Who Are Abusers?
Hollywood abusers are easy to spot. They may sneer or speak with a menacing tone. They may dress in black. They may have an unkempt appearance. They are often portrayed as eccentric. They are typically male and unattractive. Crucially, they are almost exclusively portrayed as consistently nasty, consistently angry and consistently violent or hurtful. It’s understandable why screenwriters don’t have the time or an attentive enough audience to portray a “bad guy” as anything more sophisticated than just that... bad.
Real life isn't like that. Real abusers aren't as easy to spot.
Real-life abusive people come from all walks of life, all religious and ethnic backgrounds, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, tall and short, smart and foolish, attractive and unattractive. In contrast to the way abusive relationships are portrayed in popular culture, most real life abusive situations are not so clear cut.
However, despite their diversity, almost all abusers have some things in common:
Abusers are regular people.
Abusers aren’t pure evil. They aren’t like the bad guys in the movies. They are regular people. When a criminal is apprehended, there will often be neighbors who will say that "they seemed like such a regular person". Abusive people are hard to spot. Abusive people are just like the person next door because abusive people are the person next door.
Abusers don't abuse everybody.
If they did, they would be easy to spot. They would all already be in jail, ostracized by the community or committed to a local psychiatric ward.
Real abusers are selective in who they mistreat. Abuse victims are typically someone close, who is powerless to retaliate or unwilling to report the abuse. Abusive behaviors are typically kept behind closed doors and restricted to moments when there are no objective witnesses. A person who mistreats you may mistreat only you and may be a model citizen to everybody else.
Abusers don't abuse all the time.
This is only logical, because if they did, nobody would stay with them for very long and they would all live alone. Most abusive people don’t behave abusively all the time or even most of the time. Real abuse is sporadic, intermittent, occasional, temporary and sustained only for short bursts. It doesn’t take much mistreatment to terrorize or demoralize a person for a very long time. It is quite common for an abusive person to behave normally most of the time and even be kind, polite, humble, gracious, generous, devoted or apologetic in periods between and immediately following episodes of mistreatment. This is often how an abusive person draws a victim closer to themselves between outbursts. It is also common during these periods for an abusive person to want to “rewrite” their own history or try to influence their victim to misrepresent or ignore past events, as a way of justifying themselves or dealing with discomfort about their abusive behavior. The victim will often play along, grateful for a period of calm, “letting sleeping dogs lie” and hoping not to provoke any further outbursts.
Abusers need a victim!
This is one of the most overlooked characteristics of abuse. Where there is no victim, there can be no abuse. Therefore, removing the victim from an abusive situation is often much easier and more effective than restraining the perpetrator. The most effective strategies for eliminating abuse often begin and end with the victim taking action to protect themselves.