I visit ACFJ on a regular basis just to maintain my sanity as well as having support regarding abuse and an understanding of what God’s word really says about it. I have your book, Jeff’s, and Lundy Bancroft’s along with so many other resources that I’m so grateful for…they have helped me survive this ordeal. I have been in an abusive marriage well over a decade, and have been through “Christian” marriage counseling for half our marriage. The exposure of chronic porn use was what initiated counseling to begin with, and my abuser was able to manipulate and gaslight me and the many counselors we went to and keep the focus on “two sinners”, and “what about her”. He doesn’t have a problem admitting to just enough that it appears he’s taking responsibility, and really gaining the confidence of the counselors. But when I share his attitude towards me has gotten worse, I’m completely dismissed and instructed to take the log out of my own eye…I continued to seek help knowing that my husband wasn’t truly repentant and that true reconciliation could not happen…

    I finally got the courage to pursue freedom, and I’m in the process of divorce…the lying, manipulation, and slander continue, and I have been alienated by the church, (another trauma!) but I know God hasn’t abandoned me. I have been living in a fight or flight state for years, and I feel like the hypervigilence has altered my personality. It is a relief to know I wasn’t crazy…but also devastating to understand that my life with my husband wasn’t what I was being led to believe it was. (It was just one big perpetual gaslight) It has been a painful and lonely road to try to walk in the truth. I am still trying to find a church community where I’m not shunned or where victims are silenced or invisible.

  8. Finding Answers

    Pastor Jeff wrote “Please read carefully and you will learn that domestic violence and abuse are far, far more than “wife battering,” or some difficult guy who gets drunk on Saturday nights.”

    The ongoing triggers resulting from the abusers’ behaviour is equally wide ranging in definition and response.

Trackbacks

  1. Recommended: Abuse 101 from A Cry for Justice « Thoroughly Christian Divorce

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