Q | Why do some abusers treat their family like they are nothing? Is it because of trauma they experienced growing up? Or do they deep down care about only themselves?
[Disclaimer: My answers for this feature are based on a mixture of personal experience, training with a women’s DV shelter, state certification in the subjects of domestic and sexual violence, and substantial studies of the personality disorders that lead to abusive behavior. My efforts are powered by a passion for advocacy. Featured guidance may not be exactly right for everyone, but I do hope it’s helpful for most. | Janna]
A | Most if not all abusers care, literally, for no one but themselves. (If they truly cared about even just one person, and thus about that person’s well being, wouldn’t they be able to imagine how much damage their abuse can do to another?) There might be people whose company they enjoy, or friends and family they benefit from, and they are good at pretending they care about others, but that’s it. They’re unable to truly bond, can’t connect with another more than superficially, and typically have no empathy or conscience, so they don’t operate with the same caring and compassion the rest of us have.
Likely, they’ve eased into becoming abusers because they care about no one but themselves. Another’s feelings or experience just don’t matter, especially as compared to their own, so they can treat their victim however they want and remain unfazed.
And likely, they’ve come to care about no one but themselves because of a trauma they lived or witnessed at some point. Note: dictionary.com defines trauma as, “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.”
Not every professional stands behind the idea that an abuser is abusive because he himself was abused. A traumatic childhood or single event doesn’t on its own automatically create an abuser, but we also understand how cycles work, and that what one was introduced to as “normal” during childhood, or for prolonged periods of time, or that what one experiences personally and at a damaging level, can take hold and manifest a monster of its own.
Lundy Bancroft, a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men, says, “Abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and the books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
(For more brilliance and clarity from Bancroft, I highly recommend his book called Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. The above quote is excerpted from that title. Pg. 319, The Making of an Abusive Man)
It’s what happens during the formative years of one’s life that determines who we’re going to be, and that’s also where—because of those aforementioned values and beliefs—the development of certain personality disorders is borne. Examples are Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and/or Histrionic Personality Disorder (known as “Cluster B disorders”). The connection between these disorders and abusive behavior is massive. Bancroft talks about these, too, as well as the different types of abusive men and much more.
So, yes. To answer your question(s), abusers only care about themselves, their ego, their success and gain and well being. No one else matters, and thus are “nothing” in their grand scheme. Whether there’s legitimate trauma, or just a really poor upbringing with all the wrong values and beliefs, doesn’t matter. An abuser is an abuser is an abuser. No excuses.
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[A note about the pattern of female pronouns: All of this applies to any gender, and any relationship dynamic, but since this page is devoted to women, all content keeps that in mind.]