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Ten traits that characterise the abusive mentality

Lundy Bancroft, a specialist in domestic abuse, has identified 10 traits that characterise the abusive mentality from his decades of working with abusive men. These traits are outlined in his book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (2002) and are discussed below.

A key point to understand before reviewing the traits below is that abusers will try to get everyone - friends, family, therapists to focus on how he feels (sad, stressed, suicidal etc) to foster a sympathetic reaction and to distract everyone from what he is actually thinking or doing.

1. He is controlling - The abuser believes in his right to control his partner’s actions and expects his word to be the last word. He does not accept defiance and considers it his right to punish acts that a partner might take to regain ownership of her life. In addition, he feels personally wronged if he doesn’t get what he wants all the time.

— Controlling —

Bancroft states one of the single most important concepts to grasp regarding domestic abuse is that:

A large part of abusiveness comes in the form of punishments used to retaliate against the victim for resisting his control. (pg 54).

Abuser speak - She won’t listen to me and purposefully tries to irritate me by doing things her way. She tries to diminish me by wilfully not responding to my direction.

Translation - She is providing a different perspective on an issue, demonstrating that she has her own mind, thoughts and opinions, he therefore feels like he is losing control. He never ever wants her to disagree with him and therefore he feels like he must teach her a lesson so that she won’t disagree with him in the future.

The abuser also feels that he should control the victim’s reaction to the abuse. No matter how badly he treats her, he feels she has no right to get angry with him - her voice should not rise nor her blood boil. Her anger is a challenge to his authority to which he will respond with even greater anger - retaining the exclusive right to be the one to show anger.

Abuser speak - She goes crazy sometimes and loses it, she is unstable. I sometimes have to take a strong stand to help her get her emotions back under control.

Translation - He has successfully provoked her to such an extent that she becomes justifiably angry. Her anger is an affront to him because it shows him that she questions his authority. He therefore becomes even angrier to show her who’s boss.

2. He feels entitled - The abuser believes that he has special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner.

— Entitled —

The abusive man awards himself all kinds of rights including rights to:

  • Physical care taking
  • Emotional care taking
  • Sexual care taking
  • Deference
  • Freedom from accountability

Abuser speak - I work harder than my partner and am more stressed therefore I require more TLC than she does. However, she regularly fails at helping me out and fulfilling my needs.

Translation - She has put appropriate boundaries in place by setting limits in regards to his demands and conduct towards her and she is insisting he meets his responsibilities.

3. He twists things into the opposites - The abuser’s highly entitled perceptual system causes him to mentally reverse a partner’s self-defence or self preservation and sees it as aggression.

— Twists —

Abuser speak - My wife calls the police at the drop of a hat just to threaten and scare me.

Translation - She justifiably calls the police when he hits her and she is scared.

4. He disrespects his partner and considers himself superior to her. An abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical and even less sensitive than he is. He will objectify and depersonalise his partner which allows the abuse to get worse and worse over time.

— Disrespect —

Abuser speak - I have completed more studies, have more experience or am more clever on (fill in the blank) topic than her and therefore I will be making the decisions in this area from now on. Her role in this family will be limited to cooking, cleaning and childcare which is not done very well anyway and therefore I will be making all key decisions in these areas as well.

Translation - He is unnerved by her experience, education or opinion as it shows independence and competence and it makes him feel like he is losing control. Therefore he will not consider any of it valid or valuable and he will ongoingly limit her sphere of influence in the family.

5. He confuses love and abuse - An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares. Media often capitalise on this idea for example describing a murder as a ‘crime of passion’.

— Confuses —

Abuser speak - I only treat the people closest to me badly because I feel safe enough to express my feelings with them.

Translation - He treats you badly because he disrespects you and you are an easy target in need of control.

6. He is manipulative. Few abusive men rely entirely on verbal abuse or intimidation to control their partners. He will frequently switch to manipulation of his partner to get what he wants. He may also use the listed tactics to get her upset or confused.

— Manipulative —

  • Changing moods abruptly or frequently.
  • Denying the obvious about what he is doing or feeling.
  • Convincing you that what he wants you to do is what is best for you.
  • Getting you to feel sorry for him.
  • Getting you to blame yourself.
  • Using confusion tactics in arguments - changing the subject, digression, twisting words.
  • Lying or misleading you about his actions, his desires or his reasons for doing certain things.
  • Getting you and the people you care about turned against each other.

Abuser speak - I have only taken this action for your well being and because I am so considerate of you. Please stop being so ungrateful and think about me for once.

Translation - He has taken this action to satisfy himself but will say it is for her so that he doesn't look selfish. He will now make her doubt herself and feel bad for indicating that she has any needs or wants at all.

7. He strives to have a good public image. Most abusive men have a sharp split between their public image and private treatment of their partner. Outside of the home the abusive man can be charming, generous, compromising, supportive, vocal supporter of equality and mutual respect. At home they can be angry, domineering, assaultive, selfish, disrespectful and misogynistic.

— Public Image —

Abuser speak - I get along fine with everyone but her. Everyone thinks I am a calm and reasonable person. People can see that she is the one with the problem.

Translation - He has perfected his external persona and has charmed his way into gaining allies. She doesn’t play this game so she looks like the one with the problem.

8. He feels justified. Abusers externalize the responsibility for their actions believing that their partners make them behave in abusive ways and will defend or feel entitled to their actions. He makes excuses and commonly blames his partner for anything that goes wrong not just his abusiveness.

— Justified —

Abuser speak - My behaviour is understandable given what I have had to deal with, my partner’s failings and limits are substantial.

Translation - He wants you to feel sorry for him and at minimum feel like his behaviour falls into the grey area of ‘relationship issues’ mutually produced by both partners.

9. Abusers deny and minimise their abuse. Abusive men will rarely acknowledge their abusive behaviour or will minimise the abusive event and its repercussions on their partner, causing her to start to doubt herself and feel crazy.

— Denial —

Abuser speak - I didn’t mean to hit her, she was standing behind me when my arm flew backwards. Her bruise is from her falling into the door not from me hitting her.

Translation - She fell into the door because he pushed her, her bruise is his fault but he is not prepared to admit that so he will make a convoluted excuse.

10. Abusers are possessive. They have the assumption that their partner belongs to them, there is a sense of ownership over them and because he owns their partner they can treat them as they see fit. Out of this possessiveness he will start to isolate his partner - so that her life is focused entirely on serving his needs, and he does not want her to develop sources of strength that would contribute to her independence. Therefore any friendships victims make, become threats to the abuser.

— Possessive —

Abuser speak - You are spending so much time with your new friend you are becoming remiss with your family responsibilities. Plus your friend is disrespectful to me and coming between us.

Translation - She is demonstrating too much independence and it is making him nervous that he is losing control over her. He interprets your new friend’s lack of acquiescence towards him as disrespect.