Looking for psychology resources on why abusers abuse


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Nooo please don’t go down the Jordan Peterson rabbit hole. He’s incredibly misogynistic and dangerous.

For what it's worth, my opinion is that he is neither particularly rightwing, misogynistic nor dangerous. At the same time it's my opinion that he gets certain things wrong, that he is at times too dogmatic, prescriptive, shouty and ranty and I find it ironic that he presumes to advise on how to be a better man when he has such a squeaky voice and a dodgy haircut. He says it's a given that we should be neat and tidy and be married and have children - none of which I agree with. It as fashionable for certain circles on the right to unreasonably worship him as it is for certain circles on the left to unreasonably hate him. He is just a person, as fallable and imperfect as everyone and as potentially observant and as insightful as anyone. And at moments, what he says is interesting and helpful.

By the way a hero of the left, Slavoj Zizek, is friends with him and has been happy to have a friendly debate in public

My position is that we can listen but take the words of all gurus with a pinch of salt because we can think for ourselves. Building awareness is about finding our individual way to take it or leave it.

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.
Thank you, this is a good continuation of the point. That we can get into "analysis paralysis." It also goes back to my post-traumatic intrusive thoughts / involuntary rumination which for a while was taking over my mind like a painful addiction. Thinking, like drinking, can be a solution and it can be a problem. All about doing it to the appropriate degree, and attempting to maintain autonomy and awareness of what's going on.
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Attributing behavior to wiring of brains seems to remove the element of choice and responsibility for that choice, which I think there is.
I think "choice" is a real thing too. But I've had some notable experiences with people who thought, I mean REALLY thought and believed, that there was something special about them that meant that their wants and perceived needs were more important than anyone else's. I found it a little hard to accept that different people could think THAT differently but it really seems to explain a lot. It's also true that I operate on the assumption that a life threatening event could pop up at any moment. As far back as I can remember, that's the way the world seemed. Rumor has it everyone doesn't perceive reality like that. All brains most definitely don't work the same.

About the ruminating. Early on, my T told me I was "not allowed" to ask questions that began with the word "why". (Eventually he relented to the extent that he said I could ask HIM questions like that, but not myself.) His point wasn't about rule making. He wanted me to be aware of asking good questions. "Why?" usually isn't really the best question. Maybe something like "What causes a person to do that?" or "What would lead a person to do that?" There are a lot of ways to ask that kind of question. Superficially they might seem the same,but the differences make a difference. Asking "Why?" often comes from a desire to assign blame. Which is a pretty understandable desire. It just doesn't really get you anywhere. We can't change the past, all we can do is sort through the consequences and move on.


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.
I've read so many part of books that I can't possibly tell you the source but somewhere they said that those who were abused and are in denial of it become more likely abusive. I'd say without denial abuse isn't possible. Then it's something else like a drug addiction. If they are aware they would feel the need to change their behavior.

Personally I would stay away from saying that abusers had a bad childhood.

From personal experience I know that abusers don't view themselves as abusive. They do alot of reframing:

Punching against the door of their child to get their signature while getting short of breath and crying because they have an anger attack and say: "It's your fault if I get an heart attack" becomes: "You don't allow me to a̵c̵t̵ o̵n̵ feel feelings. It's healthy f̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶e̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶s̶ to a̵c̵t̵ ̵o̵n̵ have feelings. It's your mental illness that's why you try to ̶s̶̶e̶̶t̶̶ ̶̶b̶̶o̶̶u̶̶n̶̶d̶̶a̶̶r̶̶i̶̶e̶̶s̶̶.̶̶ ̶̶o̶̶k̶̶ ̶̶i̶'̶m̶̶ ̶̶p̶̶u̶̶k̶̶i̶̶n̶̶g̶̶ ̶̶s̶̶o̶̶o̶̶n̶̶ forbid me that."

And this is the only thing they'll the other people, all bystanders. Always. Because they obviously can't regulate their emotions themselves otherwise they wouldn't behave abusive in the first place. They need other people to regulate their emotions. They are able to control their emotions for a short time when it suits them, at work.

And others will believe them because they really think like this. They really think you deserved it. They don't lie. That's why they are so convincing. And they feel no shame that's why they go around telling others their reframed story while the victim won't say a word. That's why victims can be mistaken for abusers by bystanders or therapists, and abusers make themselves appear as victims or as caring. They'll tell everyone everything except facts, just assumptions or interpretations.

They unknowingly engage in a mix of denial, deflect and attack, invalidation and counterattacks and DARVO. They probably aren't aware of this.

A counterattack or deflection could even be something, a simple failure of yours, as: "You told me this at the end of our last meeting s̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶'̶s̶ ̶w̶h̶y̶ ̶I̶ ̶r̶e̶f̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶c̶u̶s̶s̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶c̶e̶r̶n̶s̶ ̶n̶o̶w̶."

You should explain yourself for unnessesary details which ends up in arguing, far away from the criticism you gave them.

They don't only reframe your behavior making it sound negative plus adding some maked up bad intent of yours, they state assumptions like these are facts. They also use double standards and reframe their own behavior making it sound positive too:

If you don't like criticism you aren't able to take criticism and need to work on that. It's your flaw.

If they don't like criticism they accuse you of making accusions. Or they tell you to stop making accusions. It's your flaw.

All in all it's always your fault.

If you cry you aren't resilient and not suited for the job, if they cry they show emotions and it's healthy.

And you as a child internalize their toxic opinion about you.

"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?"

I don't know but what I know is when I fought back the first time, my step mother wanted to slap me and she clearly wasn't as experienced and used to it as I, I didn't hit her but I managed to stop her the first time and the second slap also didn't hit me because I stepped aside then. This was the best feeling in the world that's why I still know it. Euphoria. Adrenaline shot through the whole body, the good kind of adrenaline. Triumph like a victory. Maybe I laughed or smiled as she looked puzzled. She didn't foresee that my reaction time was better than others people, my body all time ready to react, and my trust in others was already broken. Probably she just thought that I perceived it as a playful game which I didn't but we never talked about it.

But that's not what abusive people feel. They likely feel rage and think the victim deserves it. They are the kind of people who feel angry instead of sad or anxious.

I don't agree with the circle of abuse. That's maybe only for abusive people that have an addiction. All other abusers don't apologize. If they apologize at all it's "I'm sorry you perceive it this way." More likely is that the victims apologize. When you hear someone apologizing and promising they'll change themselves it's most likely the victim. Abusers wouldn't make themselves look weak and they see nothing wrong with themselves.


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Thank you for this post. I find posts that are pushing the regular envelope so much more satisfying than the usual surface explanation abuse. I am by far not an expert on truly anything but I am expert on my own subjectivity and experience so please take them with a huge grain of salt! LOl

I can tell you what I learned from my own ongoing recovery and hope it may shed some light.

First, I do not believe personally a baby is born psycho/abusive but a baby may be born into a family [edit or society] that may not nurture/influence/teach/train/program their light side for various reasons: a sick mother, an absent father, a working parent(s), or sick siblings, or just a baby wanting 80% of company but getting 10% etc - basically a combination of the baby's innate needs somehow do not coincide with the content/environment - so at the end to me it sounds like that baby may grow up sort of confused and if the invalidation goes on as a child (with bullying or other forms of abuse or misunderstanding in later years), the young mind may find its mercy at dark psyche of humanity.

Beyond simplification if ever there was one. and this is the best case of why a person may become abuser, they do not know nor ever experienced true love with the caregiver and whatever love they were born evaporated by the age of 1 or 2 - just downhill. They may end up many mental conditions as a child, problem at school, or extreme perfection of academia etc - it is truly a bottomless pit of darkness. That is me generalizing. I saw a video long time ago describing how a a child may come to fetishizes foot - by having the mother walking around all the time but never responding - so the baby thinks the foot were equal to love and attention. A child is most resilient and will try over and over again to gain course correction so it takes extreme amount of invalidation, abandonment, negligence or apparent abuse to become its opposite nature.

From my own experience: I have learned by dissociating that I could not "see" my own youngester in my mind (cause I dissociated so long) that the image in my mind is my mother - so I sort of took her "personality" both consciously more so and unconsciously to lesser affect - this is called sort of Identification with the aggressor. The only weird thing for me though, as I learned in therapy is that - well thank goodness all my adaptation and personality sort of went underground or unconscious so I can be aggressive though not enough to beat up people (though did with my siblings but grew out of it as I got older and experienced limitation of reality out there)...my unconscious was not aggressive. Something I am reconciling - I am older now so I can see a long inventory of my experience.

However, imagine a person who gets more abuse than me or had different genetics and who is "over taken" by the Identification with the Aggressor. You can clearly see they may not have any control over their thoughts or feelings and may become extremely abusive as adults - just speculating here. it is like they have come a copy of their abuser manifested in their own flesh - hard to parse it through as an adult.

Also cause my abuse went on way too long, I realized something was wrong with my parents as a teen - rather than got confused this was love - I saw it for some reason - this was pure hate and evil and I wanted none of it! Imagine a child still trying to gain such a parents' love - they will go on the wrong path.

Another mechanism that is also extremely powerful is Stockholm syndrome - where the victim truly believes the abuser is an ally. This can happen to grownups (kidnap of a long time or a brutal abuse) but just imagine with a child whose brain and mind are growing exponentially - this is how incest can go on for so long.....even into adulthood. It is one of the thing that may also keep cycle of abuse cause if they do not get the love they believe they deserve, they turn into the old parent/caretaker and they are out to repeat or in a twisted way, they may learn (and life never corrected them) that this is real love and may continue maladaptively.

Now, this is my understanding of childhood trauma. Both of these mechanism means the person will repeat either as anti social tendencies (cause they do not see their own inner child or experience completely or they chose not to see it) and they want you to feel their pain but really believe it is not their pain but love or well it is not their pain at all! either way you are screwed if you cross them.

In another parallel, a child with such an experience, may unexplainable way, (I think imagination and high creative mind probably) takes what is happening as a game and hides true self until feeling safe, and never want to repeat or may even unconsciously just go about the world saving every cat, dog or a child - hence may also display of pro-social in maladaptively ways by just wanting peace out there...or one may cause life gave them other chances, start to see things a bit more with clarity! many paths to choose as one grows up!

Almost every abuser does same abuse or inverse abuse. They act as aggressors acted toward them - hence "self" beating in others (sadism) or act as a victim (revenge/retaliation of not being helped) tryin to get back at the aggressor not consciously this new person is not the original aggressor!

Why would a person not abuse their own kids but others - it may mean there is a slight conscience somewhere that stopped them consciously or unconsciously. IMHO they may even be more curable than a person who does that to their own child - degrees of mind abuse matters greatly here.

What I took from my own recovering experience is that the more empathy a child has for the abuser the greater the child may end up as an abuser or become abused for a long time by almost everybody they met - their main pain is in the development of their own empathy. By the same token, the less a child has empathy (as well unfortunately) may also push that poor child to anti-social tendencies and either abuse others just like what happened to them or allow abuse on them cause who cares. The amount of empathy a child saves for self either in creativity or imagining (since obviously it is not in the environment), the better for prognosis of becoming not an abusive to self or abuse others.

So in conclusion from my own learning and experiencing, to be abused and not become abuse is almost a miracle - it is not the rule but an exception and it may mean that you as a baby probably had over abundance of empathy for self and survived crazybatshit and still here to tell. You are the exception and hence why a lot of people who survive crazy childhood may often have incredible resilience and almost amazing personality and wisdom - traumatic growth- truly aligning the evil and the angel side of humanity and seeing reality a bit more clearly. There are those that cruise life well and something happens later in life, and lo behold they fall so far, they never recover from a divorce or death of a parent or major life adversity etc etc and you sort of wonder, did they ever separate from the parent or others psychologically? That lack of separation is the degree of abused repeating the abuse. Too much separation for a child is not good too early. No psychological separation is not good either. This separation -individuation or weaning as a mainstream wording is another area that impacts who is to repeat the abuse and who will not.

A child is given so many chances for healthy development so the abuser must be just as much determined to undermine the development of a child's mind.

Hope this long winded post helps you in some of what you may be looking for. - it is like an onion! forever peeling.


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?
Best book I've read on this is
'Why Does He Do That' by Lundy Bancroft. It's available for free in pdf, but I'd have to see if I can link it here. There are other excellent published resources, but WDHDT really skips the bullshit and gets straight to responsibility. Required reading imo.


I don't agree with the circle of abuse. That's maybe only for abusive people that have an addiction. All other abusers don't apologize.
It sounds like you have a lot of experience or exposure to one or two types of abusive people… but there really are both dozens of types (and hundreds of subtypes) of abusers, with faaaaar more motives, patterns, & norms than you allow for (not just a couple types for a couple reasons).

One of those patterns is so common across several different types of abusers in DV that millions of people can attest to the cycle of abuse being a very real thing.