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09/11/2004 Archived Entry: "Definition of Abuser"
A reader has commented - and correctly so - that I have defined only half of the problem of domestic violence. Yesterday, I defined what I mean when I use the term "victim." He asks me what I mean by the term "abuser." The definition of an abuser may seem obvious but, then, many people might have thought the same of the term "victim."
I admit up-front that I have no empathy or concern for chronic abusers beyond what may allow me to understand them and, so, better help their victims. More specifically, to better help myself. This lack of a connection may be a problem because - on some fundamental level - I flatly do not understand why one human being deliberately abuses someone who has done them no harm. I don't get it. I suppose one reason why an abuser demeans and demonizes a victim is because he or she has to believe that the person deserves to be beaten, slandered, broken; that is, the abuser convinces himself/herself that the victim does deserve it. But why go through such a tortuous psychological process? What does an abuser emotionally derive from slowly destroying another human being - and, as often as not, a human being who is offering love and trust? I can give the textbook answer, I can report on what the experts say...but I can't grab onto the reality, I can't feel it in the pit of my stomach. It is like reading accounts of people who torture animals for pleasure. I don't get what motivates them to do it. As I said, this may make me less than insightful about abusers.
Nevertheless...a definition. An abuser is a human being who derives satisfaction from deliberately inflicting undeserved harm on another person. I include the word "satisfaction" in order to distinguish an abuser from someone who inflicts harm for impersonal reasons, such as financial profit. I call the harm "undeserved" in order to distinguish abuse from revenge.
I think there are different types of abusers in the same way there are different types of victims. Some people are abusive only once and, then, become so frightened by their own rage and capacity for blackness that they never abuse again. Years ago, a girlfriend I knew got very drunk and tore into her boyfriend so badly - and for no reason - that the relationship almost ended then and there. She swore to never get that drunk again because it turned her into "another person." As far as I know, she kept that promise. This category of abuser is closer to being just a person who makes a mistake and learns from it.
Other abusers seem to be in categories of their own as well. For example, the fellow who "lets off steam" by going to bars and picking fistfights. Clearly, he is satisfying his desire to vent by beating another human being to a pulp but - at least, if the other guy is allowed to walk away rather than fight - there is something almost clean about that style of venting. It doesn't masquerade as anything other than what it is; the two people consent, engage, and then never see each other again.
My focus is the habitual abuser who derives satisfaction from the slow process of stripping another person of safety, dignity, and self-respect. It is the dynamic that is established in such a relationship which interests me. One of the most insightful commentators on the psychology of the habitual abuser is George Rolph, an email-associate of mine and the founder of No More Silence. George works on a personal level with victims of domestic violence, usually male victims, and his observations come from hard-won knowledge...from the wrenching stories that he's listened to and sorted into patterns.
In particular, I recommend George's superb essay "The Anatomy of Abuse." It galvanized me because it rang so true. The section The abusers self-view opens,
"An abusive personality is fundamentally one of self loathing and even self hate. However, this self disgust is too painful for them to accept. Desperate to `fit in' with everyone else they justify the abusive behaviour they cannot avoid and deny the rest. The denial can be very profound and will drive their negative feelings about themselves very deeply within their tortured psyche. Many abusers are deeply frightened and horrified by their violent outbursts but their denial prevents them from dealing with the feelings that cause them. Therefore, when they lose control and abuse another, there often follows what looks like deep and sincere repentance and begging for forgiveness, only to sink back into the same patterns again later on. Given enough time, even these feelings of regret and remorse will become buried and their emotional attitude to their abuse of others will harden into a cold uncaring outlook. For this reason, I believe it is vital that treatment be applied to the abuser while they still own feelings of remorse and regret. Treatment of the abuser will become progressively more difficult over time as the abuser will lack the necessary need and drive to want to reform. In order to avoid owning up to what they feel about themselves the abuser will project their self hatred onto their victims."
George makes some very nice (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) distinctions between different types of abusers. The one with personal relevance to me..."Some abusers simply come to hate their partners over time and instead of leaving the relationship, set out to destroy the other person." That pretty much captures the 'relationship' from which I fled over 20 years ago...tho' the relationship has persistently pursued me in the form of stalking, harassment and the like. I think the fellow's persistence comes from his need to blame someone else -- aka "me" -- for the train wreck that is his life. If he can't blame me, he might have to look in the mirror to find out who else might be responsible. As long as those are his emotional alternatives, he will continue to actively hate me and nothing I do can change that. (I am going to invite George Rolph's input on this last point...in fact, on any point upon which he cares to comment and, then, include those comments in future McBlog entries. The man is that good on the subject of domestic violence.)
As a sidenote: when I first read "The Anatomy of Abuse" I wondered why I hadn't encountered similar insights in the stack of other articles and studies on DV I'd consumed. I think the answer is clear. George comes from a new, fresh perspective. It is not merely or even primarily that he writes from a "men's rights" point of view because his observations apply with equal force to both male and female abusers/victims. The freshness and value of his analysis is that it is non-feminist. It breaks through the stereotypes and PC dogma with which gender feminism has wrapped the issue of domestic violence and, so, prevented real analysis from occurring. In human terms, gender feminism has prevented real healing. I intend to write more on this theme later in the series of entries on DV. Enough for today...
Best to all,