Power and control: the driving forces behind abuse

CAMMIE BAGLEY/ Executive Director

Power and control: two things that are present in an abusive relationship and two of the biggest reasons that abusers become violent with their partners.

Abuse is a behavior that is learned, meaning that many people who abuse others most often witnessed or endured abuse at some point in their own lives, according to Suzanne Dow, executive director of Circle of Hope, a local advocacy organization. When someone grows up in an abusive environment, they believe that violence is normal behavior and it can then show up in their relationships later in life.

In these cases, the abuser understands what it feels like to be the helpless victim or to watch someone they care about be powerless. According to mentalhelp.net, the opposite of being a victim is to be an abuser. Often, instead of continuing to be the powerless victim, they choose to take the role of the aggressor because that means they hold the power within the relationship.

Another reason that abusers may be violent or controlling over their partner is because of a mental illness or disorder. According to mentalhealth.net, someone who has problems with anger management, has a personality disorder or struggles with substance abuse may find it more difficult to control themselves.

Regardless of what reasons one has to abuse, anyone who is violent towards another person is lacking empathy. According to Dow, abuse occurs when the aggressor sees the victim as their property. This justifies the abuse in their mind because no longer is their partner equal, but instead, an object that they can treat however they so choose.

Some people’s abusive behavior can bring them a sense of gratification afterwards, according to mentalhealth.net. Having the ability to control another person makes them feel powerful, which is what they are seeking.

Other explanations for abusive behavior could be the inability to disagree or take criticism, entitlement, lack of accountability or trauma from their past that was never addressed, according to Psychology Today’s website.

Not every domestic violence case is the same, so there is no definite explanation as to why abusers hurt those they claim to love. There is also no absolute type of abuse or definite time that abuse will begin in a relationship. There are warning signs to be aware of that could indicate that an individual has violent or abusive tendencies. According to newchoices.org, some of those early signs include:

  1. The partner teasing the other in a hurtful way and then claiming it was a joke.
  2. The partner acting jealous of time spent with other friends or family.
  3. The partner going places with the other just to keep an eye on them.
  4. The partner getting angry very easily and reacting in ways that could be considered scary or dangerous.

These are just a few warning signs among many. Every relationship is different and just because someone meets criteria on the list above doesn’t mean that they are an abuser. However, if these signs do lead to abusive behaviors, the victim should be sure to find help.

To find help getting out of an abusive relationship, visit ncadv.org.