Do Abusers Know What They Are Doing?


Does an abuser realize he* is being abusive? Does he know what he is doing? Author Lundy Bancroft says “Yes”.

Why would a husband, especially one who claims to be a Christian, be abusive? I spent many hours/days/weeks/years asking myself this question. I spent years trying to explain to my husband how he was making me feel. I thought if I could just explain it, he would understand what he was doing and he would want to change. But whenever I tried to explain myself to him, he would invalidate my feelings. He became very adept at this. He would tell me:

  1. What I remembered had never happened. 
  2. I was crazy. 
  3. I was “picking a fight. 
  4. It was my fault that he acted that way; if I would just stop “provoking” him, everything would be fine. 
  5. I wasn’t “submitting to” or “respecting” him. 
  6. I didn’t understand men. 
  7. I didn’t understand the Bible.

I used to spend hours every day wondering whether my husband was purposely behaving abusively, or was he unable to control his behavior? Maybe you are asking yourself the same question. In his book Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men,[i] Lundy Bancroft asks the same question. Then he answers it better than any other author I’ve found.

Lundy says that he wrote the book so that women would spend less time wondering why their abuser is doing what he is doing. When we spend so much time wondering why, we put the abuser at the center of our life giving him more power to control us. Thinking about him, trying to fix ourselves for him, trying to make everything right for him becomes the all-consuming focus of our lives. According to the bible, who is supposed to be at the center of our lives? Deuteronomy 6:5 says,

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

So, given that we are to focus our hearts and minds on the Lord, and not our abuser, let us look at why an abuser behaves the way he does. Here are some common myths:

  1. He can’t control himself.
  2. He doesn’t know how to handle his feelings.
  3. He was abused as a child, and this is the only way he knows how to behave.
  4. He is abusive because he faces so much discrimination outside of the home, (either at work, or in society).
  5. He has poor communication skills.
  6. He hates women.
  7. He has low self-esteem.
  8. He’s mentally ill.
  9. He is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

The reality may surprise you. While drugs and alcohol may make abuse worse, it is never the cause of the abuse. Most men who abuse only their intimate partners and children have complete control over when and why they behave abusively. They rarely lose control of themselves in other social situations. In general, they are able to keep control of their temper at their jobs and with their friends. They often have wonderful relationships with other women. They would rarely consider being abusive to their mothers. In fact, for the majority of abusers, the only time he behaves abusively is at home.

Why is that? In his mind, he abuses you because:

1.  He likes being in control.

2.  He has convinced himself that it is OK to act this way toward you, and mostly

            3.  He gets what he wants by his behavior.



It is a myth that abusers can’t control their behavior. They can, and their goal is to control YOU! (Tweet this)

Let’s look at an example scenario of an abusive man getting what he wants by his abusive behavior. In this family, the father was supposed to do the dinner dishes on Wednesday nights. One Wednesday after dinner, he gets up from the table and begins watching television. His son says, “Dad, it’s your turn to do the dishes.” The father stands up, and yells at the top of his voice, “You little piece of crap! Who are you to tell me what to do? Who made the money that bought that food? Your b____ of a mother must have taught you to be so disrespectful to me! I’m not doing anything but sit here and watch my favorite program!” He finishes by picking up a plate and throwing it against the wall. The mother and son quickly clean up the broken glass and scurry around the kitchen to get it cleaned up as soon as they can. When dinner is finished the next Wednesday evening, no one says anything about Dad doing any dishes. He just goes and sits in front of the TV while his wife and son do the dishes without him.

The main predictor for whether a man will be abusive is that he has a great feeling of entitlement. Entitlement means that he feels he has a special status that no one else in the family has. In his mind, he has the right to:

  1. Physical care-taking.
  2. Emotional care-taking.
  3. Sexual care-taking.
  4. Deference (“Everyone should respect me, but I owe no one else any respect”).
  5. Freedom from accountability (“No one should question my actions”). In contrast, the abuser’s partner and children have very few, if any rights.

Often, an abuser will try to hide the fact that he believes he is entitled to all of these things. For example, a husband might scream at his wife if she doesn’t make a “decent” dinner each night because it means she is a “terrible mother.” In reality, he probably doesn’t care at all what the children eat—he feels he is entitled to a hot meal in front of him each night. Or, he may become enraged if she is talking to her mother on the phone when he comes home from work, saying they “can’t afford” the phone bill. However, he may talk to his brother for an hour later that same evening.

What is really behind his anger? He feels that she owes him her full attention when he comes home from work; she owes him special care-taking.

Your partner’s feelings of entitlement mean that you are not allowed to ask him about his behavior; in other words, he is free from accountability. If you dare to question him, he may act in one of the following ways:

  1. Become angry,
  2. Blame his actions on you,
  3. Act hurt,
  4. Pretend that his abuse never occurred, or
  5. Say that you are “going crazy.”

Or, in some way show that he is not going to take ownership of his behavior.

                  Wow, that’s a lot of information! What now?

Knowing why he behaves as he does won’t change his behavior, but it can empower you. It can help you spend less of your life focusing on him and more of it focusing on the Lord, and what you need to do with your life.

As I always do in my blogs, I want to caution you if you are currently in a relationship with an abuser. It would not be wise tell your abuser that you now understand why he behaves the way he does. This will only anger him, and could possibly put you in more danger.

However, once you understand why he behaves this way, you can catch your breath and realize it has very little to do with you. He would probably treat any intimate partner the same way. Knowing this can free you from being self-judgmental. Once you realize this, you can look at your life and make some decisions about what you want to do about it. I don’t recommend that you make any quick decisions, but I do recommend that you become educated about domestic violence, and begin talking to people who understand what you are going through. Check out my Get Help page. It has phone numbers, websites and books that can help you.

Most of all, realize that the God who created the universe loves you like crazy. He would never treat you the way your partner does. He is watching over you the way a mother watches over her newborn child. In fact, in Isaiah 49:15-16a, God says to us:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
 and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
 Though she may forget, 
I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

I pray you will feel this crazy love from God.



*In this blog, the I use “he” and “husband” for the abuser. The same principles apply if the female is the abuser and the male the victim, or if the abuser and victim are the same gender, or if the couple is unmarried.

[i] Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2002).


This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Olivia says:

    Thank you for this post. I think the clearest indication for me was telling met that he feels good when he says these things to me.

  2. Username* says:

    I am just out of a very abusive relationship but so badly want an apology or for him to recognize the pain he has caused. I know i will never get it. I just want to focus on myself, my child and GOD. I guess the pain will take a long time to subside.

    • Yes, the pain will take a long time to subside. And wanting him to recognize the pain he has caused is a very normal wish. You are right though, you will probably never get that satisfaction. This is because he most likely does not believe he has done anything wrong, sadly. Even if he did, his pride would not allow him to acknowledge any wrong doing. I hope you will take a look at the blogs I’ve written on healing. Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming book entitled, “A Journey to Healing after Emotional Abuse.” In it, I go through steps to healing that could help you. Blessings to you! Caroline

  3. S says:

    Thank you so much. I am in a very verbally abusive relationship and I am trying to get as much information and help as I can. I love him so much and at times we are so good and my hope and trust returns. But then it happened again and I’m left hurt, damaged and unacknowledged. Where is the justice? How can he justify his actions? Will he ever suffer? Can I toughen up and live with it and still have a good life?
    Anyway, I know these are not very empowered questions….
    Thank you Caroline, this has been very settling to read your post. Xx

    • Hello, thank you for your comment. I’m very glad this post was helpful for you. I know it is very hurtful when someone we love hurts us. Sadly, you may never receive the justice you hope for. I invite you to follow my blog, and also friend me on Facebook. On both forums I post many articles that might be of interest to you. In addition, feel free to contact me via my website’s contact form, or by private message on Facebook. May God bless you. Caroline

  4. RKR says:

    So grateful to have stumbled on your website. I am almost 1 year out from leaving my former spouse (divorce finalized 5 months now). 10 years of abuse (emotional, verbal, sexual, physical) and it shocks me how I feel such a pull still to return, though I KNOW that he would never and will never change. Is it accurate to say abuse victims go through a withdrawal phase – almost like a drug? How is it that I could be so horribly miserable and mistreated and happier to be away, yet there is still a pull to return (promise I won’t!!!)? I seek God every minute of everyday and He is my strength, yet I am having difficulty moving past the ‘what should have been’ and truly letting go of my ex. And the fact that he says he “still doesn’t understand why I left” confuses me. This article describes him EXACTLY!

    • Thank you for writing. I’ve never heard anyone describe the pull to return to their abuser to feel like withdrawal from a drug, but that is a great description! Abusers can be so charming and wily. The honeymoon stage of the abuse cycle feels so wonderful compared to the explosive stage, it is rather like the “fix” of a drug. Be assured you are not alone in this struggle. Many former abuse victims feel this same pull. You are on the right track when you hold onto God. He won’t let you go, nor will He ever let you down.

      As for your ex saying he “doesn’t understand,” perhaps it will help you to remember that abusers are consummate liars. He DOES understand. Claiming he doesn’t is a tool he’s using to get what he wants – the return of a person he can abuse. I pray you will stand strong and not be that person.

  5. Katz says:

    Thank you. I’m in a very emotionally abusive relationship. I am holding myself together. I have weak moments and strong as well. When I’m strong he knocks me back down. It’s like those blow up punching dolls that you ouch they hit the ground and come back up.
    He is truly making me second guess everything.
    When I Love I Love with every ounce of my body. He took advantage of my Love he took and took and takes more everyday. I don’t have family or support. He completely isolated me. He keeps even some of his friends wives away from me. I’m wrong about everything. No one can be wrong that many times. Sorry but I’m not stupid.
    Ok it’s really late I just want to say. I Love this page.

    We are not alone anymore. Power in numbers. Ok good night ☺️

  6. Dear Katz,

    Isolating their victims is one of the greatest tools abusers use. When you are alone with no support, he thinks you cannot tell anyone what is happening, or get any help. Thankfully with the Internet, that is no longer true ????. You are right, we are NOT alone! Please check out my Get Help page. I also invite you to friend me on Facebook. I post articles and other helpful things there every day. In addition, you can message me there, and I will respond as soon as I can.

    May God bless you. Caroline

  7. WhoIWas says:

    Why cant ” I be good enough “? I constantly think “if i could only be better” he wouldn’t react this way. I feel like his goal in life is to completely destroy my entire soul. Thats what happens with every harsh word or action…I lose another piece of me. How many pieces will it take for me to be “good enough?”

    Its true “I will never be who I was before” (from someone close to him) At 40 being independent, goal-oriented and happy with my life did I ever imagine I would meet someone that would make me feel this way? And that It would now be 4 years later. I also refer to it being like a drug. And though I’ve never done a single drug in my life or been addicted to anything I feel like this person is not good for me or to me and destroys me a little bit more everyday which is what I think being addicted to a drug would feel like. He uses every bit of vulnerability I have to make me think it’s my fault and I’m crazy. How could I have ever let this happen and why can’t I stop it?

    • I’m so sorry you are experiencing this. Know you are not the only person caught in this terrible struggle. Know too that you ARE good enough to God. The way an abuser keeps you feeling addicted is by using the abuse cycle, the round and round cycle of honeymoon stage where he treats you like a queen, the tension building stage where you feel like you are walking on eggshells, hoping he won’t go into the next and last stage, the explosive stage of the cycle, where all h___ breaks loose. Then it starts all over again. It really is just like an addiction, where the addict is on a high (honeymoon), slowly coming down (tension building) and hits rock bottom (explosive), needing the next fix. I would like to recommend my book “A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom” if you would like to get off this cycle. Please feel free to friend me on Facebook and message me if I can help you further. Blessings to you. Caroline

  8. Username* says:

    I just filed for a restraining order last week, has been 6 years I’ve went through this roller coaster ride, he blew up and then started with the cruel hate texts and I had to do something as I am emotionally and mentally exhausted. I read all these things and it’s like reading about my life,him,!!! I never knew it was so common. It is so sad that loving someone so much can bring you so much pain.So many feelings and emotions inside, it consumes me day and night, I’m not around him yet he still has control. Do they really love you or just all a sick cruel game? Why does God allow them to go on hurting people yet we suffer for their misery that they feel. I just want to be me again, I don’t ever see getting past this. I pray and pray. Verbal abuse takes so much from you. They destroy .

    • I am so sorry you are going through this pain! Yes, it is a misery. I don’t know why God allows it, except to say God does allow sin in the world, and emotionally abusing someone who loves you IS sin! Yes, God allows sin, though that wasn’t his perfect design for the world. His design was for us to love each other as Christ loves the church. I am happy to hear that you have gotten a restraining order. If he still texts you, that is most likely against the restraining order, and you can report that to the police. Most offenders will continue to be abusive until they are held accountable for their actions. Many will stop if they spend a night or two in jail. Of course, I don’t know all the particulars of your specific situation. Please talk to a domestic violence advocate, then call the police if that seems advisable.

      As to your other questions, does an abuser really love his partner? Well, he may really think he does. Kind of like a child loves his teddy bear. The child loves the teddy bear, but would become angry if the teddy bear began having its own needs, wants and opinions. This is where things break down for a person that feels entitled. As long as you do everything “perfectly,” all is well. But of course, that is not a realistic expectation for a real human being. And even if you truly tried, he would find something wrong with you eventually. His sense of entitlement gives him the right (in his own mind) to treat you like an object (like a teddy bear that can be kicked around, put on a shelf and/or forgotten until needed). No one deserves to be treated this way. You are a highly valued child of God.

      Yes, verbal abuse DOES take so much out of you. It can destroy you. The good news is, God doesn’t want you to remain in that spot. There is healing available to you. I invite you to check out my blogs on healing, and to read my book “A Journey to Healing After Emotional Abuse.” I pray these resources can help you on your own road to healing with God’s help. Hang in there my friend! You can also message me on Facebook if I can be of any help to you. Blessings to you! Caroline

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