Any person, male or female, can be an abuser to any other male or female.
Any type of close relationship such as marriage or homosexual partnerships, parent-child relationships, caregiver-elderly relationships and any other you can think of could be or become abusive.
Women experience abuse more often than men, although newer statistics show the gap between women and men as victims of abuse is closing. However, you will most often see women referred to as victims of domestic abuse because “men commit 86 to 97 percent of all criminal assaults and women are killed 3.5 times more often than men in domestic homicides” (The Deluth Model). As a society, we tend to assume abusers are all men and victims are women. This assumption is wrong. Men must be taken seriously when they reveal they are abused.
You might hear abuse called domestic violence, domestic abuse, family violence, intimate partner violence, wife or spousal abuse, violence against women, battering, assault or mental and emotional cruelty. No matter what you call abuse, the purpose of abusing anyone is to gain power over them.
People who abuse others are called abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, controllers, manipulators and monsters. Not all abusers are or could be diagnosed with sociopathy/psychopathy, narcissism or any other mental disorder. There is no proof that abusers are affected by mental illness or addictions at a rate higher than people who do not abuse. Some people believe abusers are conscienceless and simply do not care or understand that their victim hurts. Others believe abusers know exactly what they’re doing and know it is wrong.
No one knows for sure at this time because the one thing abusers do have in common is the idea that they are entitled or always right, so very few abusers participate in psychological studies or counseling because they have it all figured out. Abusers tend to believe that the rest of us are weak and wrong.
Abuse of Power
All types of abuse is an abuse of power. Although anger issues and/or substance abuse might be involved in abusive relationships, those problems are not the cause of abuse. The cause of the abuse is the person who abuses.
Abuse of power can take on physical, sexual, verbal, financial, social, emotional, or psychological forms. Some types of abuse are against the law, but verbal abuse is not one of them. Verbal abuse is the foundation of all domestic violence and abuse, but you cannot put someone in jail for saying what they want to say. Verbal abuse signals that there is also emotional and mental abuse in the relationship. Verbal abuse also foretells physical violence.
If your abuser sexually assaults, threatens to assault or kill, takes your money or possessions, stalks you or abuses your children, you can press charges against them.
Types of abuse
Remember that there s no excuse for someone to abuse you or anyone else. Abuse is never the victim’s fault even though the abuser may say it is. Each of us are responsible for our behavior; none of us can control another person’s behavior. If someone abuses you, tell someone – a crisis line volunteer, family member, friend, school counselor, therapist, . . . someone you trust.
Verbal abuse comes in many forms and fashions. It includes body language as well as what you can hear. Sometimes verbal abuse and emotional abuse seem to be the same because we communicate emotionally abusive ideas with words. Some body language that is verbal abuse includes pretending to choke you, drawing an imaginary knife across the throat, laughing in your face and pretending to beat or kill you pet. There are many distinct types of verbal abuse discussed on this website.
Financial abuse can occur even when the victim has access to the couple’s money. For example, the abuser may insist the victim controls the finances so there is always a reason to berate the victim. Abusers also use money to control what victims spend on groceries, bills, clothes or other things. Oftentimes, the allowance given is unrealistic and comes short of what is needed. Abusers may refuse to pay the bills, make victims hand over money or paychecks and leave victims out of financial decisions. Abusers may insist their victim not work, and this, over time, erodes the victim’s ability to find a job with a reasonable wage.
Emotional and Mental Abuse
Crazy-making, gaslighting and brainwashing are all types of emotional and mental abuse. Abusers may refuse to acknowledge you in conversation, keep their whereabouts secret, use put-downs and insults, withdraw physically and emotionally, find fault in all the victim does or says.
Abusers will hurt their victim’s feelings in public through insults, creating an embarrassing scene, setting victims up to fail in front of their children, family, friends or strangers or flat-out and obviously ignoring their victims in public. Abusers can prevent their victims from seeing friends and family and often act nicely in front of others while acting like a jerk (or worse) when alone with their victim. Abusers can go the other route and act hostile or rude to their victim’s friends, family or children. Abusers can threaten to have you deported or steal your passport.
Abusers will threaten or commit sexual assault and rape. Abusers will threaten to harm their victim’s reputation, put them down sexually and compare them unfavorably to other people. Abusers will treat their victim as a sex object with no concern for their feelings. Abusers cheat and lie about it while accusing the victim of cheating. Abusers will withdraw their sexual affections or continually insist on having sex with their victim (or others).
Many people consider physical abuse to be actions that hurt the victim physically (punching, kicking, choking, slapping, pulling hair, etc.). Physical abuse also occurs when the abuser restrains the victim or prevents the victim from leaving, shoving or pushing and otherwise treating the victim roughly. Poking or grabbing the victim along with any type of unwanted physical touching or hugging is physical abuse.
Who is Abused?
Men, women and children are abused regardless of their age, race, religion, education level, economic background, culture or community status.
Men, women and children, regardless of their age, race, religion, education level, economic background, culture or community status, can abuse someone. When it comes to children abusing others, we typically speak of bullying at school.
Why Do Victims Stay in Abusive Relationships?
There are many barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. One large barrier is the abuse itself. Abuse causes people to lose faith in themselves, and if you don’t believe in yourself, you cannot help yourself. Leaving abuse is extremely difficult and becomes moreso the longer a victim stays or if there are abusive relationships in the victim’s past.
Other barriers include financial concerns, religious and cultural beliefs, and the victim’s belief in the abuser when s/he says, “I will kill myself,” “I will kill our children” or “I will kill you if you leave.” The fear of death at the hands of an abuser is very real. Law enforcement deals with new cases of murder-suicide due to domestic violence every day.
Why Do Abusers Abuse?
Instead of asking why victims stay, we could ask why abusers seek to control, manipulate, hurt and abuse others. The problem is the abuser’s behavior, not the victim’s behavior. The act of abusing someone requires power over that person’s choices, behaviors and thoughts. It doesn’t require total control, just enough to keep the victim scared of finding out what will happen if they vary from the abuser’s rules. It really isn’t too hard to understand why someone stays in an abusive relationship when they fear what would happen if they left it.
Abusers abuse for a variety of reasons. No matter what the reason for the abuse, at any point the victim could decide that why their partner abuses them is not nearly as important as saving themselves from further abuse. It is our job to be ready and willing to help when the victim’s have had enough.
The Power and Control Wheel Pattern of Abuse
For many people, abuse and violence start after a triggering event that causes the abuser to believe the victim will not or cannot leave the relationship. Triggering events can be sexual intercourse, meeting parents, pregnancy, engagement, marriage, buying a house, or any other situation the abuser identifies as a commitment. There is no way to predict what event may trigger an abuser to begin abusing. There is no way to predict what kind of abuse will come first. The abuser will say or do whatever s/he thinks necessary to gain and maintain power and control over the victim.
The power and control wheel is gender specific. It came about after studying male aggression towards women because women are more likely than men to be victims of control and violence. This is not to say that women abusers do not behave in the same way, only that there are not studies to support that the genders wield power and control in the same way.
You will see the words “power and control” in the center of the Deluth Model Power and Control Wheel. The outer edges of the wheel say “physical violence sexual” to represent both physical and sexual violence as results of the desire for control. The spokes of the wheel name the ways in which abusers attempt to satisfy their need to control. The methods of gaining and maintaining control include: using coercion, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, children and male privilege. Download the Power and Control Wheel to print.
The Cycle of Abuse
Sometimes there is a cycle of violence that many victims of abuse recognize. However, adopting the cycle of violence as the absolute explanation of domestic abuse puts victims in a bad spot. After all, if a victim knows what the stages are, then why doesn’t he or she leave before the next argument? The psychology of abuse is not that simple. It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship.
Because so many victims recognize the cycle, I’ll explain it and you can decide if you experience it or not.
In the first stage of the cycle, the abuser’s anger and tension build (sometimes slow, sometimes immediate).
The second stage begins when the abuser verbally abuses the victim, threatens the victim or something s/he loves or strikes the victim. The abuser might stage a show of force, punching walls or otherwise asserting dominance and control.
The third stage of the cycle is the “honeymoon” stage. The cooling down or making up that happens during this stage may or may not feel like a honeymoon, but often the abuser acts so contrite that the victim feels compelled to forgive him or her, or at least to put the ugliness out of mind in hope it doesn’t happen again.
After that period of peace (which may get shorter and shorter until the victim no longer recognizes it), the tension builds and the abuse explodes. No one can predict what triggers abuse, but victims often attempt to read the abuser’s mind in hope of avoiding it. Eventually, the victim lives in an on-guard state all of the time in an attempt to prevent future violence of hand or word.
Are you abused?
Take the Am I Abused Quiz to find out.
How Does Abuse Affect a Person?
Long-term symptoms of abuse range from depression and anxiety to suicide. Victims feel worthless and helpless much of the time and blame themselves for the situation they are in and the relationship problems. Victims could turn to substance abuse to dull the pain or may be forced into substance abuse by their abuser. Victims feel hopeless like they may never feel truly happy again.
The effects of verbal, emotional or psychological abuse are largely invisible – especially when the abuser has effectively employed isolation from family and friends.
How Are Children Who Witness Domestic Abuse Affected?
Children have better hearing than we adults think they do. If there is abuse of any kind in the household, the children will hear it and form their own opinions of what is happening and which end of the yelling they want to be on when they grow up. Children exposed to domestic violence could be as negatively affected as children who directly experience sexual or physical abuse.
Children could display symptoms of abuse like bed-wetting, act scared or confused and try to take care of the abused parent. Children can also formulate some unhealthy ideas such as punishment equals love, violence at home is normal and that when they get big they can bully other grown-ups too.