Why Do People Abuse?

By Jenn Rockefeller

As survivors of domestic violence, we often ask ourselves why people abuse others. What drives them to treat us the way that they do?

The desire for control
Broken down into its simplest form, the reason people abuse is to have power and control over their partner. The abusers so often believe that they know best and therefore impose that reasoning upon us.

Abusers want to have control or power over their partner. They feel entitled to have that power over another because of their perceived superiority. They feel and act as if they are better than us, so they want us to know it. They want to control because they want to dominate, isolate, intimidate and instill fear in us. They want us to be subordinate and obey their every command. When we object to their tactics, they feel they have a right to verbally and/or physically strike back. They don’t want us to question their perceived authority. They always want to maintain the illusion of control over us.

Myth v. Fact
There are several misconceptions out there as to why people abuse others and why many do not abuse. Here is a small list of some of domestic violence’s biggest myths.

Myth #1: Domestic violence is caused by drug/alcohol use.

Fact: Drugs and alcohol certainly may make the abuse worse or cause it to escalate, but they do not cause the abuse itself. It is the choice of the abuser to abuse.

Myth #2: Domestic violence is caused by a lack of anger management.

Fact: Abusers can manage their anger very well. In fact, many abusers reserve their abuse for behind closed doors and return to the charming, polite, nice person in public. If abusers were not in control of their anger, they’d abuse everyone all the time, whether in public or private.

Myth #3: Domestic violence is caused by the victim provoking the abuser in some form or fashion.

Fact: The victim is never to blame for the actions of the abuser. It is the abuser’s choice to abuse someone.

Myth #4: Domestic violence doesn’t have a big effect on children.

Fact: Domestic violence will harm the children, whether they are the target or not. If they see or hear a parent being abused, it can cause insurmountable emotional damage to the child, in addition to the child developing emotional and possibly behavioral issues later on.

Myth #5: Domestic violence only happens to poor people.

Fact: Domestic violence is not a poor people issue. It does not discriminate. It can happen to the rich and poor, young and old, men and women, and all races, creeds and sexual orientations.

Myth #6: Domestic violence doesn’t happen very often because it isn’t widely talked about.

Fact: According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three women and one in four men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Myth #7: Domestic violence is no one’s business except for those involved.

Fact: Domestic violence needs to be everyone’s business. It should not be ignored nor should it be kept secret. The more it is talked about, the more awareness can be raised. It is a serious issue and needs to be addressed.

Learned behavior?

This is the age-old “nature versus nurture” debate. Do abusers abuse because they were raised to be that way or is it because they see it happening in society and think it’s okay? It can be a combination of both. Many times, however, it is believed to be a learned behavior. As such, abusers often see it happening around them and firmly believe it’s an acceptable way to treat others. Perhaps they witness a parent treating the other parent that way. Perhaps they are on the receiving end of abuse themselves. Does that make it okay? No. But that’s how the abusers think of the dynamic – that it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But while domestic violence can be a learned behavior, it truly doesn’t have to be. In fact, the saying “hurt people, hurt people” is the biggest misconception out there. We survivors have been hurt and we don’t go around abusing people. Just because you hurt (be it physically, emotionally or otherwise) doesn’t mean you should go around hurting other people. Abuse is a choice. Abusers choose to abuse. We survivors choose not to abuse.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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