- Lead with the idea that abusers were abused themselves and are just another form of victim. (Truth: Abusers do not need sympathy, they need consequences and accountability. Even if they were hurt in the past, this does not give them license to hurt others.)
- Believe that bullies are really just being bullies to overcompensate for underlying feelings of low self-worth. (Truth: Bullies are not trying to overcompensate for something, they enjoy feeling the power and control they gain from hurting others.)
- Always believe what you are told by the abusive person because after all, why should he/she lie to you? (Truth: People with character problems lie and they lie often. They do it for self-protection, and often, “just because.”)
- Never confront or challenge a person with a characterological disorder. (Truth: Confrontation need not be scary or rude. It involves directly describing and discussing the problem.)
- It is more important to focus on the underlying causes of the person’s behaviors than to focus on the behaviors themselves. (Truth: When dealing with abusers, it is particularly important to focus on their behaviors, attitudes, and underlying beliefs; not their feelings.)
- The best form of treatment is to use non-judgmental, non-confrontational interventions for treatment, focusing on building rapport and on creating a space of acceptance and positive regard. (Truth: It is important to focus on change. This involves describing and instilling pro-social values, such as thoughtfulness and concern for others.)
- The best way to treat an abusive person is to let that person set the terms of engagement and pace of treatment. In other words, treatment should be client-led/client-directed. (Truth: The counselor needs to lead treatment. One problem abusers need to address is their need to define the terms of the relationship. When the counselor defines the terms, the abuser has to let go of this one aspect of control.)
- Be sure and focus on the clients’ feelings, not so much their attitudes or behaviors. After all, it is the underlying feelings that drive their behaviors. (Truth: See #5 above.)
- When treating a person with abusive tendencies, spend most of your energy trying to get that person to “see” how their choices affect others. (Truth: It is a false assumption to believe that person doesn’t “see” his/her poor behaviors and how they impact others. It is also a waste of time to try and coerce him/her to admit he/she can “see.”)
- Believe that abusive behaviors are merely forms of “acting out,” where the person is expressing outwardly an inner psychological turmoil. (Truth: Abusive behaviors are intended to hurt others. There is no excuse and it is not accidental.)
- Always give abusers the benefit of the doubt. Make sure to assume the best of that person. (Truth: Don’t take anything at face value and don’t assume the best; in fact, assume you are most likely being lied to and/or manipulated.)
See Part 2 of this article for further advice on treating abusers.
Note: For a free monthly newsletter on the psychology of abuse, please send your email address to: [email protected]
Bancroft, L. (2002). Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York, NY: Berkeley Publishing Company.
Simon, G.K. (2011). Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age. Littlerock, AK: Parkhurst Brothers