Why Are People Emotionally
Abusive - An Overview

In asking why are people emotionally abusive it's tempting to give a list of reasons but I believe things are actually more complicated than simply individual causes for each emotionally abusive person.

An internet search shows up such things as:

  • they have anger issues
  • they have control issues
  • they were abused themselves as children
  • they are afraid
  • mental health problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, intermittent explosive disorder
  • they lack empathy
  • they have a personality disorder

Let's have a look at these in some detail.


Why are people emotionally abusive? Problems with anger

First of all, not everyone who has anger issues is actually abusive to those around them. For example, some people who have come out of cults and have not been allowed to be angry for long periods of time may find their anger erupts at small, relatively insignificant things. They may feel intense anger for periods of time but don't necessarily take it out on other people. It is definitely a problem for them but others may not even be aware of it.

For what it's worth, a study in the United States showed that 80% of people who are court ordered into therapy in the family courts because of anger issues turned out to have a personality disorder. This is a significant number. We will come back to this later.


Why are people emotionally abusive? Mental health

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder can, indeed, be controlling of others around them to the point of being abusive.

It is well known that alcoholics and drug addicts can be very manipulative, controlling and abusive. They can be single-minded and selfish in their need to continue their habit. I'm not going to go into the background of addiction in this article but what I will say is that many people who have personality disorders also drink a lot and do drugs. These people get bored easily and are often looking for stimulation. Because of their nature they often say that when they drink or take drugs they actually feel alive.


Childhood abuse

There is a myth that if somebody is abusive as an adult then they are very likely to have been abused as a child. I say it's a myth because it's not true. There have been many studies done in this area and there are lots of contradictions. Some suggest that abused children may become abusive adults. Note the language, though. They may become abusive adults. It does not say they will become abusive adults.

One study in 2015 by Dr. Cathy Spatz Widom et al suggest that adults who were physically abused as children are not more likely to physically abuse their own children (physical abuse typically occurs after emotional abuse/control is established. It's what allows the abuser to repeat the physical abuse over time). This is one of the longest running studies of its type and it suggests that conventional wisdom may not actually be right and further study is needed in this area.

So what's going on here? Where did this idea come from that if somebody is abusive as an adult they must have been abused as a child?

Many abusive people often claim to have had abusive backgrounds. There are two aspects to this. First of all they use their back story to illicit pity from other people as a means to controlling them. Yes, there are people who control for the sake of controlling. These are the personality disorders. We will get to these in a moment.

When these controlling, abusive types use their sob story to make people feel sorry for them, there is also a second aspect to it. They will make excuses for their own bad behavior about how being abused as a child is the reason that they now treat other people badly. Very often, the unspoken part is that the past cannot be undone and there is nothing the abuser can do about it. In other words, the victim just has to tolerate the bad behaviour.

If you have been in a position where this reasoning has been used with you, my suggestion is that you reject it outright. Do not accept it.

Somebody who has suffered as a child should never be allowed to use that to justify, as an adult, treating other people badly. First of all, the majority of people who are abused as children do not go on to abuse others as an adult. In fact, they often go out of their way to make sure that they treat people well. They often do this to a fault. And especially with their own children. Understanding that they were treated badly as a child often spurs them on to make sure their own children are not actually treated that way. They take specific steps to treat their own children better than they were treated themselves.

Another major factor here is, as an adult, you are responsible for your behaviour. If an adult genuinely cannot manage their own behaviour they should go and get professional help. It is never acceptable to abuse other people and blame it on a poor childhood.


Lacking empathy??

Some authors suggest that there are those who control others because they lack empathy. Well, there's a label for these people. They are called psychopaths and sociopaths.


Why are people emotionally abusive? Psychopathy, sociopathy and narcissism

Why am I making such a big deal about these types, you might ask. Well, there are two important aspects to a psychopath (or sociopath) or narcissist. The first is that they have no motions. The second is that they have a huge sense of entitlement, they think they are superior beings. These two traits of the sociopath give rise to the other characteristics.

Not having emotions means they never feel bad about anything they do. This is important because they can cheat, deceive, bilk, con, take advantage of, abuse and destroy people and it does not bother them.

Their sense of superiority means that they believe they are better than everybody else and should be treated as such.

They are driven to control and dominate others. Their relationships are built on coercion and exploitation. They are professional liars.

If you are being emotionally abused by a psychopath or a narcissist you really need to know about it. The rules you have to play by are different and the way you manage the situation is different. If you use the standard, polite, accepted rules of society you will lose.


Other factors

Somebody who has a drink or drug problem can get help and can change their behaviour. Similarly, somebody with OCD or somebody who is controlling out of fear or anxiety can also get help with the problem to the point that the abusive behaviour disappears.

You can expect that psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists will not change. The only change they undergo is an improvement in their manipulation skills.

Another significant factor is the effects that these manipulators have on their victims. Whether it's a cult of 5000 people or a family of 5, these manipulators impose what is called a pseudo-personality on their victims. This pseudo-personality is programmed to believe the manipulator, to look after the manipulator, to trust the manipulator and to be dependent on the manipulator. It is also trained to act and think like the manipulator in many ways. Cult members have this pseudo-personality imposed on them as do children of abusive parents.

Think of this pseudo-personality as being more or less a clone of the manipulator. The manipulators believe themselves to be superior beings and think that others should act and think the way they do. Adults and children are programmed to believe that the way the manipulator does things is not just acceptable but often the best way. Add to this the fact that children learn from what their parents do and it's hardly surprising that abused children will end up imitating some of the behaviours of their parents as they grow up. It's natural for them to imitate and on top of this they are forced to act that way.

Therefore it's also not surprising that some adults born into abusive families will engage in what is actually abusive behaviour, although they may not actually recognise it as such (because it was 'normal' for them growing up). It's not until a third party points it out to them that they realize what they have been doing. In such cases they typically quickly stop the abusive behaviour.

Of course, there are some people who were abused as children and because of their anger and resentment they will take it out on others later in life. That happens.

However, the majority of people who were treated badly as children do not actually treat others badly when they grow up. In fact, they will specifically say that they make a special effort to be nice to others because they don't want to treat others the way they themselves were treated. This is especially true of their own children. Recognising how badly they were treated themselves, they make very deliberately decisions about the kind of experiences they want their own children to have.

Another group who were abused as children may not recognise what they experienced as abuse. It's only when these people have children of their own, and they look at their own children and think about how much they care and love them, they realize that they cannot treat their own children the way they were treated themselves. At this point they begin to question their own childhood and whether there was actually something wrong with that. Only at this time do they begin to realise that their own childhood might actually have been abusive.


Why are people emotionally abusive? Things to keep in mind

If you are in an emotionally abusive situation there are some very important considerations you need to keep in mind at all times. First, of course, is whether you are dealing with a psychopath or a narcissist or not.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of mind control, it can actually be very difficult to determine the answer to this.

If you are not dealing with a psychopath or narcissist, then the question becomes what help can the abuser get in order to change their behaviour. And is it acceptable for you to stick around during the time that it takes them to modify their behaviour?

If you are dealing with somebody who has a personality disorder then the situation is different. You have to protect yourself. This often means leaving the relationship, even if it's a family situation.

You cannot hope to have a relationship of equals with a psychopath or narcissist. Whatever benefit you think there may be having the relationship, the price you pay is way too high.


Why are people emotionally abusive? - More reading

You can read more here about 65 signs your partner is controlling, dealing with a toxic family, how to leave an abusive relationship, how to forget a sociopath and how to divorce a sociopath.

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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.

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