About Abusive People

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked the following questions I would be a very rich woman.

  • “Why do people treat me badly?”
  • “Why do people behave the way they do?”
  • “Why do people use other people?”
  • “Why does someone hurt the people they are supposed to love?”
  • “Why can’t people respect other people?”
  • “Why does an abuser always blame someone else?”
  • “Why can’t people admit when they are wrong?”
  • “Why do people turn into abusers?

People often want to know why people use and abuse others. The first four questions listed above are all very similar and can be expressed as why does someone hurt other people?

Why Does Someone Hurt Others?

There are three very simple answers to that question. People abuse others because they don’t realise what they are doing, people abuse others because they can, and people abuse others because the cost of their behaviour does not outweigh the rewards they get from it.

People Abuse Others Because They Don’t Realise What They Are Doing

Sometimes people are not aware that what they are doing is abusive and simply telling them how they are making you feel will be enough to make them stop.

People who can, and will, stop abusive behaviour as soon as they are asked to don’t tend to actually be the kind of abusers we are talking about in this article though. They are abusing from a thoughtless, ignorant, careless base and can easily be educated to behave better.

Other abusers tend to continue the abuse no matter how many times you ask them to stop.

People Abuse Others Because They Can

Most people don’t realise it but human beings tend to rely on other people to tell them how they want to be treated. We all subconsciously assume that, if someone does not say they don’t like how we are treating them, it’s because they don’t think we are treating them badly.

Even if someone tells us they DON’T like how we are treating them, some people can tend to tend to assume the complaint is not serious if the person doesn’t take any kind of action to stop them from doing it.

It’s only when the other person has had enough and cuts us out of their life that we realise we have to stop. Some people will respond to being told that, if the behaviour doesn’t stop, the relationship is over but others won’t.

The key thing here is to realise that other people can only abuse us if we are not willing to take whatever action is required to stop them if they won’t stop themselves. If we are not prepared to defend ourselves from abuse the abuser is often unwilling to do the job for us.

People Abuse Others Because The Cost Of Their Behaviour Does Not Outweigh The Reward.

What does that mean?

Human beings are complex creatures but there are reasons behind our behaviour whether we are aware of those reasons or not. I am not talking about people whose behaviour is caused by physical conditions, such as a tumor, I am addressing the behaviour of people who can, but do not choose to, behave differently.

Human beings do things because they get a reward of some kind when they do those things. They eat because it satisfies hunger, they fight because it reduces fear, they take because they want and they give because it makes them feel good.

Natural rewards, like stopping hunger or reducing fear, are not the only rewards people seek. Rewards can be trained into people. Food can become a reward so one person may eat to satisfy hunger while another person eats to comfort themselves or to distract themselves from unpleasant feelings.

Many people fight because they mistake fear for respect. They think if other people are afraid of them they are being respected.

Others make martyrs of themselves because they feel superior to others when they compare their sacrifices to the selfishness of others or because they want people to “owe” them.

Anything can be turned into a reward under the right conditions.

Being beaten, urinated on or tortured can become rewarding if those things have been paired with pleasure at some time in the person’s life.

This is why society condemns sexual activity with, and abuse of, children. It can hijack their development and result in the person pairing pleasure with problem behaviour.

The child who is ignored except when it behaves badly will find negative attention rewarding. Being beaten may hurt but being hugged afterwards will feel good and the child may even grow up to need a beating before they feel able to enjoy a hug.

Many people use negative behaviour to avoid negative feelings. One person will cut themselves to distract their mind from self-hate and another person might avoid sadness by screaming angry abuse at someone else.

Whatever people do, good or bad, there is a reward of some kind involved whether we can see what that reward is or not.

Rewards may not be obvious, even to the person themselves, but they exist.

The abusive person may say they want to stop being abusive but they are getting some kind of reward for doing it. As long as that reward outweighs the cost of the behaviour the behaviour will continue.

Rewards for abusive behaviour include getting what they want, avoiding what they don’t want, feeling stronger or better or more of a winner than someone else and a lot more. They may feel in control when they abuse, it may allow them to release pent up negative feelings, they may feel they are being respected when the target of their abuse shows fear. With things like this driving them to abuse others the target’s pain, or requests for change, don’t stand a chance of making any difference.

Abusive people get a lot of rewards for their behaviour and there is a high cost, in their minds, for giving up abusive behaviour so they have very little motivation to change. Abusive people generally need very good reasons to make them even consider changing and it is difficult for the targets of their abuse to provide that. The only hope a target has of forcing abuse to stop is to move themselves out of the abusers reach. Loss of love, companionship, money, their children, comfort and so on may provide enough of a cost to make the abusive person consider changing.

It is more likely, however, that leaving an abusive person will not cause them to genuinely change. Many abusers just find a new target to abuse because that is a lot easier to do than changing. Abusers may say they will change, they may even go for counseling or make tiny changes to convince the target of their abuse to come back but it won’t last. As soon as they have done or said whatever is necessary to get the target back under control they will carry on behaving abusively.

“Why can’t people respect other people?”

Respect is not born into human beings. It must be learned. Children need to be taught to respect the rights of other people as well as themselves. If nobody teaches them they will not know how to be respectful.

“Why does an abuser always blame someone else?”

Taking responsibility for our actions is not born into us. It is something we must be taught. Taking responsibility for our behaviour is the first step towards being able to see that some kind of change might be needed. People don’t want to change. Changing ourselves is hard so most people prefer to believe it is other people who need to change. Blaming someone else allows us to sit back and wait for the other person to change.

“Why can’t people admit when they are wrong?”

The first step towards change is always the recognition that change is required. It is not easy to change so people resist admitting they are wrong to avoid having to change. If someone is convinced the other person is wrong then they can put the blame on that person and believe it is the other person, not them, who needs to change.