Abuse is prevalent in our culture. [1] Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of bruised bodies and broken bones from domestic violence. Maybe you’ve read of deaths.

But abuse is more than that.

Psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse may not show up in a picture, but an abuser slowly dismantles your identity in a way that can actually rewire your brain. It’s a deep twisting of what a healthy relationship is intended to be. Rather than being life-giving, an abusive relationship sucks life from you, usually without you knowing.

Lundy Bancroft wrote Why Does He Do That? in 2002, and he draws on 15 years of experience running programs for more than 2000 abusive men. He supports his experience with research, and he frequently tells stories and anecdotes.

Bancroft writes to help everyone, but especially the abused woman, understand the mindset of the abusive man.

What is the Mindset of an Abuser?

An abuser is not easy to identify. He is likely charming, winsome, and well-thought of in the community. After all, he first must romance his spouse and enter into relationship.

Almost all abusers have ‘nice’ periods, even in the cycle of abuse itself. And abuse shouldn’t be reduced to physical violence; it’s much more than that.

Abuse is about power; creating a power imbalance to control or exploit another person. The abuser’s goal is to get you to stop thinking for yourself and silence you.

His abuse is an intentional choice. It flows from his values and beliefs. He’s not abusive because he’s angry; he’s angry because he’s abusive.

Bancroft pictures the anatomy of abuse as a tree: the roots are Ownership, the trunk is Entitlement, and the branches are Control. (I’ll remember this with the acronym CEO.)

His sense of ownership leads to a profound disrespect as he treats you as an object. He focuses on his feelings and your behavior, not the other way around. His entitlement leads to justification: he’ll say it’s your fault he’s responding this way. He enjoys the many benefits of the world he has created, and so he deploys tactics to extend his control including lying, blame-shifting, twisting everything into its opposite, isolating you, and gas lighting (or crazy making).

Bancroft lists 10 realities for the abuser:

  1. He is controlling.
  2. He feels entitled.
  3. He twists things into their opposites.
  4. He disrespects his partner and considers himself superior to her.
  5. He confuses love and abuse.
  6. He is manipulative.
  7. He strives to have a good public image.
  8. He feels justified.
  9. He denies and/or minimizes his abuse.
  10. He is possessive.

Not All Abusers are the Same

While abusers share the mentality of Control, Entitlement, and Ownership, their tactics come in many shapes and sizes. Not all abuse looks the same, and no abuser ever ‘looks the part’ as he uses lies and misdirection.

This makes abuse slippery and difficult to pin down.

Often, the one who is abused struggles to identify they are in an abusive relationship because their new normal is distorted—in fact, it’s quite abnormal. They’ve become the frog in the pot ever adjusting to the water beginning to boil around them. Their reality has been twisted and misshapen around the desires of the abuser.

As he puts up facades and hides behind masks, the abuser can be hard to identify.

Here are 10 Styles of Abusive Men Bancroft categorizes from working with over 2000 abusers:

  1. The Demand Man
  2. Right
  3. The Water Torturer
  4. The Drill Sergeant
  5. Sensitive
  6. The Player
  7. Rambo
  8. The Victim
  9. The Terrorist
  10. The Mentally Ill or Addicted Abuser

Two More Lists

Bancroft starts by debunking 17 myths about abuse in Chapter 2—many of which I believed before reading his book:

  1. He was abused as a child.
  2. His previous partner hurt him.
  3. He abuses those he loves the most.
  4. He holds in his feelings too much.
  5. He has an aggressive personality.
  6. He loses control.
  7. He is too angry.
  8. He is mentally ill.
  9. He hates women.
  10. He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment.
  11. He has low self-esteem.
  12. His boss mistreats him.
  13. He has poor skills in communication and conflict resolution.
  14. There are as many abusive women as abusive men.
  15. His abusiveness is as bad for him as for his partner.
  16. He’s a victim of racism.
  17. He abuses alcohol or drugs.

And throughout the book, Bancroft answers these 21 main questions:

  1. Is it because he was abused as a child?
  2. Is he doing it on purpose?
  3. Is it because he feels bad about himself?
  4. Why does he say that I am the one abusing him?
  5. How come everyone else thinks he’s wonderful?
  6. Why is he so insanely jealous?
  7. When he is so good early on, is he planning to be abusive later?
  8. How can I tell if a man I’m seeing will become abusive?
  9. Is the way he is treating me abuse?
  10. Is he really sorry?
  11. Will his verbal abuse turn to violence?
  12. Why does he want sex after abusing me?
  13. If he stops drinking, will he stop abusing me?
  14. What are abusive men like as fathers?
  15. Why is everyone in the family mad at each other instead of at him?
  16. How come so many people side with him?
  17. How come he keeps getting away with it?
  18. Where did he learn to be that way?
  19. How can I tell if he’s really changing?
  20. How can I help my abusive partner change?
  21. How can I help my daughter, sister, or friend who is being abused?

With the prevalence of abuse in our culture, it is likely that you know someone who has experienced abuse. Why Does He Do That? can be a valuable resource. And if you know someone currently in need of help, here’s a listing for a Shelter and Hotline in Jackson.

For further reading, here’s a reflection on Educated by Tara Westover, a story of overcoming abuse.

[1] In the United States in 2019, more than 10 million people were physically abused by an intimate partner. In their lifetime, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence. From https://ncadv.org/statistics