How Abusive Men Get Started

by Annie Kaszina on August 26, 2010

Abusive men have to start somewhere.  By the time you meet them, all the programming is already in place, all it takes is something to activate it.  In that – if nothing else – they are akin to puppies (or other baby animals.)

If you have had the pleasure of observing a puppy, even at 8 weeks, you’ll know that the puppy already knows how to bark, how to (play-)fight, how to jostle for position, etc. Sure, that kind of programming, which helps secure their survival, has been hard-wired into healthy puppies.  While abusive men don’t need to be abusive to survive…

At some point, though, they have more or less come to believe that abusive behaviours are part of their survival mechanism.

But, still, you could ask yourself: have abusive behaviours been hard-wired into the abusive man, or are they part of the software that he runs?

I’m not sure that it is helpful to spend too long searching for the answer.  One thing that we all know – to our cost – is that abusive men are very attached to  their abusive programming.  In fact, the thing that makes them so toxic is that they are more attached to their abusive programming than they are to their partner.

But, since it may help to focus on a concrete example, let’s look, briefly, at the abusive man I know best: my ex-husband. He was the son of 2 concentration camp survivors.  His father – who I had the misfortune to know – was a very psychologically damaged and damaging man.  Always emotionally destructive, he was sometimes physically violent, also, to his wife and son.

By the time I met my in-laws they had been married 30 years.  My ex-mother-in-law heartily disliked her husband, and delighted in playing the Wronged, Long-suffering Saint.  She was the Smother Mother to end all Smother Mothers.

As my husband told it, he had grown up being the loving, supportive surrogate partner to… his mother.  He had been engaged before he met me, but broken the engagement off – shortly before the wedding.  Then he decided he had made a hideous mistake.  He asked his ex-fiancée to take him back and… she refused.  (Wise girl! 

What is the point in my sharing this with you?

I’m doing it so that you can see that, by the time I met him, my ex-husband had all the pieces of the abusive puzzle in place – bar one.  He had the necessary Psychopathology

  • Role model
  • Hard luck story and attendant self-pity

The one thing he had lacked – until he met me – was the opportunity to behave in an overtly abusive way.

His fiancée still lived at home, and her father was the head of the professional association he had just joined.  This meant that it was in his best interest to tread carefully with her.  But he had broken off the engagement because she had not complied with his demands for sex.

As I said, all the pieces of the abusive puzzle, bar one, were in place, by the time he met me. That last piece I provided, by my compliance. In that respect, certainly, in me, he made a more inspired choice.  My father was not the head of a useful professional association – but, in truth that would not  impact on his career.

My future husband had a rare talent for antagonizing all his colleagues.  Not even a powerful father-in-law could have protected him from himself for long.

What I had in my favour was that unlike his previous partner, I was a virtual orphan.  There had been total breakdown in my relationship with my parents. That meant he didn’t even have to go to the trouble of isolating me from my family.   The job had already been done.

All he had to do was run the “Compliance Test”.

What is the “Compliance Test”?  That is the very first Test Temper Tantrum an abusive partner throws. That is the bizarre, or seemingly out of character, behaviour that takes you
completely by surprise, in a thoroughly unpleasant way.  It happens early on in the relationship.  You want to believe that he is really a good guy, so you tell yourself it is just a
glitch.

Possibly you tell him that kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and he makes the right kind of noises – or not. Either way, you come away from it with the – misguided – belief that it will not
happen again.

Not only does it happen again, and again, and again, but each time the behavior gets progressively worse.  Because he was watching the way you responded very carefully, and he has understood something absolutely fundamental to the future of the relationship.  

He has learnt that you may not like his unpleasant behaviour, but you will tolerate it. And the last piece of the abusive puzzle has fallen into place: opportunity.

An abusive man ‘earns his abusive stripes’ when he finds and exploits the opportunity to treat his partner abusively.  Our responsibility is that we allow him to do so.

After we have allowed him to treat us abusively once, we let it happen to us over and over again – as if we had no power to stop it.

You have no power to change the behavior of an emotionally abusive partner.

But you can always change your own.

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