Looking for psychology resources on why abusers abuse

Applecore

New Here
Hello all. It's become a cliche that bad guys had bad childhoods, that abusive adults were abused themselves, that cruelty gets passed on to the next generation.

I want to understand why this pattern takes place in terms of clinical psychology. I would like to know what mental process is at work that makes this happen, in the same way that say a school pupil might want to understand why gravity forces an object to drop when you let go of it.

Because it's not a given that if you get caught in the rain, you become determined to shower a stranger in a bucket of water. It's not obvious that if you lose your possessions, you go and destroy someone else's.

And there are people out there who had bad childhoods and do not create bad childhoods for the next generation of children.

Is it really a simple case of abusers relieving their own trauma by taking out their resentment with the world on an innocent target? How does that feeling of relief occur, when some people are by contrast relieved by doing good to others - or better still, being aware and fair?

Full disclosure, aged 45 I had a waking dream this morning with a flashback to the time my real-life childhood tormentor complained that his childhood tormentor sought out his alleged mistakes and failings as a pretext to punish him. (Although said phrase was that the person "wanted him to be perfect".) Which is precisely what my childhood tormentor did to me, although probably to a less abusive extent than their own experience.

Am sure we all have personal ideas about the dynamics at work, but any links to articles or videos or books by professionals commenting about this are very much welcome. Because in my case, understanding the reasons for why it happens is a form of relief.
 

Applecore

New Here
@Applecore - do you have a specific type of abusive behavior in mind? Sexual, physical, emotional....?
Emotional, mainly. I have a hunch there is a common connection between all three because I do believe sexual and physical abuse has emotional origins. If you see the differences are more important than the commonalities, I'm interested in your views.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
Just as a starting point, there's a growing body of evidence that psychopathy has a genetic component. It exists on a spectrum, so not all psychopaths are serial killers. Here's a link to an interesting TED talk on the subject. LINK
 

joeylittle

Administrator
If you see the differences are more important than the commonalities, I'm interested in your views.
Not more important than - just relevant in terms of research. There's a great deal of research specific to repeated patterns of sexual abuse, specifically (most of it challenging the assumption that the abused become abusers, since that doesn't necessarily bear out in actual research.)

There's also a fair amount on the 'cycle of abuse' - but that is tilted towards physical abuse in relationships, and has been extrapolated to a broader notions of abuse/abusers, though it's more of a spin on the research, than the subject of study. When it's the subject, it's angled towards domestic violence.

When you're talking about emotional abuse, are you talking within the context of parenting? Or same-age relationships?
 

Applecore

New Here
Not more important than - just relevant in terms of research. There's a great deal of research specific to repeated patterns of sexual abuse, specifically (most of it challenging the assumption that the abused become abusers, since that doesn't necessarily bear out in actual research.)

There's also a fair amount on the 'cycle of abuse' - but that is tilted towards physical abuse in relationships, and has been extrapolated to a broader notions of abuse/abusers, though it's more of a spin on the research, than the subject of study. When it's the subject, it's angled towards domestic violence.

When you're talking about emotional abuse, are you talking within the context of parenting? Or same-age relationships?

I'm talking about the way my mother's second husband treated me when I was a child. By his own account he was a "monster" so he is aware it was . By his own account "it might have had something to do with my childhood" in which he was emotionally and physically abused.

Jordan Peterson touches on it here after about TC 3:00, the resentful targeting the innocent:
 
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whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I would like to know what mental process is at work that makes this happen, in the same way that say a school pupil might want to understand why gravity forces an object to drop when you let go of it.
I'm not sure that's possible. All you will hear or read about are theories and opinions. So very little is known about the brain and the mind that it's very hard for even the most brilliant among us to gain an understanding similar to that science has about other things.
 

Applecore

New Here
I'm not sure that's possible. All you will hear or read about are theories and opinions. So very little is known about the brain and the mind that it's very hard for even the most brilliant among us to gain an understanding similar to that science has about other things.

Perhaps I was being too literal there. Absolutely, psychology is not physics, and the whole field is highly theoretical. So I am indeed interested in the theory of why abusers abuse. Jordan Peterson has said that according to the evidence, it's actually a bit of an exaggeration or even a myth to say that abusers abuse because they were abused - because some abusers were not abused, and many people who were abused do not become abusers.

What I am interested in is the theory behind what are the dynamics when abused people do later abuse others. I have heard it's about power - that by abusing they are trying to gain the power that they did not have when they were abused. It's a sort of over-compensation, like a person who has experienced starvation becoming obese.

There's also the question (for me) of why an abusers choose certain targets and not others - like they may abuse their step-children while spoiling their biological children. Pure monkey-brained evolutionary savagery?

But then here's the detail. One can gain power in different ways. Why is it that some people who were abused as children become pedophiles and child killers, and some people who were abused as children become heroic foster parents or dedicate their lives (and their wills) to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children?

That choice is what I am trying to understand here.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
Why is it that some people who were abused as children become pedophiles and child killers, and some people who were abused as children become heroic foster parents or dedicate their lives (and their wills) to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children?
And everything in between.

I have to think it's because different people are different. Individual brains are wired differently. This is an area of fairly active research. Different types of brain scans and all that. Some of the wiring in your brain you're born with, some of it is response to environment. Some people are wired in a way that lets them enjoy causing pain to others. Some people are wired in a way that once they know that pain, inflicting it on others is the last thing they'd want to do. Some people go on to do things we think of as "abusive" because they were raised in a way that led them to believe it's "normal" or somehow necessary. I'm convinced there are probably pedophiles who believe they really ARE "helping" their victims in some way. But there are also those who know full well what they're doing and they enjoy watching others being hurt. And there are some who don't even think about their victims at all, their only concern is for what THEY want and no one else counts.
There's also the question (for me) of why an abusers choose certain targets and not others
There are probably a lot of reasons for that too. In the case of someone being abusive to their step-children and not their own, sure that whole "trying to favor your own genes" think might apply. Or, the step-kids could look like competition for for the attention of the partner who is their parent. And, sometimes step-kids react in ways that make them a little hard for a step-parent to like. There are probably a lot of reasons and the truth of an individual situation might be hard to sort out.

I've spent a fair amount of time wondering about "reasons". I've kind of decided that, to a point reasons really don't matter. The damage done is the same regardless of the motives. A lot of the time, someone's reasons are unknowable and it's kind of pointless chances answers that you can't find. In your case, is your step-father still alive? Is he safe to have a conversation with? Because you could try just asking HIM and seeing what you get for an answer.
 

Applecore

New Here
And everything in between.

I have to think it's because different people are different. Individual brains are wired differently. This is an area of fairly active research. Different types of brain scans and all that. Some of the wiring in your brain you're born with, some of it is response to environment. Some people are wired in a way that lets them enjoy causing pain to others. Some people are wired in a way that once they know that pain, inflicting it on others is the last thing they'd want to do. Some people go on to do things we think of as "abusive" because they were raised in a way that led them to believe it's "normal" or somehow necessary. I'm convinced there are probably pedophiles who believe they really ARE "helping" their victims in some way. But there are also those who know full well what they're doing and they enjoy watching others being hurt. And there are some who don't even think about their victims at all, their only concern is for what THEY want and no one else counts.

There are probably a lot of reasons for that too. In the case of someone being abusive to their step-children and not their own, sure that whole "trying to favor your own genes" think might apply. Or, the step-kids could look like competition for for the attention of the partner who is their parent. And, sometimes step-kids react in ways that make them a little hard for a step-parent to like. There are probably a lot of reasons and the truth of an individual situation might be hard to sort out.

I've spent a fair amount of time wondering about "reasons". I've kind of decided that, to a point reasons really don't matter. The damage done is the same regardless of the motives. A lot of the time, someone's reasons are unknowable and it's kind of pointless chances answers that you can't find. In your case, is your step-father still alive? Is he safe to have a conversation with? Because you could try just asking HIM and seeing what you get for an answer.
Thanks for a very thoughtful and kind reply. You are right about the problem of looking for reasons. And looking for reasons is an early phase of rumination after trauma. I should know because I am a former addict of pathological rumination and intrusive thoughts, which became debilitating and deeply troubling as they could dominate my mind in an endless painful cycle of "why?". I am hereby slipping back towards my former addiction and suffering.

Attributing behavior to wiring of brains seems to remove the element of choice and responsibility for that choice, which I think there is. A person makes a choice whether to be cruel or kind and is therefore responsible for their actions, whatever the wiring of their brain. I believe the fact that the man was in a notorious cult rather made him unable to perceive reality in what most people would say is an appropriate way, or because he was unable to perceive realty in what most people would say is an appropriate way is why he was in a notorious cult.

I ought to emphasize that he is my mother's second husband, who has never taken the role of "step-father" nor have I ever felt about him in that way as it would have required some fatherly kindness. The relationship dynamic when I was a child is that I grew up with a single mother while he lived in is own home, and I visited my father further away as often as possible. When my mother's second husband visited my mother and when we visited him and on vacations we had together is when he was abusive towards me. No wonder I refused to live with him at 13 and opted to spend most weekends at home alone from 14 while my mother was visiting him.

I am discussing communications with him in another thread, most people say it's not a good idea.

However, there's a side of me that feels that for my own good it his high time to speak truth to power. I fear it will wreck my relationship with my mother, who I have tended to protect by not expressing my anger towards him, not telling him how unhappy he made me feel - which appears to have been what he wanted.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
And there are people out there who had bad childhoods and do not create bad childhoods for the next generation of children.

i used to think that understanding why abusers abuse would help me break my family cycle of abuse. i s'pose it did in a few ways, but it mostly distracted me from being mindful of my own mental illness and acting out. mental illness is unpredictable and every journey is unique.
 
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