Why Does He Abuse Me?
“Why is he abusing me?”
“Does he know what he’s doing?”
“Can he change?”
This article is essential reading.
It will explain your life to you and help you understand so much!
Most of the information in this post comes from the work of Dr. George Simon, Ph.D., author of “In Sheep’s Clothing” and “Character Disturbance,” and an expert on covert abusers.
Other explanations don’t make sense.
You may have read about abusers and narcissism on the internet and found that although some of it has brought insight, some of the explanations about why abusers, and especially narcissists, act the way they do may not have made sense to you in your gut.
You may have thought “They were hurt as kids? But so were a lot of other people who don’t act this way.”
“They are empty inside and are projecting a ‘false self?’ But then why are they so confident?”
When you read explanations that don’t sit right with you, trust your gut and keep looking for answers.
Cultural explanations about why men abuse have failed us
This post will briefly cover the newest research into the psychology of behavior, and I’ve made it easy to understand. You’ll find out why abusers do what they do and you’ll see how most of what you’ve learned about abusers has set you up to be victimized.
Let’s start with a quick overview of what our society believes.
Back in the Victorian era, the late 1800s, Freud created the foundation of the cultural psychology we all just take for granted as true.
This theory places everyone on a continuum:
It teaches that everyone has at least some characteristics that Freud called “neurotic.” Back then “neurotic” didn’t have a negative connotation, it was just a description of someone who’s underlying psychology is based in excessive fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, low self-worth, and insecurity, leading to a poor self-image.
• try hard to please others to feel valuable
• have high levels of empathy
• have strong consciences
• hear that little voice in their heads to do right, be responsible, or stop when they’re contemplating doing wrong.
According to Freud’s theory, everyone falls on the above continuum and has these traits to some degree.
But there’s been more research and understanding of psychology since Freud’s time – it’s just not part of public awareness yet.
Thanks to the newest research, we know that everyone falls on this continuum–somewhere between neurotic and character disturbed:
On the far end of the character disturbed continuum are people with Personality Disorders, those who are Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths, and Histrionics.
If you're dealing with a character disturbed person as though he’s neurotic, you’ll run into all sorts of trouble, to say the least.
Character disturbed people have problems with self-image too, but their problem is an inflated sense of self-worth. They are over-secure not insecure, have a sense of entitlement to get what they want, and feels things are owed to them.
In addition, they
• are not motivated by pleasing others
• lack self-restraint
• have little shame
• are not bothered enough by what they do
• have little or no empathy
• have a remarkably underdeveloped conscience
• have a weak value system of right and wrong
• don’t stop themselves when they want to do something they shouldn’t do
How do you tell is someone is character disturbed?
If someone is acting selfish and you think, “What’s wrong with them?” they are either neurotic or not very far on the disturbed end of the continuum.
But if you think “What is wrong with me?” they are definitely character disturbed and using covert tactics on you.
Character Disturbed people don’t think the way the rest of us do
Let’s take a closer look at how they think.
As you read through this, think about whether you see your abuser in any of these descriptions.
Self-centered: They don’t consider what others need or how their behavior impacts others because of their lack of empathy.
Superiority: They are arrogant and see themselves as better than others, but covert abusers hide this.
Controlling: The seek power and superiority in relationships with other people. Covert abusers do this in sneaky, off the radar ways so they don’t seem to be controlling.
Shameless and guiltless: They may be embarrassed if exposed, but not ashamed for their abuse. They don’t think of the rightness or wrongness of their behavior; instead they focus on advancing their own purposes.
Lie easily: They misrepresent their reasons for saying or doing things, and say whatever is necessary to deflect your suspicion.
Manipulative: They understand us well and are skilled at using our emotions against us, such as making us feel guilty or rude for even questioning their motives.
Focused on impression management: They want to appear to be a kind, caring person to disguise their motives so we don’t understand who they are.
They don’t trust others. They are easily offended.
Extreme all or nothing, black-and-white thinking: For example, they think that if someone disagrees with them, they must not value any of their opinions. This can make them uncompromising.
They want to be right. They tend to make others wrong.
They only see two positions in a relationship: To them someone always wins by maintaining power and control, and someone always loses by giving up control. From their standpoint if you exercise power in your life then you’re taking power away from them.
Abusers lack EMPATHY and CHOOSE to hurt people to get what
they want because they feel entitled.
Covert abusers use underhanded ways to get what they want so they can hide their aggressive agendas and manipulations.
They aren’t the least bit interested in a mutual relationship with shared decision-making and control.
character disturbed people can be overt or covert
Among character disturbed people, some are overt in their behavior and attitudes, and some are covert. The schoolyard bully, and the loud, arrogant narcissist are overt and obvious. It’s worth noting that many who are overt also use covert tactics since they are so effective.
Those who are completely covert are also intent on controlling, getting what they want, dominating the relationship, and winning. But they are shrewd and deceptive enough to hide what they are doing. It can take years before their target realizes that there is anything wrong.
Our incorrect understanding of psychology has brought trouble and confusion to our lives.
We don’t see their true motivations
As a society we’ve been taught that everyone is driven by fear, guilt and shame, and has a strong conscience. The assumption is that someone abuses because they are troubled, were hurt as children, or has low self-esteem, and that most won’t admit abusive behavior because it’s too painful to face.
There are so many problems with this. For starters, it’s not true. But worse, it sets us up to be victimized because we misinterpret their behavior and don’t see what’s really going on.
Abusers know what we believe and use it to their advantage
They use the tactic of playing the victim to get our sympathy, and the tactic of pretending they didn’t mean to do what they did to hide what they are up to.
Our compassion is used against us
When we assume that people only hurt others because they are hurting, and that someone only abuses another if they were abused, our compassion gets used against us.
Abusers have the same amount of childhood trauma as everyone else, and well-balanced (or neurotic) people who were abused or traumatized as kids don’t hurt others because they know what that pain feels like and don’t want to inflict it on anyone. Abusers are lacking empathy.
We think they are like us inside
It’s natural for us to use our own experience and self-awareness to understand other’s behavior. For example, if you made an unkind remark about someone and it got back to them, you know how ashamed you would feel. You might deny you ever said it, or put as positive a ‘spin’ as you could on it.
When we see our abuser doing this, we assume that their reason for doing so is the same as ours was- shame.
But abusers are lacking in shame and are actually trying to confuse us and hide their intentions.
We try to understand them, lose sight of their aggression, and blame ourselves
When they act superior, we think it’s because of low self-esteem.
We wonder what fears or insecurities are causing them to do what they do and what’s bothering them so badly underneath that makes them act that way. We might wonder what we have said or done that threatened or upset them.
Nothing is bothering them, and we haven’t caused their behavior. They’re acting that way because they’re seeking the control and power they feel entitled to.
We lose the ability to trust our gut
Covert abusers do everything they can to conceal what they are doing, but down deep inside we suspect that something is terribly wrong
We are caught between their charm, smooth explanations, and cunningly shifting the blame on to us, and our believing all these wrong theories of behavior. We’ve lost touch with the most important part of ourselves- our gut instinct.
We’re unable to see that they are simply scheming to get something they want and to have power and control.
Are you beginning to see the many ways that traditional psychology has set you up to be victimized?
Abuser aren’t defensive– they are on the offensive
Traditional psychology teaches that all people are in denial as a defense mechanism to protect against emotional pain, guilt or shame.
We wonder “Why are they so defensive?” when we discuss things with our abuser.
Think about a mother whose son is in the hospital after a car accident. He’s on life support with no chance of recovery, yet she believes he’ll recover. She may tell her friends “He’s strong, I know he’ll pull through.” She’s protecting herself from facing the pain of losing him. That is the defense mechanism of denial to protect ourselves from pain.
Now think about the school bully in recess who shoves another student. A teacher sees this and confronts him. He says “What? I didn’t do anything.” If the teacher persists, the bully will change tactics and say “It was an accident.”
Haven’t we been taught that, underneath it all, the bully is insecure and feels so badly about what he does that he can’t admit it?
How the bully really thinks
Actually the bully is comfortable with his behavior. He doesn’t see anything wrong with it which is why he did it so easily in the first place. He knows his behavior is unacceptable and that there are consequences, but he doesn’t want to face them or change.
He knows his best bet is to convince other people that they are in error, they didn’t see what they saw, they are judging him all wrong, and they should back off.
Acting innocent and vehemently denying while intimidating someone to back off is a common tactic to get someone to doubt their perception and to give in.
When he is verbally denying, it’s not actually denial. He’s fighting for the upper hand and lying so he won’t get caught.
Abusers are not being defensive
They are using covert offensive tactics to get us to back off. We need to clearly see these behaviors as manipulation and control.
The sneaky ways of the covert abuser
When we are faced with an entirely covert emotional and psychological abuser, one who doesn’t act as obviously aggressive as a bully, we live in a deep state of confusion.
There’s no outward aggression, they play the victim role with great skill, and get us to feel sorry for them. Because we think they are hurting, we are being thoroughly manipulated.
They know how to play us, and are doing it well. And we are slowly going crazy and dying inside, unable to see that what’s making us crazy is outside of us.
We need to remember that even though everything they are doing is hidden, sneaky and under the radar, they are just like the bully. They are using covert behaviors to manipulate and control others and get what they want.
Get wise about abusers
Can you now see how traditional psychology has put us in the position that when someone is attacking or manipulating us, we feel sorry for them and we don’t see that they are fighting to get something and to have their way with us?
Can you now see how this has caused your confusion?
It was never your fault
Hopefully you are now feeling immense relief that your life was just explained to you.
I hope you are seeing that you are not a fault for being abused and you have never been given the skills to understand, let alone defend yourself against, covert aggression and abuse.
If you are feeling fear about what this means for your life, that is totally normal. Now that you know what you are dealing with, it can inform your thoughts and decisions.
Take your time and let this settle in.
Now let’s tackle four common questions:
Do they believe what they are saying?
Can they change?
How did they get this way?
Do they know what they are doing?
Do they believe what they are saying?
They speak with such conviction that it is easy to think they believe it. Some character disturbed people are just using tactics to maintain control and will say whatever works.
Others, especially those who are on the far end of the continuum such as narcissists and sociopaths, can be so arrogant and sure of themselves (even though they may hide it) that they have convinced themselves that their perspective is always accurate.
Whether they know they are lying or are believing their own lies, you should have deep cause for concern about being with them.
Can they change?
This depends on whether or not they are character disturbed.
All character disturbed people are abusive, but not all abusive people are character disturbed. For example, many people who are addicts can be abusive while using, but are not character disturbed.
You get to determine if your abuser is character disturbed.
Very few change
Unfortunately, if someone is character disturbed, you really can’t expect a significant change in their personality, values or attitudes.
I know this sounds harsh and is hard for empathetic people to believe, but here’s why.
Even though they can change with hard work, most won’t because
• they won’t take feedback
• they feel entitled to act this way
• they don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.
We know they can change when they choose to because therapists who understand character disturbance and treat it appropriately have had success helping character disturbed people change when they want to. But few want to.
According the Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why Does He Do That?” statistically around 2% of abusers ever change.
We can’t make them change
We who are empathetic hope we can make our abuser change by telling them that they are hurting us. This doesn’t work because abusers have little or no empathy
We hope we can help abusers change by giving them more understanding, patience, compassion, and love. But remember, they aren’t abusing us because they are hurting.
This hope keeps us in the abuse, on the merry-go-round and never out the other side. It makes us vulnerable because abusers use our compassion against us and amp up their pity play and manipulation.
You get to decide for yourself
Most women need to spend some time making sure that their abuser won’t change before making life-altering decisions. You will get support for that here. I will be posting a much longer article about how to tell if he will change soon.
How did they get this way?
There are lots of theories out there about this and, quite frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer at this point. Most evidence points to it being a choice they learned at some point, which they continue to make because it works. We know they can choose to stop if they want.
They choose to abuse
No matter how they became character disturbed, they are continuing their abuse through free will. The responsibility to change lies solely on them.
Do they know what they are doing?
It’s natural for decent women to find some things unimaginable – especially that the man we think loves us is hurting us on purpose.
To face the truth, and to make good decisions for our lives, we need to think clearly about this.
Covert abusers know
• when to turn their games on and off
• precisely how manipulate your emotions and mind to get the response they want
• how to make you doubt yourself
• how to use others against you
• how to disguise their motives with disarming and effective reassurances such as “I only want you to be happy,” or “I’m trying to help you out”
• how to instill confusion by deliberately misrepresenting their reasons for saying or doing certain things
• when to lie and do whatever is necessary to get rid of your slightest suspicion, let alone your outright accusation or confrontation
• how to make you feel guilty for even questioning their motives
They don’t need awareness
Many women wonder if abusers know what they are doing because, not being character disturbed, they naturally think that making another person aware that he’s hurting them should be sufficient to make them change. Has this ever helped with your abuser?
If he knows he’s hurting you and continues the behavior, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and doesn’t care about your feelings. He’s out to advance his own interests and goals at your expense.
Most abusers are fully conscious and intentional about what they do.