With so many opinions and definitions in our culture about abuse, how do you define abuse?
Must a bruise be present for you to believe your friend or neighbor is being abused? If there is not bruising, can abuse still be happening in a home? Why is it when women sit in my office trying to share with me their story of abuse their eyes are hooked on the floor, shame is palpable in the room, words start to flow out of their mouths but then stop as though they are scared to say anything? I believe abused women are scared to say, “I’m being abused” because they are often disregarded and misunderstood.
It seems fair to say that as a culture we do not fully grasp what abuse is and the many forms it presents itself.
The following definition of abuse can be found at Crying Out For Justice. Its a little long, but please stick with me.
“Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.
While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.”
Was your definition similar to the one above? In my experience, we tend to think about someone who abuses as simply having an anger problem. We say, “If he would just go to an anger-management program and counseling and work hard everything will be fine.” This is how I used to think, but not anymore.
I have been learning a lot about the nature of abusive men. Partly because of my own personal story and partly because I work with many who are wounded by abuse. Our society seems to think that an abuser just needs to change his behavior by going to counseling, anger-management classes, and read books (or some variation thereof).
But an abuser doesn’t need to change his behavior, he needs to change his beliefs.
His fundamental thinking in which he believes he is entitled to treat his spouse however he would like. For me, this shift in thinking has monumentally changed how I view abusive men and how I care for those who have been wounded.
Did you know…
-An abuser isn’t always abusive? He will go through days and months without being abusive. This can cause confusion on behalf of the abused.
-An abuser wants to create as much confusion as possible to those seeking to “figure him out”. So he will try to get you (the abused, the counselor, the friend, the pastor) to focus in the wrong direction. Oftentimes this will look like the abuser blaming the spouse for all of the relational problems and painting himself to be the victim.
-An abuser is usually the guy everyone likes. He’s easily likable, enjoyable, and can tend to come across as laid-back.
-An abuser will want you to focus on his feelings but not his thinking. He fears that if you figure out his thinking you will strip him of his power to control. Hence why he seeks to create as much confusion as possible (see above).
It is important that we begin to grasp the nature of abusers so that we can see it, stop it, and seek to bring healing.
-By Lianne Johnson, LPC
*For this post I used the male gender to represent the abuser and the female to represent the abused. The genders could easily be reversed, and in no way am I saying it can’t. Some of the above thoughts are adapted from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?, which is an amazingly great book.