5 Mistakes to Never Make with an Abuser
Abuse is about having power over someone. Abusers typically want to feel superior, to control and dominate. To them, communication is not about understanding. It’s a win-lose game. They use verbal abuse and/or violence to accomplish this. They’re frequently self-centered, impatient, unreasonable, insensitive, unforgiving, lack empathy, and are often jealous, suspicious, and withholding. Their moods can shift from fun-loving and romantic to sullen and angry. Some punish with anger, others with silence — or both. It’s often “their way or the highway.”
They can be bullies. Typically, abusers deny any responsibility and shift blame to their loved ones and co-workers. The one thing they all have in common is that their motive is to have the upper hand. This is because they don’t feel that they have personal power, regardless of worldly success. Often, they behave the way they were treated growing up, and their insecurity, shame, and rage from childhood drives them.
Allowing abuse damages our self-esteem. To respond effectively requires support. It’s difficult to face it without others who will validate our reality. This is especially true if we’ve been abused for any length of time. Without outside support, our compromised self-esteem leads to self-doubt, insecurity, isolation, and increased dependency on the abuser.
Common Mistakes that Escalate Abuse
It’s important to understand the motives and mindset of an abuser; otherwise, victims of abuse commonly make the following mistakes that contribute to more abuse.
- Appeasement. Most victims try to placate an abuser to de-escalate conflict and anger. This tactic only empowers the abuser, who sees it as weakness and an opportunity to exert more control. Pleading sends the same message.
- Arguing. Verbal fights with an abuser lead to more resentment on both sides. As anger escalates, so does abuse. Nothing is gained. You lose and can end up feeling more victimized, hurt, and hopeless.
- Explaining and Defending. When you’re wrongly blamed or attacked, trying to defend and explain yourself, beyond a simply denying a false accusation, leaves you open to more abuse. This behavior is often based on a desire to seek the abuser’s approval. However, the motive of the abuser is to have power over you. So if you’re seeking approval, this dovetails with the abuser’s modus operandi. Thus, explaining and defending yourself sends this message: “You have power over my self-esteem. You have the right to approve or disapprove of me. You’re entitled to be my judge (i.e., parent).”
- Seeking understanding from the abuser. This is a futile objective, yet drives the behavior of victims who desperately want to be understood. They mistakenly believe or hope that the abuser is interested in understanding them, while the abuser is only interested in winning a conflict and having the superior position. Arguing over the facts is thus irrelevant. Most abusers aren’t interested in the facts, only justifying their position and being right.
- Criticizing. Because abusers are basically insecure, although they may act tough, inside they’re fragile. They can dish it, but can’t take it. Criticizing an abuser can provoke rage and vindictiveness. It’s more effective to be assertive and communicate your needs.
Effective Strategies for Dealing with Abuse
There are effective ways to deal with abuse, although they aren’t our gut reaction. They require education and forethought. Here are positive steps you can take.
- Get information. Learn all you can about emotional abuse and codependency. People in abusive relationships tend to be codependent. Read Codependency for Dummies.
- Get support. Individual therapy, as well as attending 12-Step meetings, such as Al-Anon or CoDA, can be immensely helpful. If you’re being physically abused, get information about legal resources, hotlines, and shelters in your area, and read more tips.
- Detach. Learn to not react or take personally the words and actions of an abuser. Not reacting is the first step toward empowerment. See “How Not to Be a Victim.”
- Raise your self-esteem. This will help you trust your reality, give your more options, and empower you to confront abuse. Begin by stopping any self-criticism, and then take action to rebuild your self-worth. Read 10 Steps to Self-Esteem-The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism and watch the webinar How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.
- Become assertive. Learn to be assertive, rather than passive, placating, nagging, criticizing, or aggressive. Read How To Speak Your Mind―Become Assertive and Set Limits and the webinar How to Be Assertive.
- Set Boundaries. Learn to set boundaries. (Also explained in the resources in #5.) If you think you have done so, but that they’re not working, read “Why Boundaries Don’t Work.”
- Be Strategic. If you’re dealing with someone highly defensive or with a personality disorder, there are specific strategies to having an impact. Read Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.
© Darlene Lancer 2018
Lancer, D. (2018). 5 Mistakes to Never Make with an Abuser. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-mistakes-to-never-make-with-an-abuser/