Updated: Feb 16
Characteristics of Domestic Violence Victims and Perpetrators
Regardless of their demographic profile, there are often common personality and psychological traits among abusers as well as abuse victims. The abuser’s behaviors are typically motivated by a need for control while the victim’s behavior is motivated by a need to survive. No matter what the victim or abuser may say to try to justify or explain away the abuse, mental health professionals must always remember that nobody deserves abuse or brings it on themselves.
Despite their threats and use of various types of force and intimidation, abusers are fundamentally insecure and typically have a very poor self-image. To the world, they may appear confident, successful, and even charming; however, this behavior is typically motivated by a need for approval, a need to prove themselves to others, or a need to prove someone else wrong or that someone else is the reason for their shortcomings. The following are a few of the ways in which this insecurity and low self-esteem can manifest (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d.):
Placing unreasonable demands on the victim’s time or movements. Insecurity can make abusers jealous and possessive to the point that they have extreme reactions any time that the victim dares to do anything without them. While all the attention may seem flattering in the early stages of the relationship, it can quickly escalate to the point that the victim is completely isolated and unable to escape because the abuser is aware of their every move, including phone calls, texts, and internet search activity. Abusers may also use guilt and fear to keep the victim close, such as threatening self-harm if the victim attempts to leave or end the relationship.
Blaming the victim for their behavior or anything bad that may happen. To compensate for their own inadequacies, abusers often blame others for anything negative that happens in their life. Abusers may justify their actions with statements like “You made me do it,” or “It’s your fault that I drink so much.”
Sabotaging the victim’s efforts to work, go to school, or exercise any independence. For example, the abuser may call or show up at the victim’s workplace to such an extent that the victim loses their job.
Adhering to rigid beliefs about relationship roles. Examples include refusing to allow the victim to have any say in household or financial decisions.
While many abusers are quite adept at hiding their behaviors from the rest of the world, it may still be possible to catch glimpses of their controlling behavior. For example, they may refuse to allow the victim to be alone with a mental health provider or refuse to let the victim answer questions about their injuries on their own behalf.
There is no such thing as a “typical” domestic violence victim. A victim of intimate partner violence can experience a range of emotions, including (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d.):
a desire for the abuse to end but the relationship to continue,
love for the abuser,
hope that their abuser will change,
emotional and physical withdrawal from others, and
impulsive or aggressive behavior.
In general, a victim’s reaction to abuse can be categorized in one of three ways (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d.):
This involves trying to appease the abuser by enduring the abuse and attempting to comply with the abuser’s demands.
This involves the victim attempting to avoid or minimize the violence by anticipating the abuser’s moods and behaviors, modifying their own behavior so as to not answer the abuser, controlling or avoiding situations that tend to lead to violence, or attempting to divert attention away from the abuse through other activities.
When all else fails, the victim may create consequences for the abuser, such as arrest, seek outside help, take action to escape the abuse, or engage in preemptive or retaliatory violence.
Victims of intimate partner violence typically only resort to violence themselves when other tactics, such as appeasement, negotiation, or nonviolent threats or actions have failed. The violence is specifically targeted toward the abuser and may be considered by the victim as a form of self-defense, a way to regain their dignity and power, and a means to end future violence.
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