This Article is About
threats and intimidation
common denominator
own shortcomings
feelings of guilt
abusive situation
personality disorder
personal power
bad behavior
Abusers Are Experts At Blaming The Victim
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Abusers Are Experts at Blaming the Victim

People who work with victims of abuse often encounter feelings of guilt in the very people who should least feel it. Some victims have withstood abuse for so long that they cannot envision any explanation for it other than their own shortcomings. Whatever the victim’s history, however, it’s important to recognize that abusers are expert at transferring responsibility for their bad behavior to their victims. And over time, trapped in circumstances that rob them of personal power, victims come to believe the transfer is valid.

Every abusive situation is different. However, there’s one common denominator, and that’s the abuser’s desire for power and control. In studies of abuse of all kinds, that factor surfaces again and again, despite differing abuser profiles. Many abusers had an abusive parent or parents, and most have a history of abusing people, animals, or both. Some feel powerless as adults for other reasons, and seek to counter the feeling with the manipulation and control of others. Still others simply want what they want and will use a multitude of control tactics to avoid being thwarted. These last can border on a personality disorder: their victim’s humanity is simply not real to them.

Given that abusers are after power and control, it’s important to recognize and call out the tactics they use in their quest. Those tactics include:

• Outright accusations that the victim has caused the abuse.

• Restriction of access to resources on which the victim depends for his or her well-being and personal independence, to the point that he or she comes to believe in his or her guilt and inferiority.

• Stalking, then presenting evidence that the victim is at fault because of where he or she has been.

• The erosion of self esteem through sarcasm, criticism and other means of verbal degradation.

• Threats and intimidation.

• Physical battering.

With this arsenal of weapons, abusers torment victims until the latter believe they are the cause of their own misfortune.

The first weapon is outright accusation. Abused children almost always founder in a torrent of reasons why they are being hurt. Whether they’ve spilled their milk, gotten into mommy’s makeup, or crossed a forbidden street, they’ve earned the pain. The list of “misbehavior” can be as long as childhood and thus impossible for a kid to remember or avoid.

Similarly, women in abusive relationships walk on eggs, hoping to avoid breaking rules too numerous, complex, (and often illogical) to grasp. Their abuser tells them they’ve caused a problem with the dish they prepared for dinner; by having a phone conversation with a friend; or by watching a particular television program. It doesn’t matter the abuser’s “reason:” if someone tells someone else that they’ve brought physical, emotional or psychological battering down on themselves, the problem lies with the teller.

An equally common weapon is the restriction of access to resources. The resources that the abuser takes out of his victim’s control can be anything from money, to a support network, to the allowable means of self expression. It can be laundry detergent, for that matter, as long as the victim becomes functionally impaired. Often this tactic takes a particularly sadistic turn when the abuser refuses access to what his or her victim needs in order to meet the abuser’s expectations. If a victim is deprived of the money to buy groceries, he or she can hardly prepare the appealing meal that the abuser has declared essential to the preservation of harmony.

Victims are increasingly easier to control as they lose self esteem. If they have a higher opinion of their abuser than of themselves, they will continue to try to accede to his or her demands. Anything that damages self esteem is a valuable part of the abuser’s toolkit. Sarcasm is one of the most common. A partner might hear, “Will wonders never cease, you got a job.” Or a child might be subjected to, “Are you slacking off in school or are you just too dumb to do better?” Sometimes the degradation is even more obvious, as in “You’ll never amount to anything,” or “You never did have a model’s figure.” The forms the sarcasm or criticism take are less important than the victim’s feeling that he or she is less than they should be and therefore at fault. If someone thinks they’re less than they should be and that feeling comes from someone close to them, they need help to recognize the degrading behavior and get away from it.

Of course, an abuser’s weapons need not be subtle. Anger, threats and intimidation effectively pressure victims into acquiescence. Instilling fear is perhaps the best known control tactic in the history of the world. If a victim is sufficiently trapped in fear, he or she cannot think rationally. Victims fear physical blows, emotional and sexual degradation, indifference, outrage at their thoughts or opinions, the withdrawal of “privileges,” the enraged shattering of household items, angry ridicule of their feelings, and on and on. If someone is afraid of someone close to them, it’s time for a change.

I don’t mean to claim that if victims simply recognize the means to shift blame that are at their abuser’s disposal, they’ll be able to save themselves. Getting out of an abusive situation is often a complex process fraught with painful losses. Most often, victims of abuse just don’t have the means or even the energy to escape without skillful help. But the ability to see the warning signs helps start the process. It can motivate a victim to seek help, it can enable a victim to avoid future abusers.

Street Talk


No one like to think what they do is there fault. It's the very sad nature of the ego.

  about 9 years ago

Sad, but true. And that's why it's important to understand how abusers think and operate. The solution lies with everyone except the abusers. As you say, they're unlikely to step up and acknowledge the abuse.

  about 9 years ago
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