Abuse is evil. God hates it!1

Why does an abuser abuse? What is going through his mind?

Abuse of power

Jason Harris explains the relationship between abuse and power.

Abuse implies there is power given for the purpose of protecting and building those under the abuser’s authority, not for self-serving purposes. Mere self-focus leads to passive abuse (neglect), but aggressive pursuit of selfish purposes, combined with a twisted view of power, leads to more active abuse such as physical violence, verbal abuse, and manipulative behaviour. In other words, abuse is always abuse of power.2

Some husbands/fathers/pastors have taken leadership as a God-given command to control those under them and label any expression of personhood or alternate ideas as rebellion to be harshly squelched.

The old saying is “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

God never intended leaders to “lord it over” others.3 He balances out the marriage dynamic with “submitting yourselves one to another” and “giving honour unto the wife . . . that your prayers be not hindered.”4

A wife whose husband loves and cherishes her has no need to flee for her safety. Rather, she runs to her leader for protection and enjoys being in his presence.

Conversely, an abused wife shudders involuntarily when “the man of her dreams” walks into the room. She fearfully cowers under his leadership instead of thriving and growing as God intended. She doesn’t feel loved “as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it,”5 because she’s the one always giving.

It is a choice

Despite what some people believe, domestic violence and abuse are not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his behaviour. It is a deliberate choice to get and maintain control.
Abusers carefully choose when and where to abuse. They control themselves until no one else is around to see. They may act like everything is fine and loving in public (complimenting her, holding hands, opening doors for her), but lash out instantly as soon as they are alone.

White Ribbon, the main organisation combating domestic violence in Australia, believes that abusers are respectable men from all walks of life who are very much in control. The violence is usually manifested only within the relationship with their partner and children.6

When living with an intentionally-manipulative, self-centred husband (and I emphasise, as before, abusers are not always male), “it is clear that he understands what he is doing. During the times of peace, it feels like information is harvested to be used against her during conflict.”

There is a lack of remorse after being clearly wrong. Even seeming apologies are accusatory. This creates a sense of being crazy (giving him the upper hand in any conversation) and scared (his ability to rest combined with her being always on-edge).7

Abusers are able to immediately stop their abusive behaviour when it benefits them. For example, when the police show up or their boss calls. “Rather than acting out in a mindless rage, many physically violent abusers carefully aim their kicks and punches where the bruises and marks won’t show.”8

Fantasy and planning

The abuser spends a lot of time thinking about what his wife has done “wrong” and fantasising how he’ll make her pay. He makes a plan, then sets her up, creating a situation where he can justify abusing her.9

“You can [blank] if you want to,” but if she takes him up on this offer, there will be harsh consequences. Or it may come in the form of a question that leads one direction, but the “right” answer is the opposite. This leads her to question her judgement about everything. Questions and choices are land mines.

More tactics

1) The abuser defines her world by isolating her from family and friends unless he is present, enabling him to counter what does not align with his agenda. The abused spouse is shamed for wanting to associate with people who would not agree with him, making it more likely that she will not step out of his control.

2) When confronted, the abuser will avoid the issue by answering with a question that either changes the subject (“But you’re missing the point! What about…?”) or is condemning (“How could you think…?” “You don’t want to be my wife, do you?”). “The wife is placed in a dangerous position at this point—rebuttal and risk of being attacked or acquiescence and surrender to his version of reality.”

3) It is almost impossible to stand up to an abuser’s consistent tone of condescension when he is being disagreed with—and he uses this tool.10 “It is not so much a dialogue as it is a monologue with two people: one who is heard, and one who is dismissed. They need you to be actively listening to them, but they will never offer you the same respect in return.”11

4) In order to escape accountability, the abuser does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy and silence fail, he attacks the credibility of his victim to make sure that no one listens.

5) He “marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalisation. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”12

6) “One of the most crazy-making strategies of an abuser is to act in outrageous ways and then when you call him on it, to act as if you are paranoid, hypersensitive, or overreacting. He shifts the focus from his bad behaviour to you. In this process you get distracted either defending yourself or examining yourself. Am I paranoid? Did I overreact? Am I not being Christ-like here? Why am I not willing to forgive him?”13

Join us for the next post in this series dealing with the addictive nature of abuse. After that, we’ll delve into Biblical options for the abused.

You can access domestic violence resources here.

1 Psalms 11:5, 50:16; Proverbs 3:31-32, 6:16-19, 2:24
2 Jason Harris
3 I Peter 5:3; Philippians 2:3
4 Ephesians 5:21; I Peter 3:7
5 www.leslievernick.com
6 https://www.whiteribbon.org.au
7 https://www.bradhambrick.com/the-intentionally-manipulative-self-centered-spouse
8 m.helpguide.org/articles/abuse
9 Breaking the Silence: a Handbook for Victims of Violence in Nebraska
10 https://www.bradhambrick.com/the-intentionally-manipulative-self-centered-spouse
11 Deanna Boudov
12 https://books.google.com/booksid=3cn2R0KenN0C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=falseTrauma and Recoverybooks.google.com
13 https://www.leslievernick.com/2014/05/21/my-husbands-sexual-addiction-is-killing-me See also https://www.leslievernick.com/2014/06/04/is-a-history-of-abuse-doomed-to-repeat-itself/#comments

this is part 1 of 3 in the series
Why Abusers Abuse

share this article

About Joy Harris

Joy studied elementary education before going on to teach at the primary school level as well as homeschooling for twenty-six years. Joy has touched the lives of thousands through her ministry in state Religious Education, Sunday Schools, and Holiday Bible Clubs as well as through her speaking at various seminars and retreats. Joy is also a gifted musician and has collaborated on multiple recording projects as well as maintaining a private teaching studio for over thirty years. Joy is retired and lives in Cairns, Australia. Joy has seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. You can contact Joy at joy@jasonharris.com.au.

One Comment

  1. Lou Ann Keiser 23 June, 2014 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    Again, very interesting. I am amazed that almost every woman I deal with has gone through some kind of abuse. I’ve also dealt with women who abuse men. This is real, and it’s much more prevalent today (in our churches) than we’d like to think. I look forward to the rest of the posts in this series.

Leave A Comment