I am who I am
Abusers abuse. They abuse because they’re abusers, and they’re abusers because they abuse.
I know this is a circular argument, but it’s the safest way to think of them. They are the spider, and you are the fly. Anything beyond that, and you make yourself vulnerable.
In my talks with other survivors of domestic abuse, the most dangerous question almost all of them ask is: why? Why did they do it?
That way, madness lies. I’ve seen it; I’ve experienced it. They’re an abuser. It doesn’t matter why they do it; it doesn’t matter what causes it; it doesn’t matter whether they can even help it. Pity should be reserved for the righteous, the innocent, and the victims of abuse – never the abuser.
Trying to see things from your abuser’s perspective is a step away from making excuses for their behaviour. She had a bad childhood; she has a personality disorder; it’s not her fault. From there, it’s very easy to blame yourself.
I do it all the time. As I wrote in Victim-blaming and Coercive Control, I’m plagued by what-ifs – what if I’d done things differently? What if I’d tried this? What if, what if, what if?
Leaving an abuser throws up so many questions, none of which have satisfactory answers. So many of the men that I talk to want validation for what they’ve been through, some acknowledgement from the abuser that what they did was wrong, an admission of guilt, remorse, empathy. You’re never going to get that from your abuser.
My own story is a prime example. During our marriage, my wife threatened me, hit me, cut off my beard, threw drinks over me, stole money from me, undermined me with my children, stopped me from sleeping, attacked me if I was ill, cut me off from family and friends, locked me out of the house, monitored my emails and texts, and used me as a slave, and whenever I tried to stand up to her, she told me I knew where the door was, but she’d take away my children because ‘the courts always side with the mother and my parents can afford better lawyers than you.’ It got so bad that I had a breakdown and had to be removed from the family home for my own safety by support workers from a local charity. Then, true to her word, she set her lawyers on me and did everything she could to destroy me.
Yet according to her, our marriage was fine. According to her, one day I simply got up and walked out, and she has no idea why. Mutual friends told me she was angry that I left – not sad, not upset, not remorseful – angry. She believes that I wronged her by leaving. She doesn’t think she did anything wrong.
When your abuser refuses to acknowledge that they’ve even abused you, it messes with your head. I’ve wondered if she’s capable of understanding right and wrong; wondered if, since she has no conscience or empathy, she is even responsible for her actions. How can you blame someone for what’s in their nature?
That’s what they want you to think, because they’re gaslighting you. Pretending they don’t understand – denying that they’re in any way to blame for their actions – is a way of exerting control over you. They’re abusers: if their behaviour is confusing you, it’s because they want you to be confused.
Abusers know right and wrong – that’s why they’re careful not to act out in front of others; why they lie about what they’ve done; why they excuse, and minimise, and blame you for their behaviours. The simple fact is that they choose to abuse you, and equally, they could choose not to. But they don’t, because abusing is what they do.
In her book The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout writes, ‘We feel that if someone is bad, he should be burdened by the knowledge that he is bad. It seems to us the ultimate in injustice that a person could be evil, by our assessment, and still feel fine about himself. However, this is exactly what seems to happen. For the most part, people whom we assess as evil tend to see nothing at all wrong with their way of being in the world.’
Abusers abuse. It doesn’t matter if they’re sick or evil, if it’s in their nature, or if they can help it. Stop psychoanalysing them, stop making excuses for them, and stop trying to fix them.
The defining characteristic of an abuser is that they abuse. Remember this the next time your abuser tries to lure you back in with sweet promises of better days.
They are the spider, and you are the fly.