7 Keys to Understanding Abusers

Oh boy am I opening a major can of worms here. It's just that it's time. I've spent most of my life trying to understand why people mistreat others. I believe that villianizing people causes more harm. Think of it as befriending the demon or standing beside the monster. Wishing something gone actually gives it more power. Our only hope to change the cycle is going to be because we got behind someone else's eyes. I want to share what I've learned.

The people who abuse won't think this blog is about them. The people who have been abused will soak up this article. The people who realize they've mistreated others and who want to change will learn some things from this blog. And anyone who enjoys understanding human behavior will enjoy this article.

So here goes. First piece to understand:

1. Hurt people hurt people. You've heard it before and it's still true. What does this mean? An abuser was abused. [Just for the sake of simplicity, I will call the abuser "he". Of course, women are abusers too.] He was a child trying to survive and he learned how to best avoid abuse. He developed coping mechanisms which he may or may not be aware of. These mechanisms play out in his relationships.

He is merely trying to protect himself from getting hurt using the survival skills he learned as a child. He doesn't realize that his software needs to be updated and that he's actually CREATING the very experiences that he wants to avoid. You experience what you focus on. Test my theory....

He may or may not understand consciously that he was abused. If he understands that he was abused, he may see himself as a victim and walk through life expecting to be mistreated, being angry most of the time, and believing that his outbursts are justified.

If he acknowledges that he was abused and wants to HEAL for REAL, (not just to give lip service to a therapist), he will embark on an incredibly painful and honest recovery journey. (In my experience, there are a few who do this and it does work, but who wants to open up deep old wounds and feel all the pain and do all the hard work? It makes sense why most people don't choose this route....)

2. The second thing you need to understand is that deep down, abusers do not like themselves. You could say they feel insecure or ashamed or unworthy. This is very hard to accept because they do not present like this. They deny what they really feel and act how they want you to perceive them. This act takes lots of energy.

The truth is, they are experiencing deep internal conflict most of the time. They feel bad and they don't know why they feel bad and they want to feel good. So they do things to experience pleasure, something that brings an immediate change of state like drinking, drugging, eating, or having sex. That's why the link between abuse and addiction is so strong. 

When an abuser gets triggered and reaches a level of emotional escalation that is off the charts, "blowing his top" or "losing his mind", he literally cannot control himself. His fight/flight/freeze response is fully activated, his adrenals have taken over his nervous system, his survival mechanisms are fully engaged, and he cannot access his rational brain. When he abuses/acts out/loses it, he's not really aware of what he's doing.

3. So now understand this: Once he has calmed down and you try to talk rationally about it, he cannot identify with that other guy. He will create a story in his head that minimizes the reality of what actually happened. He may deny it completely or he may make excuses for it.

If an abuser is not willing to be painfully honest with himself and do lots of hard internal work, he will create an alternate reality that makes it OK to mistreat others. He will NOT see what he's doing as abusive.

True change requires DEEP INTERNAL WORK. Short of this, nothing is going to change. The cycle plays out the same every time. 

4. Not only will he not acknowledge what he did as a violation, he will see himself as the VICTIM. I know, this sounds insane and it is, but this is how it works.

And because he believes he was wronged, you will NOT get the abuser to acknowledge their part in the abuse. This is because the abuser does not call what happened abuse. When the abuser crosses a boundary, he feels justified because of what you did to make him feel a certain way. Read that again: when an abuser violates a boundary, he feels JUSTIFIED because of what YOU DID to MAKE HIM FEEL a certain way. 

And also because of this, you will NOT get an apology. The abuser will NOT make amends.

Let's back up and examine boundary violations for a minute. Just because something isn't illegal or just because you don't have evidence or just because the abuser didn't get caught doesn't mean it didn't happen or that the abuse was OK. Boundary violations include but are not limited to: 

  • Reading your journal
  • Lying to you and to the people you know 
  • Talking to your children about you to get information
  • Coming into your house uninvited
  • Using what you said in confidence against you
  • Referencing social media posts after he has been blocked
  • Trolling your social media accounts and lying about it
  • Threatening to do something to your child
  • Putting their finger in your chest
  • Grabbing your wrists
  • Threatening or manipulating your finances
  • Threatening to get your family in trouble
  • Threatening to show evidence against you
  • Following you
  • Opening your car door uninvited
  • Blocking you from driving

Back to the part where he BLAMES you for his actions. He believes that you made him angry and therefore YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for what he did when he was angry. Yes you read that correctly. I know, it's not fair or right, but you want to try to understand, right?

5. The fifth piece to understand is that you will be seen as the perpetrator by the abuser and the people who believe him. I know this sounds a lot like narcissism. The problem with that label is that narcissists don't see themselves as narcissists. They are very cunning and can be charming and believable. I'm a smart women and I've fallen into this trap many times. 

6. The abuser BELIEVES his lies. This one took me awhile to understand and accept. How can someone flat out LIE ALL THE TIME? It's because in his altered reality, he believes his lies. He doesn't see them as lies. It's not hard to spin something to match your beliefs. It's not hard at all. This is why he won't admit that he's lying and why he won't apologize. His story feels true to him.

 Because of this and many other reasons, you will question your sanity. How can it be so obvious to you that lines were crossed and minimally, your experience should be validated? It would feel just to get acknowledgement, apologies, and amends. But instead, you get blamed for what happened. The abuser becomes the victim. And many times, in your quest to get resolution, you will be violated again.

The whole cycle is crazy making. But once you understand what you're dealing with, you know that you can OWN YOUR EXPERIENCE. It was REAL. Know you were mistreated and stop there.

7. Trying to get resolution, understanding, an apology, etc. is a complete waste of your energy and will lead to DIS-EASE. The only thing you need to do is accept all of this and spend your energy taking care of yourself. Get AWAY from the abuse first. Get support. And then spend your time learning why you are a receptacle for this kind of person.

Do all the research about addiction, codependency, narcissism, abuse, and trauma. Get therapy or coaching. Learn to forgive yourself and others. 

Learn how to love yourself. Process your emotions. Be compassionate with yourself. Do something purposeful. ENJOY YOUR LIFE.

You owe it to yourself, your family, and the people you work with. THE END.

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