Abuse: Through the Eyes of the Abuser (Part 1 of 2)
In my counseling practice, client cases typically fit a specific patient profile. In other words, I have usually seen it before. That certainly is the pattern as I look through the eyes of the abuser.
I define an abuser as one who uses the power of words or physical prowess as a means of manipulating and controlling significant others. Generally, the perpetrator chooses to forgo counseling or psychiatric assistance on a voluntary basis. However, he may attend conjoint counseling when his partner provides an ultimatum. The abuser may be mandated by the court to seek anger management support and will attend reluctantly. The abuser generally has minimal insight into the significance of his problem. Raging and physical intimidation emerge naturally out of a sense of entitlement. The underlying assumption of the perpetrator of violence is, "People must act the way I want them to or they will pay for their actions." Typically, the aggressor's underlying worldview crystallizes in response to family-of-origin issues involving dysfunctional behavior of his parents.
The victimizer has never processed childhood conflict. She may have been abused herself or witnessed abuse at the hands or words of a parent. The aggressor experiences psychic numbing that emerges out of her own victimization and never gets closure on her history by grieving it and letting it go. Instead, the abuser repeats the intergenerational cycle of trauma, projecting her rage and anger on those she supposedly values.
Often, the victim is confounded by the behavior of the abuser. Those who control, rage, and intimidate can be the kindest and most gentle of people. They can put their "best foot forward" and gain the admiration and respect of significant people in their lives. Their "dusty corners" are hidden from most — with the exception of their most intimate relationships.
The perpetrator's fluctuation of moods makes the problem perplexing. One moment, he may be cordial and communicative, and in a "heart beat" will shift to monumental moodiness filled with venom toward the victim. The unpredictable nature of the abuser makes those around him scramble for cover. One aspect that makes abuse troublesome is that the perpetrator of aggression never appears to appreciate that he has a problem. He can victimize loved ones through the trauma of painful assaults or words and then justify his action as necessary. Another scenario is the abuser who repeatedly apologizes for his misbehavior and expects others to promptly forgive and forget. The abuser may flare if loved ones don't immediately respond by forgetting that any wrong doing has occurred.
Perpetrators of violent behavior tend to be characterological in nature. By that I mean that they have a propensity to blame others for their actions rather than take responsibility for the perpetuation of aggression. Their emotional and behavioral difficulties tend to be more pervasive, in the sense that their pathological behavior goes to the core of their personality. Often, perpetrators of abuse may suffer from psychological disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and other psychological symptoms. Without therapeutic treatment and psychotropic medication management, abusers tend to chronically re-offend.
Some of the personality characteristics of the abuser are:
- They tend to use power and control as a means of altering their environment.
- They are highly manipulative in words and actions.
- They tend to believe that they are always "right."
- They view life dichotomously — (either or thinking).
- They generally were either abused or pampered as children.
- They have minimal insight into the "dark side" of their personality.
- They believe that they are entitled to have life treat them "fairly."
- They exhibit poor impulse control and maintain an aggressive style of relating.
- They are self-centered, rigid, and lack the capacity to view things from other people's perspective.
- They are highly insecure, feel inferior, and are defensive.
Abusers lack the insight and sensitivity necessary to understand the damage that they may inflict on others. They feel justified in projecting anger and rage on those closest to them. They rarely seek help because they feel that their actions are warranted based upon their worldview. The prognosis for healing among those who abuse is not positive unless intense therapeutic intervention in willingly sought.
James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an author, contributing writer to FamilyResource.com and a certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached through his website at krehbielcounseling.com.
(This is the first part of a two part series. Click to read Part 2)